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Notebook: Lilja has impressed in bid for Blue Jackets roster spot

Korpisalo turns in another solid outing; Peeke has turned heads with play

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When he was asked the question, Jakob Lilja took a deep breath. 

It's not a done deal, but now that he's survived a number of roster cuts and seems to be among four players battling for three forward spots, how does Lilja feel about being on the cusp of potentially making the Blue Jackets roster? 

"As you say, it's not done yet," Lilja said as he took the breath. "But I can't do anything except try my best every day and go out and have fun. I think I play better when I have fun, so have fun and do my best and work hard and see how long it carries me." 

So far, that attitude has carried him pretty far. Even the Blue Jackets coaches admitted they don't know much about the Swedish forward, but he appears he could be another good find by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and his scouting staff. 

Lilja finished in the top 10 in the Swedish Hockey League in assists and points last year, prompting interest from a number of NHL teams. He chose the Blue Jackets because it felt like the right fit, and so far it would be hard to dispute that. 

The 26-year-old has played in four preseason games now, scoring twice in last Sunday's game at St. Louis to tie for the team lead in preseason goals along with Sonny Milano, Nathan Gerbe and Josh Anderson.

Lilja and Milano appear to be battling Emil Bemstrom and Marko Dano for three roster spots to begin the season.

"He's a smart player," head coach John Tortorella said. "He's come on to the scene. I knew nothing about him until we've watched him. He's scored a couple of goals, is around the puck, can skate. You can see that he thinks the game, so he's still with us here. He's banging on the door to try to get in that lineup." 

"I like the way he plays," captain Nick Foligno added. "He's a great guy, great personality too, and he's obviously done a lot to still be here. He's earned it. He looks great out there. He looks like he fits right in. It's nice because I think a lot of talk was made of Bemstrom and (Alexandre) Texier -- and rightfully so, they're great players -- but he's a guy that's come in here quietly and worked his (butt) off and gave himself a great opportunity to be here opening night." 

Lilja said he's learning on the fly what it takes to play in the NHL, from playing on the smaller rink to how to handle the most skilled players in the world. He thinks his game translates, though, and he's happy with how he's presented himself to the Blue Jackets this autumn. 

"I think it's been pretty good," he said. "Of course it's a little bit different in the beginning, but it's still hockey on a smaller ice (surface). You have to think in another way in some situations, but I've learned pretty quickly." 


Tortorella described goaltender Joonas Korpisalo as "solid" once again after Friday night's 2-0 loss to New Jersey, and it might have been a bit of an understatement. 

The Finnish goaltender made 25 stops in the game, being beat only by a Taylor Hall snipe and a power-play goal, but turned in a couple of highlight-reel stops. That included a 2-on-0 denial of 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes and a breakaway stop on Hall, both in the second period. 

But the save that made the Twitter rounds and ended up on ESPN's "SportsCenter" came in the first with the Devils on the power play. A deflection ended up on the stick of Nico Hischier with nothing but net to shoot into - or so he thought. As Hischier got his shot off, Korpisalo reached behind himself and batted the puck down with his paddle.  

"It's a split second, there's no time to think," he said afterward. "Of course I'd rather the puck go right into my logo right here, but sometimes you have to make those saves. I'm glad I got a piece of it." 

It continued an excellent run of play for Korpisalo this fall. In three starts this preseason spanning close to 150 minutes of action, Korpisalo has allowed just three goals and stopped .953 percent of shots against. 

Korpisalo said he's felt good all throughout camp, and Foligno said he's happy to see the four-year reserve embracing the opportunity with the No. 1 job open.  

"He was outstanding," Foligno said after the game. "What a game he played. That's why it sucks. You want to win for him because of his efforts. He played outstanding, and we're always pumped when we see our goalie play like that, especially knowing what he's been dealing with and been up against. He's answered the bell as of late." 

A peek at Peeke 

A year ago, Andrew Peeke was getting ready to begin his third college season at Notre Dame. Now, he's with the Blue Jackets at the end of camp during his first season as a pro. 

That's because, simply put, he's played well.  

"Had a really good camp. That's why he's here," Tortorella said. "He's had a really good camp. He's been much more assertive. He's been able to move the puck, some good size, moves around the ice very well with that size." 

The Fighting Irish's captain a year ago, Peeke has always been viewed highly for what he can do on the defensive end of the ice. The 2016 second-round pick upped his offense a year ago, and at still just 21 years ago, he figures to continue to grow with his game. 

It seems likely that will be at AHL Cleveland to start the season, but the fact Peeke made it this far is a testament to the impressive nature of his fall.  

"I thought this was his most decisive game," assistant coach Brad Shaw said after Peeke played vs. Buffalo on Wednesday. "He played assertive. I thought his reads were exceptional. He really jumped into the play offensively when it warranted it. I thought he makes a couple of puck plays in transition that really fit the situation perfectly. 

"He looks like a guy that can help a team at this level. Maybe not right now for us, but he's certainly on the right path." 

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