Today's practice definitely felt like a regular hockey season practice: we had a skate that lasted about an an hour at Nationwide Arena, a second full intrasquad scrimmage, a "talking to" from the head coach at center ice, and the lower body injury is back.
Unfortunately for Cam Atkinson, he's nursing a "minor lower body" issue that kept him out of today's practice at Training Camp presented by OhioHealth, but Todd Richards said afterward that he doesn't think it's going to be a lingering problem.
Atkinson dismissed its severity on the radio with 97.1's Beau Bishop this afternoon, so I think it's possible we could see No. 13 back on the ice fairly soon. His line mates missed him today; RJ Umberger and Derick Brassard both talked about how their line has come together and built off the momentum they had at the end of last year, and are looking forward to opening the season as a unit.
Richards was also asked if he thought Atkinson's status for the season opener in Nashville was in doubt, he didn't seem to think that was a threat.
"Right now, I'm not concerned," he said.
While Richards left the door open as far as practice for Thursday, he did say the team would certainly be skating on Friday morning before departing for Nashville. After plateauing a bit in terms of energy today, he wants to make sure the Blue Jackets are trending upward when they start final preparations for Saturday.
So let's get started and "empty the notebook" for Day 4:
-- Sensing a lack of intensity in the early part of today's scrimmage, Richards blew his whistle and gathered the team between the benches for a short conversation. He implored them to amp up the intensity, and it didn't take long for that to change. Richards attributed a lot of the change to Boone Jenner, who hit everything in sight as soon as the next shift began. It rubbed a couple of players the wrong way, Richards said, but that's what you're looking for. It becomes infectious.
-- Really thought Brassard took a big step today. He's been good the first few days of camp but this might have been his best. The wheels are there, the hands are always there, and he's not showing any hesitation in shooting the puck. Above all else, the consistency he's shown throughout camp might be the most encouraging thing...he looks ready to go.
-- Nick Foligno has gone under the radar a bit this week but I maintain that he's going to be a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets. Great hands, quick feet and the ability to play anywhere up front is a big asset for the coaching staff. In a pinch, he's a guy you can look to if someone gets hurt or there's a situation you need him in.
-- Richards said he wants to name a starting goaltender by Friday evening, so the player getting the start can properly prepare for Saturday's game. At this point, it's really hard to tell if either Bobrovsky or Mason has the upper hand; both have played well this week but I still lean Bobrovsky if I'm picking today.
-- A third straight day of Ryan Johansen centering Vinny Prospal's line. As I said yesterday: this is a good thing for Joey, and it's a merited reward. His game has improved each day and today was probably his strongest. Confidence is there, strength on the puck is there...just needs to bear down and score a few in practice.
-- Richards jokingly referred to "the parting of the Red Sea" when Nikita Nikitin winds up for a slap shot, but he was serious in saying the big Russian might have the best one timer on the team. It's heavy, hard and backs up the opposition whenever he pulls that stick back. On the defensive side of things, he and Fedor Tyutin are almost a guarantee to open on the same pair together in Nashville. Richards also said the plan is for Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski to start together, as well, leaving the third pairing as the last settled.
-- We know Adrian Aucoin has the right side of the third pair locked down, but who's going to partner up with the wily veteran? John Moore was back with Aucoin today and he talked about how helpful it is to watch Aucoin prepare before and after practice, and pick his brain about things happening on the ice. Tim Erixon had a strong day with Aucoin yesterday, and I'd keep an eye on this battle for the last spot in the top six. Could go right down to the wire.