This is the third part of a series of articles featuring Q&A sessions with Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson. He sat down with CBJ radio host Bob McElligott to talk about the Blue Jackets young talent and what he's looking for in players such as Oliver Bjorkstrand and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Click here for part two of this series.
McElligott: Is it tougher at all last year? Because, if we were doing this one year ago, you were coming off of 27th place finish, and you guys were being so patient. You weren't really changing much with the team and was easy to look from the outside and go, 'Well how can they stick with that group?' which you did and you moved from 27th to 4th overall last year.
Davidson: We did and didn't. When you have a plan in place, you have to build your plan and stay with it. You deviate a little bit now and again because this is a human sport, and these are human people that play the game, so there's always changes. But two years ago when we were really bad because of that start we had to the season that nobody expected, it was painful. The one saving grace, we expected them to do well but not as well as they did, was our Cleveland farm team winning a championship. And then you look at the people that came here from that team that helped us move forward last season as first year players. Werenski. I expect more out of Bjorkstrand this year. So yes we were worse than anticipated, but we couldn't panic because we knew the game plan, and it takes time. You draft players and these kids are 18 they don't just, very few don't just come and play. They have to build their bodies up. A great example would be the young man Bjorkstrand who last year had a tough training camp, and he was one of our MVPs in the playoff run for Cleveland. He scored all kinds of goals, all kinds of game winning goals and overtime goals. He was unbelievable. Then he went to a pre-Olympic camp for Denmark, and he was just flat out worn out. He's not a big kid at the time, and so when he showed up at camp he just - he was worn out. Still he hadn't worked out on his body all summer, and that hurt him. But it is part of the process you go through to get kids to be better players. Now this summer is a completely different story. He's been in the locker room. Most of the players are gone for the month of July - they scatter around the world so they can go see their families and have some down time. A lot of them have been here until then, and then they come back early August and they work with our strength and conditioning people and go through programs to build their bodies up. Now I saw Bjorkstrand at the end of June and I go 'Oh, this is a different human being than when I saw a few months prior and especially last summer." So I see a kid like this is going to be able to go on this ice, be much physically stronger and rested and be able to compete and get to the net and score goals. So this whole thing is, you want it now, but it doesn't happen now. You have to pay a price to get there, and when you do get there damn it feels good.
Video: CBJ@NYI: Bjorkstrand picks top corner with wrister
McElligott: The good news is you were able to be patient with him because the other guys were playing well and you didn't have to push him along, you could kind of wait. This year there's a guy that might be in that same boat a little bit, and that's your number three overall selection last summer: Pierre Luc-Dubois. He's getting bigger. He's just a young guy, but he'll have a real chance this fall as it stands right now
Davidson: You know, he's drafted as a winger/centerman. We need help right now with center. He's very young, 19, he's 220 pounds and very well built, but you still have to go through it. Last season when we sent him back, he was disappointed, but it just had to happen. What happens, too, when you draft these young ones if they're junior players, you can't send them to Cleveland. You have to send them back to their junior team, [which] helps the junior teams because they have to operate, too. Otherwise we would have sent him to Cleveland for sure. Now, he had a slow start to the first half of the season, and the second half of the playoffs he was extraordinary. Now, when he comes here this year, will he be good enough to play center? Don't know. There's so much responsibility on your own end as a centerman. You're the quarterback in your own zone, and he's got to work, read and react, read and react, read and react to what the defensemen are doing, and then they head up ice. Or would he be better off being a left winger or a right winger? He can play both and let somebody else do all of that work because…it's so fast, this NHL, so quick, so hard. But John Tortorella is going to look at this, and we'll go through camp and eight exhibition games to see where it all fits. He's going to be a player, and he's going to be a very good one. We just got to make sure we do it right for him to help us. Certainly physically he's ready to go, he's a big dude.
Video: Pierre-Luc Dubois looks forward to Traverse City
McElligott: And he wouldn't be the first guy to start it on wing and went back to center, Alexander Wennberg started like that when he came here.
Davidson: Well sure, absolutely. And that's all part of it, it's learning at a young age. Some young ones can just pick it up quick - it's called hockey sense. Some have extraordinarily quick hockey sense and they can make a jump, but you have to go through it. It's just what it is.