: WAITING FOR HORTON
When the Blue Jackets signed Nathan Horton to a seven-year contract
on July 5, the conversation almost immediately shifted to "how will the team hold up until he's ready to play?" Horton underwent successful shoulder surgery recently and is expected to be sidelined for 4-6 months, but we're here to give you five reasons why the Blue Jackets will be in good shape prior to, and in better shape when Horton is ready to go.
Here is the first of many weekly editions of the "Friday Five" on BlueJackets.com
...REASON 1: The Marian Gaborik factor
A blockbuster deal at the 2013 NHL trade deadline brought All-Star forward Marian Gaborik to Columbus, and in an instant, he became the Blue Jackets' most explosive offensive player. Gaborik has averaged about 30 goals per season throughout his NHL career, and though he experienced a slight dip in production a year ago, it was abdominal injury that slowed him in the second half of the year. He had offseason surgery in Philadelphia to repair the issue and should be 100 percent for training camp. The Blue Jackets will be a better offensive team from the get-go in 2013-14 because of Gaborik's presence on the top line and on the power play, where they will rely on him to return to 30-goal form.
REASON 2: A healthy Brandon Dubinsky
As the Blue Jackets pressed toward the end of the season and nearly found themselves in the Stanley Cup playoffs, one of their most reliable players was Brandon Dubinsky. He's one of the team's emotional leaders both on and off the ice, but that's not good enough for the 27-year-old center; in a year when he battled knee injuries and struggled to stay in the lineup consistently, his goal scoring took a hit (just two goals in 29 games) but still managed to produce at a .689 points per game clip. Dubinsky was also the fifth-best face-off man in the NHL last season, and with a full training camp and healthy body to start the year, the Blue Jackets will get a big boost - and a few more goals - from No. 17 in the middle of the ice.
REASON 3: An improved power play
There's no beating around the bush: the Blue Jackets' power play was not good enough last season and pretty much every player and coach has said as much. The club was able to put wins together through strong defending, solid goaltending and timely scoring, but they lacked a true equalizer, i.e. a potent power play. The addition of Gaborik gave them another impact player on the man advantage, but we saw last season what James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson can do when operating at the point: they get shots through, can open up one-timer opportunities and have excellent vision. Taking into consideration the Gaborik factor, even better seasons from Wisniewski and Johnson and more confidence from the team's young players, and the Blue Jackets power play could be the factor that keeps them in the race until Horton is ready to get in the lineup.REASON 4: Defense and goaltending
Sergei Bobrovsky did his share of heavy lifting last season, sometimes single-handedly keeping the Blue Jackets in games and even stealing a couple along the way. But his Vezina Trophy winning season wasn't the only reason why Columbus experienced success in the second half - one has to look no further than the group of defensemen that played in front of Bobrovsky (and the guys up front, too). The Blue Jackets were a stingy defensive team and bought in to Todd Richards' style of defending right off the bat, and it served them well when they were struggling to score goals. They had no problems playing in tight games and though they went through a stretch of losing one-goal decisions, they kept pushing and eventually came out on the bright side of those contests. Everyone defends, everyone checks, everyone pulls their weight: that brand of team defense, along with good goaltending, will help the Blue Jackets stay in the mix.REASON 5: The emergence of young players
There was a moment early in the Blue Jackets' 3-0 win over Detroit on Mar. 9 that stands out: Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall with the puck behind his own net, fairly casually waiting for a line change and not paying much attention to two forecheckers named Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson. Whether it was carelessness or a general lack of respect for two young players, who knows? But Kronwall had pocket picked cleanly by Calvert behind the net, and Atkinson was in perfect position to bury the centering pass for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. The days of being "under the radar" for players like Calvert anf Atkinson may soon be over, thanks to their strong performances in 2012-13 that earned them each two-year contract extensions this summer. Atkinson was on a 20-goal pace last season and Calvert was not far behind - and that alone is reason to believe the Blue Jackets will be an even deeper club when Horton makes his debut.