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Jackets' young players expected to step up

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

The average age of the Blue Jackets team for this upcoming season: 26 years old.

A handful of players under that average age are expected to fight for not just roster spots, but significant ice time and special teams minutes that will impact the outcome of the 2013-14 season. 

While many of these young guys including Ryan Johansen, Matt Calvert and Dalton Prout stayed in town for much of the offseason and worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins throughout the summer, they know that they are not guaranteed a spot on the final roster and will have to earn their position.

"There are high expectations," said president of hockey operations John Davidson. "We have to let their play tell us the story and decide where they’re going to end up and that’s the one process we can’t rush."

One of the players who has let his play tell the story is Ryan Murray, who impressed Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. earlier this week.

"To see Ryan Murray play there at the level he played was good for us to watch," said Davidson. "It was good for him to have that success. He was really good. That gives us more of a belief that we have a lot of talent and as we build this thing, these are the types of players that are going to help us get to the future."

Another player who proved himself ready for a full time NHL job was Dalton Prout, who proved to be a happy surprise for the Blue Jackets coaching staff and his teammates. Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, at just 24 years old, also made people take notice as he filled the starting goaltending role for the Blue Jackets all last season and for the foreseeable future.

“You feel pretty good about your chances with Bobrovsky in net as the starting goaltender, and then seeing some young people like Dalton Prout all of a sudden pop up—wow," said Davidson. "That wasn’t totally surprising, but with the emergence of how quickly he became a regular and played at the level he played at, those are pleasant surprises. Now he’s got to build on it. Those are things that help a franchise grow quickly."

Though many of the young guys had productive seasons either in the NHL or AHL last season, they have to prove that they are ready to handle both the physical and psychological challenges that accompany the job title of an NHL player.

"As much as it’s about skills and the physical level of play in the NHL, it’s about the mental maturity as well," said Davidson. "When the camp opens, right away you can usually see who has enough confidence and mental maturity to play on this level and compete for a spot."

With training camp opening Wednesday morning, the guys won't have to wait long to make their case. If they do not make the team, the likely place they will end up to start the year is with the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons. Even then, that is by no means a final resting spot for the players who do not make the start of season roster.

"We’ll call people up whenever we need them, whether it’s an injury or a person has earned that opportunity, we’re in a good place regarding that,” said Davidson.

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