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Richards: organizational depth is critical this season

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets
head coach Todd Richards knows better than to think the lineup he arranged in today's practice will remain intact throughout the season.

After all, the team is slated to play its 48-game regular season in a span of 99 days, but the Blue Jackets won't be the only NHL team going through such a scenario. The grind is on for everyone, and teams are forced to cram three weeks of teaching and preparation into a six-day window before the schedule gets under way on Jan. 19.

Looking at the calendar and seeing Jan. 13 isn't a cause for alarm, Richards said today, but he wanted the first practice of Training Camp presented by OhioHealth to be a clear indication of how things will proceed from this point forward.

Drills are going to be intense, hydration will be required, but above all else, depth throughout the organization is going to be a key component to steering the U.S.S. Blue Jackets in the right direction. Are all lines going to remain the same? Are all players going to remain healthy and fit to play throughout the season? Absolutely not, and teams must prepare for the "curveballs," as John Davidson calls them.

"This year more than any other, you’re going to need everybody," Richards said. "Whether it’s recalls or guys here…guys are going to be tired, especially the guys who play big minutes and specialty teams. You’re going to have to lean on your role players and it’s critically important.

"We need everyone this year; we need all 12 forwards, all six defensemen and both goaltenders."

The Blue Jackets brought 19 players and six recalls from Springfield (AHL) and junior hockey (Boone Jenner) to training camp and formed a group about half of what they're accustomed to opening camp with. Richards put initial lines together and tried different players in different spots, but he cautioned that nothing is concrete and a lot could change from day-to-day, especially as they get closer to formulation a "final" roster.

Asked if today's lines mean anything, Richards said it's part experimentation and part seeing what the team has in the event it has to delve deeper into the pipeline.

"Well, we’re trying (to find combinations)," Richards said. "It’s not that we just pulled names out of a hat today. We put them down and we want to see what they can do. Today’s the first step and tomorrow might be different, but it’s what we’ve got to do as a staff: sit down, talk about today’s practice…and it’s no different with (defense) pairings, too.

"We want to play hockey. Everyone’s doing the same thing and has the same grind. You deal with the issues and everyone’s dealing with it. It’s a good grind, the grind that we want."

The grind began today, and from a depth perspective, Richards said he and the coaching staff aren't worried about the short time frame to make lineup decisions and where certain players fit. He's hopeful that the results of training camp will make those decisions easier if at all possible, and at the end of the week, they also have a solid foundation off which to make tough calls.

"It’s going to be hard, it truly is," Richards said. "You maybe have seven games to really assess and you can try different combinations and try guys at different positions. And you can find which guys are ready and which guys aren’t, but we don’t have that luxury this year.

"We have to base a lot of our decisions on what goes on here in (the next) six days. That’s just the circumstances and what we’re dealing with right now."

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