COLUMBUS, Ohio - Blue Jackets rookies began arriving in town over the weekend, took part in a brief practice at the OhioHealth Ice Haus yesterday, and then headed north for the unofficial kick-off to the NHL season.
That would be the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., an event that has become an annual stop for the Blue Jackets dating back to the franchise joining the league in 2000. This year's tournament will mark the 12th consecutive Traverse City appearance for the Blue Jackets, and it would have been 13-for-13 had the NHL lockout not cancelled last year's tournament.
An impressive crop of rookies headlines the Blue Jackets roster for the 2013 edition, and while European prospects like Alexander Wennberg, Anton Forsberg and Marko Dano won't be in attendance (their respective seasons overseas are already underway), there is a host of familiar names and faces that Blue Jackets fans can follow throughout the week.
Ryan Murray, the Blue Jackets' first pick (second overall) in 2012 will make his return to competition this week and he will undoubtedly draw much of team management's attention during the tournament. Not only is Murray the top defenseman on the club's Traverse City roster, but he plans on making a strong case to make his NHL debut out of the gate this season.
Despite missing almost six months of game action and training time due to shoulder surgery in January, Murray said his shoulder feels great and he's been anticipating this tournament for quite some time.
"I'm getting there, for sure," Murray told BlueJackets.com after a players skate a few weeks back. "The shoulder feels great, I don't have any restrictions, and I'm just working on getting myself back up to speed for training camp in a few weeks."
Between the pipes, look for Oscar Dansk (second round, 2012) to get the bulk of play between the pipes. Jordan Dekort - a camp invitee from the Windsor Spitfires - will serve as the backup goaltender for the Blue Jackets rookie squad. Kerby Rychel, this year's No. 19 overall pick, is sure to garner some attention and should play top minutes on a scoring line for the Columbus contingent.
Along with the other prospects heading north with the Blue Jackets, Murray has a jam-packed schedule awaiting him. The players got into Columbus a few days ago, skated together Wednesday morning, went through medicals, ate lunch and hit the road - and when the team arrived in Traverse City last night, they were less than 12 hours away from the beginning of a long day at the rink.
Day one of the tournament week begins with an 8:30 a.m. full team skate on the west rink at Center Ice Arena, and after a break for lunch and rest, the Blue Jackets rookies will take on the Buffalo Sabres rookies in a 4 p.m. game on the same west rink.
The Blue Jackets roster for the prospects tournament includes 24 players, 14 of whom were selected by the team in the NHL Draft. Springfield Falcons coach Brad Larsen serves as head coach for the Columbus rookies, and is assisted by his normal staff of Jared Bednar and Nolan Pratt.
Stay tuned to BlueJackets.com and the CBJ Today blog for continuing coverage throughout the prospects tournament.