Roughly 24 hours ago, the Blue Jackets coaching and management staff delivered some of the most important news of the preseason.
The news was the best of their young careers for players like Cam Atkinson and David Savard, both of whom will be on the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster against the Nashville Predators. Add in Ryan Johansen and Maksim Mayorov – two other rookies who will make the NHL jump – and Columbus will have four rookies on opening night.
That’s not so much a concern for Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel, because he knows each player’s showing in training camp was indicative of their ability to play at the highest level. Age is apparently irrelevant in today’s NHL, where the biggest impact players are often some of the youngest on their respective clubs.
“This isn’t all about Friday night (against Nashville), this is about our future as a hockey team,” Arniel said. “Some of these kids have worked their whole young lives to get to this point and wear the jersey on Friday night.
“As much as they tried not to smile, the grin comes out.”
As a former NHL player, the decisions were not easy to come to and deliver for Arniel. But for the players who got the good news, they had a lot of phone calls to make.
“Obviously I’m very happy, but it starts now and I’ve got to turn it up a little more,” Atkinson told BlueJackets.com this morning.
“I’ve got to keep working hard, one day at a time, be it on the ice or in the weight room.”
Arniel said he and the coaching staff tried Atkinson – by design – in several scenarios during camp. They wanted to see how he reacted playing both with skilled players and with inexperienced line mates.
Regardless of the environment, Atkinson kept getting better and earned the opportunity.
“He showed in practices that he was real attentive to detail and to the system,” Arniel said. “He was dangerous every time he had the puck.
“(Atkinson) has earned it to start (the season) with us, and what they do going forward and how long they stay will be decided by their play.”
OFF TO OXFORD
The Blue Jackets departed this afternoon for a team-building expedition in Oxford, Ohio. They will practice two times – Monday and Tuesday morning – at 10 a.m. in Miami University’s Goggin Ice Center at Steve Cady Arena.
It will be a primarily fun-filled work for the Blue Jackets, with a paintball session and a competitive golf outing on the schedule. But Arniel still wants to keep the focus on the purpose of team-building, and that’s to get to know each other better and grow as a team.
“First, it’s an opportunity for the players,” Arniel said. “There’s lots of new faces to get to know each other and have some fun. That’s the off-ice stuff, with the paintball and a couple of dinners we have planned. Hopefully we will be able to accomplish all of that.”
As far as hockey goes, there will be some business to attend to. The Blue Jackets will work hard on their specialty teams this week, as Arniel said he anticipates spending the entirety of tomorrow’s session on power play and penalty kill work.
Tuesday’s session will be fundamental work on their systems and details that were also stressed at the beginning of training camp.
|David Savard |
SWEET NEWS FOR “SAVVY”
It’s no secret that every player entering training camp this season knew there were jobs available. The opportunities were not scarce, and Arniel made that evident beginning with his first camp as Blue Jackets coach last season.
Savard was one of those that knew he had a good chance to make it to the NHL. He told BlueJackets.com this morning that he worked harder than he ever has in this year’s camp, pushing to make the final roster.
“I am very happy to have the chance to start the year here, and I’m going to work my (tail) off to stay,” Savard said.
Savard made a strong account of himself during the preseason games and in practice, and Arniel wants to see where exactly he fits on the blue line. With Savard’s superb vision and offensive skills, it would not be a surprise to see him log some power play minutes.
The phone call to his parents was one that he had longed to make, but Savard had planned to talk to them about something else. The added topic of him making the team was just a welcome surprise to them all the same.
“I called my parents right away, but (yesterday) I needed to call them already,” Savard said with a laugh.