Jack Johnson was one of the first acquisitions made last season by the Blue Jackets designed to change the dynamic both on the ice and in the dressing room, but he certainly was not the last.
It has been quite the busy summer for GM Scott Howson and his staff, swinging significant trades since the deadline in February and adding a stable of competitive, two-way forwards while also bolstering the defense, which was already considered the strong arm of the club.
The latest of those moves involved seven total pieces and five players, sending Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick. Johnson said he and his teammates knew what was coming, but their sole focus is the exciting brand of hockey they know they're capable of playing.
"Everyone in the organization wishes the best for Rick, but we're excited about the direction we're going," Johnson told BlueJackets.com. "We all have to move on, and the guys who we've brought in over the summer are great players and great guys.
"It's going to help the depth of our team a lot, and I think one of the goals of the summer was to do that. We've got some big, strong forwards that really make us tougher to play against."
Johnson pointed to the versatility of the teams competing for the Stanley Cup each spring, and how they have to be able to change their style or approach as they advance in the playoffs. No two series are alike, he said, and being able to make adjustments comfortably is an asset that championship-caliber teams have. One series could be full of barn-burners and wide-open offense, while the next matchup could be a defensive stalemate.
With the additions and changes that have been made this offseason, Johnson feels strongly that the Blue Jackets are being built the same way.
"We're trying to create a team that can play any way that's needed," Johnson said. "There are a lot of teams in the league where you can could say 'they're a big, strong team' or 'that's a high-skill team.' We want to put together a team that's versatile.
"If it's a wide-open, puck possession game, we can play that way. If it's a defensive, physically hard-fought game, no problem. We want our team to be like that because once you get into the playoffs, every series is different. You have to win in different ways throughout the playoffs in order to get the Stanley Cup. It's important to have a team that can play any way."
The players acquired in the Nash trade fit the bill. Dubinsky has played both center and wing during his NHL career, and won over 50 percent of his face-offs a year ago. Anisimov was often centering Dubinsky's line in New York, and already has NHL seasons of 16 and 18-goal outputs under his belt.
Erixon, 21, was considered one of the Rangers' top prospects and a young defenseman capable of stepping into the NHL at any given moment. He played a handful of games in New York last year, but also had a terrific season with their top minor-league affiliate in Connecticut. Whether he plays in the NHL this year or gets more seasoning in the AHL, Erixon is yet another addition to a defense corps that has both offensive skill and a strong defensive presence.
"I definitely think our defense is fitting in the mold I talked about of being able to play any way we need to," Johnson said. "Nobody's going to get pushed around, and everyone on our defense is able to move the puck and skate well. It's very rare to have six guys that great puck-movers, and it's going to help out our offense tremendously.
"At the end of the day, to win hockey games, you have to score more goals than the other team. We're going to try to do as much as we can to help out our forwards in that department."