This is the unofficial halfway point of Blue Jackets Training Camp presented by OhioHealth, and just as we predicted, it would be a fast and furious week leading up to the season opener in Nashville.
No fewer than three times in the past three days have I stopped to think "what day is it?" and reminded myself that lunch at 4 p.m. is probably better than no lunch at all -- but that's the beautiful thing about hockey season. Go, go, go and enjoy the ride. You can sense it as things are starting to ramp up around here and the excitement is becoming more palpable with each passing day.
On a brisk Tuesday morning at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets assembled for their third straight day of practice and this day began with a few drills to get the legs going. After the warm-up, it was time for an intrasquad scrimmage and our first true "competitive" look at the players since camp opened.
They skated for about 20 minutes with three artificial media timeouts built in to simulate a game scenario, and though it ended in a scoreless tie (nothing to be concerned about, I promise) I liked a lot of the individual performances. Todd Richards kept the Umberger-Brassard-Atkinson and Dubinsky-Anisimov-Dorsett lines together, as well as Monday's trio of Foligno-Johansen-Prospal.
Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason got a chance to go head-to-head for the first time, and while it's pretty easy to say "hey, neither guy gave up a goal!" they seem to be embroiled in a heated competition for that No. 1 job.
As part of my daily emptying of the notebook from practice, I asked Blue Jackets fans on Twitter for their input: who do you want to know more about? So this is my attempt to answer as many of those questions as I can (and it's going to end up in a long post, but that's cool, right?)
Here we go!
Jessica (@icelady80) & Mark (@RedditCBJ) want to know about Matt Calvert: I'll admit, I didn't know what to expect from Matt when he was recalled over the weekend. He's been one of the best forwards in Springfield all year and Brad Larsen can use him in any situation, so I was expecting a strong camp. He's delivered so far, but I think he has a ways to go before we Sharpie his name on the final roster. He played on the fourth line for the second day in a row today, and I get the vibe he, MacKenzie and Boll like playing together.
Casey (@caseyjolly79) asks about Anisimov/Dubinsky: In my mind (and I think Richards would agree), these two could form one of the Blue Jackets' sneaky good lines with Derek Dorsett. They've fit in seamlessly together, and coming to Columbus shortly after being traded has helped their transition big time. I love Anisimov's confidence at center ice but really wish he'd shoot more, and I've always liked the way Dubinsky plays the game with calculated aggression.
Michael (@dosemes) & Aaron (@AK_Mill) ask about Boone Jenner: This is a tough one for me, because he's had such a terrific year in Oshawa, played on the World Junior stage for a second straight year, and done everything you could ask of him. Do I think he's an NHL player at this moment? I'm on the fence - literally - and I could fall either way. For now, I'll lean toward "yes" simply because he fits the role (third or fourth line) that's still unsettled on the Blue Jackets roster. If I'm wrong in a few days' time, don't hold me to it.
Scott (@techops13) asks about the Springfield guys: This is a good question, because the play of these guys now and down the road will be a big factor in how the Blue Jackets fare this year. With the compacted schedule, they're going to need as many productive and healthy bodies as possible, and the strong start by the Falcons means a lot of guys are playing well. Cam Atkinson is one who has stood out and he's pretty much a lock, also Tim Erixon has paired well with Adrian Aucoin. Ryan Johansen has gotten better each day, but we'll talk more about him in a minute. David Savard has had flashes of good play, but being a top-pairing defenseman in Springfield will only help him.
Scott (@abusemeo) & Tim (@TimLamay) asked about BOBROVSKY!: He's a guy I couldn't wait to watch in Columbus. I remember Bob from his days in Philadelphia when he almost single-handedly willed the Flyers to playoff wins as a rookie. I liked this acquisition by Scott Howson for two reasons: Bob is a tireless worker and is dead-set on becoming a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, and also because he's going to push Mason hard. Bob's been solid this week but really, both goalies have played well. Not an easy call to make if the season started tomorrow, but hey, that's what you want.
Elaine (@imaraindancer) asks about Tyutin/Nikitin: Though both of those guys would need a couple days to get their feet under them after a hectic travel schedule from Russia, and they've picked up right where they left off at the end of last season. Could they be the top power play unit at the point? I think it's very possible, and as Aaron Portzline observed this morning, no one on the team has a heavier shot than Nikitin. It just bears down on the goalie.
Roger (@RGaren) asks about Derek Dorsett: One of the questions I had coming into camp was where this guy fits, and I'm happy to report that I think Richards has found him a great home. There's something about the line with Dubinsky and Anisimov that's so intriguing you want to see them in every drill...I don't know what it is. There's skill, tenacity, competitiveness, a little bit of everything. The best part about Dorsett on the line is you can use them in any situation, be it a support scoring role, at even strength, as a power play unit, match-up line, you name it. Dorsett has worked extremely hard all summer to have a big year and prove his new three-year deal is worthwhile, and I suspect he'll do just that.
Kyle (@kyle_karnes) asks about Ryan Johansen: What he needed to do was get better every day, and he's on the right track. Richards has him centering two veterans in Foligno and Prospal, and if they can click, that's a nice little scoring line you can use in any scenario -- especially on home ice with the last line change. The added muscle has made Johansen stronger on the puck and the big minutes he played in Springfield are invaluable experience. If he's in the same spot tomorrow morning, it's a good thing.
@Squirrelsnnuts asks about Jared Boll: I think he's a safe bet to open the year on the fourth line and there's nothing wrong with that. Boll enjoys the role and he's comfortable there, having played a lot with MacKenzie the past two seasons. Much like Anisimov, Boll has an underrated shot and I'd like to see him put more pucks on net.
Cyrus (@cmanesh_) & Matt (@zekebud) ask about the competition between the young defensemen: It's still really early to declare any one player the front-runner, but for my money, Erixon paired with Aucoin for the second straight day has to mean something. It's an important decision for the Blue Jackets because each of Moore, Erixon and Savard are young blue liners with bright futures, but this is about who works best with Aucoin (at the time being). I thought Moore was good with Aucoin on Sunday but Erixon has stepped up big time the last couple of days. I suspect this one will go right down to the Friday deadline for final rosters.
Zach (@ArchCityZach) asks about Letestu and where he fits: Good question, and Letestu himself admitted today he's not really sure where he'll play to start the year. He centered Foligno and Prospal on Sunday but has bounced to the "extras" line the past two days. Does that mean he's on the bubble? I don't think so, and you definitely need versatile guys like Letestu throughout the season. He's a great face-off guy and can play both special teams.
Reznor (@Reznor02) asks about Vinny Prospal: If nothing else, a model of consistency. Spent time overseas during the lockout, left his family at home, leaves his team in the middle of a bus ride in the Czech Republic and plots his trip back to Columbus without missing a beat. Wrote a story earlier this week about he and Foligno being paired together and I think both guys share the feeling they'd like to open the season together.
Whew, that should wrap it up. Thanks so much for your questions and we'll definitely do this again soon. Sorry if it was long-winded...that's my nature.