What a day.
Back in the OhioHealth Ice Haus, a full house, tons of energy and excitement...it was pretty much everything one could ask for as Training Camp presented by OhioHealth kicked off this afternoon. Think the Blue Jackets players were fired up? You couldn't help but notice the ear-to-ear smiles on their faces as they stepped on the ice.
They're happy to be back, and to a man, ready to make the most of the six-day training camp and embark on a wild ride we call the NHL season. Todd Richards kicked things off with a nice speech to the crowd and promptly put his players through a detail-oriented practice aimed at getting everyone on the same page.
I covered this in an earlier blog post, but as I "empty the notebook" after today's practice, I'll go through the forward lines and defense pairings once more...
FORWARDS: Umberger-Brassard-Atkinson, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Dorsett, Prospal-Letestu-Foligno, MacKenzie-Jenner-Boll, Gillies-Johansen-Calvert
DEFENSE: Tyutin-Nikitin, Johnson-Wisniewski, Moore-Aucoin, Erixon-Savard
GOALIES: Bobrovsky, Mason
Let's dive right into it -- here are my observations from an entertaining first day of camp:
-- Had a hunch we would see the Umberger line open camp together. Those three were excellent at the end of last season and Brassard really likes centering Umberger and Atkinson; they're ideal targets to make the most of Brassard's distribution skills with Umberger the "net drive" guy and Atkinson the shooter. We'll see in the coming days, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see this line together on Jan. 19 in Nashville.
-- Aside from the aforementioned line, every projected line I penciled in before camp started was absolutely wrong, and that's a good thing. I'm horrible at predicting that stuff, and Todd Richards is also much smarter than I am. But I was really intrigued by several of the combinations put forth by the Blue Jackets today, and I'll go into greater detail in subsequent notes.
-- As soon as I saw Dubinsky-Anisimov-Dorsett out there together, they had my full attention. Always thought the two former Rangers would be a fit, simply because they played so much together under John Tortorella in New York. Adding Dorsett to the right side gives them a good mix of skill and tenacity, and No. 15 isn't shy about getting to the "tough areas" of the ice.
-- Didn't think much about putting Mark Letestu back at center ice to open camp, but I probably should have. He's a great face-off guy and has been going back to his time in Pittsburgh, and was one of Dan Bylsma's go-to guys for crucial draws.
-- Boone Jenner jumped right into the fray and centered Derek MacKenzie and Jared Boll today. Thought he would be getting a loooooong look in this year's camp, but starting out on the primary four-line rotation would pretty much confirm that. Does he make the team? Tough to say at this point, but I think he's NHL-caliber and well suited for a third or fourth line role if that's what comes of this week. He's played a similar role on the last two Canadian world junior teams and performed very well, so sticking in Columbus to start the year isn't impossible whatsoever.
-- On the blueline, the top four defensemen were paired up how I expected: Tyutin with Nikitin and Johnson with Wisniewski. The intriguing pair of the day (and the pair that moved the puck extremely well in every drill) was Moore and Aucoin -- a blend of the old guard and the new guard, if you will. Aucoin makes the smart plays all over the ice and has a physical edge to his game, and Moore's quick feet have been his calling card. I don't think Richards and the coaches would have much issue beginning the season with these two guys holding down the third pair.
-- This is one of the least opportune times to evaluate goaltending, but for the sake of my blog and emptying the notebook, let's have at it: Steve Mason has faced a lot of pucks in the past week or so during informal skates and he looked good during today's session. But I thought Sergei Bobrovsky was terrific; quick movements, confident in waiting out the shooter and you can see him analyzing every rep. I've heard for months about "Bob" and his tireless work ethic, and we got a glimpse of it today.
-- Richards cautioned that today's lines were thought out but by no means final, so we'll see where they go from here. Dubinsky said he'd like to keep his trio together as long as possible, but understands the coach's job to find combinations that work and help the team. Should be even more to cover in the coming days....stay tuned!