MONDAY, 7 P.M.
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BUY TICKETS | GAME ROSTER
The Blue Jackets and Penguins are familiar preseason foes, and they’ll renew acquaintances once again to open the 2015 exhibition campaign.
Monday night’s game at Nationwide Arena is the first of two meetings this week between these hopeful and optimistic Metropolitan Division rivals, both of whom went through disappointing seasons a year ago, made significant upgrades in the summer, and are gearing up for a dogfight in a well-armed division.
Something seemed off with the Penguins last year, limping into the playoffs and bowing out rather uneventfully in a five-game first round series with the New York Rangers. Their GM, Jim Rutherford, wasn’t too thrilled with that and set out to make changes – and made some headlines in the process.
The Blue Jackets struck first in the offseason, landing Brandon Saad (a Pittsburgh kid) in a seven-player trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that was the first loud statement from the Metro. Pittsburgh, reportedly involved in the Saad discussions, moved on and eventually acquired speedy sniper Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster deal of their own.
Pittsburgh added veterans like Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr to support its top six, which figures to be one of the league’s most explosive groups.
Rosters for tonight’s preseason opener feature a mixture of youth and veterans (the league rule is to dress at least eight veterans in exhibition), but youth reigns supreme, particularly in goal; the Blue Jackets have 21-year-old Joonas Korpisalo scheduled to start and the Penguins are bringing 20-year-old Tristan Jarry along with veteran Jeff Zatkoff.
Brad Thiessen, a former Penguins goaltender who earned his first NHL win against Columbus on Feb. 26, 2012, will serve as backup to Korpisalo.
Back-to-back titles at the NHL Prospects Tournament should serve as evidence that the Blue Jackets have some talented youngsters in the system. Three of them will be playing on the same line tonight against Pittsburgh.
Sonny Milano, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, will play left wing on a line with shifty Swedish center William Karlsson (acquired at last year's trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks) and highly-touted sniper Oliver Bjorkstrand on the right side. Bjorkstrand, the reigning Western Hockey League MVP following a 63-goal season, was the team and tournament leading scorer in Traverse City.
The line has a little bit of everything: Milano’s speed, elusiveness and raw skill, Karlsson’s smarts and underrated playmaking and Bjorkstrand’s heavy, wicked wrist shot that has “ooh and ahh” ability. When these kids are on the ice, make sure you're paying attention.
Kerby Rychel was the talk of the Traverse City tournament, with The Hockey News writer Ken Campbell calling him “the best player on the ice” in the championship game against the Detroit Red Wings. Injuries unfortunately derailed his rookie season in 2014-15, but Rychel has come out guns blazing this year and we’re not even a week into training camp.
Rychel had three assists in a five-game NHL stint last season and showed some real encouraging flashes, but was sent back to Springfield (AHL) once the Blue Jackets got relatively healthy again. As it stands today, it will be a tall task to break into one of the deepest groups of forwards in the league, but Rychel has kept on pushing.
He will begin Monday’s game on a line with PTO signee and training camp invite James Sheppard at center and Jared Boll on right wing, but don’t be surprised if Todd Richards elects to shift Rychel around in the lineup and get him some time on the power play.