The stage is nearly set for the NHL season and the Blue Jackets' season opener on Oct. 9 in Buffalo, but exactly what the cast is going to look like when the curtain comes up remains undecided.
The Blue Jackets trimmed another three names from their roster on Thursday, leaving only a handful of cuts before Todd Richards will have his squad in place. While much of the attention has focused on the organization's impressive young players during this training camp, another strength of the roster has been overlooked.
Some of the most impressive showings at this camp have come from a couple of this team’s veteran performers.
Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu have both stood out in training camp in a big way. Foligno, coming off the second-best offensive season of his career, has done a solid job of generating offense in the exhibition season with a goal and four assists in four preseason games.
“It feels good to feel like you’re playing the right way, and I think that’s what I’m most excited about,” said Foligno, coming off a career-high 18 goal campaign last season. “It’s nice that the goals and the points are coming, but it’s the fact that I feel like I’m doing the right things out there and it’s showing up on the score sheet as well.
“I think if I’m doing the right things where I’m skating, I’m using my body, where I’m getting in on the forecheck, then all those other things will take care of themselves. And I need to be sure I bring that consistently.”
|Mark Letestu has filled several roles since joining the Blue Jackets in 2011. |
Those have been and continue to be staple concepts for the Blue Jackets, and they’re also defining characteristics in Letestu’s game, and part of what makes him one of the team's most versatile forwards.
“I think you have to trust the process, and the little things that allow you to have success, “ said Letestu, who’s put up four points in four preseason games. “Playing the hard game and getting to the tough spots will let the goals take care of themselves because the guys in this room are too skilled not to score.”
It’s an agreed-upon script for two players with less flash in their game and more grit, which is exactly what an injured roster calls for.
Letestu is entering his fourth season with the Blue Jackets and has worn many hats for Columbus. He’s been a top-six forward and provided offensively, but last year he primarily centered the Jackets' fourth line. Letestu still managed 12 goals and 34 points while remaining an important power play contributor, where he's played both center and at the point.
With Johansen unsigned and Boone Jenner’s transition to center interrupted by injury, Letestu remains a viable option for coach Todd Richards as he looks to fill voids at center ice.
At the very least, Richards knows exactly what he has in Foligno and Letestu.
“They’ve both had good camps and I expected that,” said Richards. “(Foligno) is one guy who has some skill. He gets the puck below the goal line, he can rag it, he’s strong enough to hold guys off but he also has the skill to beat guys one-on-one.”
“I’ve known (Letestu) for a number of years, so I expected this. He’s a reliable player. When he gets his opportunities, like he has, he makes the most of them.”