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Jackets prepare for training camp

Players will be looking to put their best foot forward and make a case to be part of an NHL opening night roster

by Alison Lukan AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

Blue Jackets' Training Camp, presented by OhioHealth, starts Thursday, and 60 skaters will be looking to put their best foot forward and make a case to be part of an NHL opening night roster.

For some players, the work has already started. 23 Jackets prospects participated in the 2017 Traverse City Prospect Tournament this past weekend, and while the team lost in the Championship game in overtime, the effort shown by the young players made the tournament a success in management's eyes.

Now those players join the hunt to make the NHL squad, and the field is open.

"I don't make the decisions. (The players) do," head coach John Tortorella said. "That's what's great about camp and where we're getting healthier and healthier. There are other people right on you, looking for your job, that's the way it works. That's healthy."

That's what makes training camp an exciting time of year. For a young team like the Jackets that is continuing to develop their talent from within, players are coming back from the off-season looking stronger and ready to go.

Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen knows that work off the ice translates to performance on the ice and he saw it in the Traverse tournament.

"Our first line was as dominant of a line as there was in the tournament," Kekalainen said. "Which was very nice to see."

The line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Vitaly Abramov, and Calvin Thurkauf put up six goals and 11 assists combined. Thurkauf (1-6-7) finished tied for second overall in total points and first in assists. Abramov (2-4-6) finished tied for fifth overall in points, and Dubois (3-1-4) was one of three Jackets tied for fourth in goals scored.

Thurkauf, who played center in the WHL last season, also played what Kekalainen described as his best game of the tournament when he held down middle ice in game three against St. Louis.

In addition to a solid offense, the young Jackets defense and goaltending proved solid, demonstrating the depth that the organization has been cultivating.

The top pairing of Gabriel Carlsson and Ryan Collins provided a solid defensive backbone to the team while two newly recruited goaltenders from the USHL showed they were ready to make the jump to a tournament like Traverse and be part of the Jackets' depth.

In the four-game tournament, Ivan Kulbakov earned the second-best overall save percentage (.931) and made 54 saves while Matiss Kivlenieks stopped 39 of the shots he faced.

And with those performances still in their minds, the players have that extra bit of confidence heading into the next few weeks of training camp that will start with physicals and fitness testing Thursday and on-ice testing Friday.

After that, in addition to training and scrimmages, eight exhibition games loom as opportunities to show Jackets management who deserves to be a Blue Jacket.

"We've got some guys that really have strong attitudes about coming in here to push for jobs," president of hockey operations, John Davidson said. "Veteran players have to understand that.

"This isn't a team where the attitude is 'I'm coming to camp and I'm going to be this person.' (It needs to be) 'I better realize there are some people here who are pushing." And that's a good sign for our organization."

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