It was only last summer when the Philadelphia Flyers decided that Scott Hartnell wasn’t going to fit into their future plans. The Blue Jackets were quite sure he would fit into theirs.
Fast-forward one season and the veteran forward has turned back the clock and made Jarmo Kekalainen look like a very smart man.
Hartnell upped his totals from the 2013-14 season with 28 goals and 60 points, tied for the second-highest point total of his 14-year career. And it’s not just on paper where Hartnell is encouraged by his most recent season.
“This is probably the best I felt in a couple of years, to be honest,” said Hartnell. “I was skating better than I have, I thought I was winning more puck battles, and I was able to get points and contribute offensively. So I think I do have a lot left in the tank.”
Even after 1,000 games in the league, the 32-year old winger feels he has a lot to give. Maybe he can attribute that to his two line mates over the last quarter of the season, Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano.
Or as Hartnell jokingly referred to them Sunday, ‘my kids.’
“For maybe 15 or 20 games, I thought we dominated every time we were on the ice," Hartnell said. "We were controlling the puck, we were making plays, and it was fun hockey.”
That line was assembled by coach Todd Richards on Mar. 3, and Hartnell went on to score 14 goals and 20 points in 20 games as part of it.
“I haven’t felt that good in years, probably," he said. "Give some credits to the young guys, the Fountain of Youth for me, and it was fun playing offensive hockey.”
While Hartnell was one of the more consistent performers in the early part of the season when the team as a whole was not, the scoring touch wasn’t entirely there. Hartnell had only one goal in his first 12 games and scored in just three of the first 26 games. The assists were coming, but the scoring took time as Hartnell adjusted to his new home.
That adjustment wasn’t confined just to the ice, either.
“It was tough, I’m not going to lie, to come here to Columbus not knowing much about the city or the guys for that matter," Hartnell said. "The fans were very welcoming with open arms, which was a big help. I really like the great feel of this city and I’m happy and proud of my teammates that they made it really comfortable as well.
"It took me a little while to adjust and get over the trade, but I definitely feel at home being a Blue Jacket.”
There are certainly plenty of players who follow Hartnell’s lead for both his gritty mentality and his consistent performance. But another attribute that Hartnell has brought with him to Columbus is a sense of urgency that meshes perfectly with the frustration and disappointment of this season. Regardless of how good he felt throughout this season, Hartnell knows that he is over 30 years old and his window is closing. He needs to win now.
“I know this is my last four or five years and I want to win," Hartnell said. "I said that upstairs talking to management that I don’t want to have a three or four year plan. I want to win next year, the guys want to win next year.
"And when I said that, (management) said ‘we want to win too, and we want to win now. And trust us we’re going to get this team going again in the right direction again and we’re going to be fine.’"