As the Blue Jackets prepare to participate in their 16th NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, 23 young players took to the ice Thursday for an initial practice before heading up north.
"It's a great way for these guys to get a head start on regular training camp," Chris Clark, Blue Jackets development coach said. "They're going to come back in a week with four real games under their belt, with real competition, and real hitting. They'll go to training camp (from there) and flow right into the drills and the pre-season. It's a great first step for these guys."
The Jackets are one of eight teams participating in the tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings. As part of the Gordie Howe Division, they'll compete against the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues in round robin play to determine divisional seeding. In the final day of the tournament, the Jackets will face the team from the Ted Lindsey Division with the same ranking. The four teams in the other division are the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.
The Jackets are hungry to outperform their third-place finish last year after winning back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015. That's something that sits in the mind of players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is returning for his second tournament. He wants to add one more title to the four the Jackets already have (the team also won in 2006 and 2007).
But win or lose, the goal of the tournament is to give the 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies that make up the Jackets squad a jump start on learning the team's systems while seeing how they match up against players their age and older.
"Nobody is going to make the Columbus Blue Jackets just because they play very well (in Traverse), and if they play poorly it doesn't mean a player will not make the team," Clark said. "This is something where they are going to put their best foot forward and see where it goes. It's a great stepping stone for them."
With no 2017 draft selections joining the squad because of the demands of KHL and European league schedules, Clark is looking forward to seeing how returning players demonstrate their progress from last year's tournament. Players like Dubois, Sam Vigneault, and Vitaly Abramov will be a big part of the offensive side of the ice.
And Gabriel Carlsson, who played in three games with the Cleveland Monsters last season before earning a spot in the final two Jackets regular season games and five playoff games, will help hold down the squad's blue line.
After an hour-long practice at the Ice Haus, the team is flying to Traverse City with their first game scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Friday against Dallas. In advance of the game, the team is expected to announce tournament captains and assistant captains.
The Jackets play again Saturday (Minnesota) and Monday (St. Louis) to determine seeding for the final matchups Tuesday.
All games will be streamed live via Fox Sports Go.
- Development coaches Chris Clark, Jarkko Ruutu and Gregory Campbell led Thursday's practice along with Monsters' assistant coach Steve McCarthy. Monsters head coach John Madden was with his family in Florida preparing for hurricane Irma and is expected to join the team when his family is attended to.
- Goaltending coach Manny Legace will also join the team in Traverse.
- In addition to Dubois and Carlsson, other drafted players participating in this year's tournament include Vitaly Abramov, Calvin Thurkauf, Paul Bittner, and Ryan Collins.
- Goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks will be part of this year's squad. The Latvian netminder was signed as a free agent after winning the USHL MVP and best goaltender awards last season.