Opening night is a little more than two weeks away, and already, we've seen some interesting stories percolating at Blue Jackets training camp.
A competition for rosters spots that was wide open entering camp has grown even more expansive as more players are pushing their way into the conversation. Todd Richards, his coaching staff and the management staff of GM Jarmo Kekalainen want to have difficult decisions to make, and if the first week is any indication, we’re on track for a few tough calls before all is said and done.
After four preseason games (wait, we’re halfway through preseason already?), we figured now would be a good time to hit pause and take stock of the situation.
Here’s a state of affairs as the Blue Jackets get ready to embark on the second week of a very important training camp:
1) Don’t sleep on Chaput: Richards pointed out after Tuesday’s game that there are players making a charge that aren’t getting the publicity of names like Wennberg, Rychel, Dano and others. One of those players is Michael Chaput, a third-year pro who the Blue Jackets acquired in a trade from Philadelphia a few years ago. Chaput, a 2012 Memorial Cup champion with Shawinigan (QMJHL), has impressed the coaches in both Springfield and Columbus with his high hockey acumen and solid 200-foot game. He played well last Sunday in Carolina and scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday against Pittsburgh, and played well Thursday in St. Louis...and as of right now, Chaput is (in the words of Richards) a guy who has “put himself right on the map.”
2) Nothing settled in the middle: As the contract impasse with Ryan Johansen lingers on, the Blue Jackets’ coaching staff is focused on finding solutions at center ice during training camp. Brandon Dubinsky has stood out in practices and in his first preseason game, Richards said, and he looks to be in line for the No. 1 center spot should Johansen remain unsigned. Artem Anisimov has been an energized player in the exhibition games and Boone Jenner looked good in his first NHL action at center ice on Sunday. Mark Letestu centered an effective line with Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson in Sunday’s win in Raleigh, and Alexander Wennberg is steadily building his case, as well. Without sounding understated (yeah, right), this is an extremely important item for the Jackets as they proceed focused on players who are currently on the roster.
3) Yeah, let’s play it safe: What’s with these injuries during training camp and preseason? Yikes. First, it was a devastating leg injury to Carolina’s Jordan Staal, then another broken leg suffered by Rangers No. 1 center Derek Stepan and THEN a shoulder injury to Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk — and we’re only one week into this thing. Make no mistake: the Blue Jackets have their share of injury concerns (namely Nathan Horton and his lingering back issue, which has caused him to miss all of camp so far), but when it comes to things like removing Jenner for precautionary reasons on Sunday and allowing maintenance days for players with bumps, bruises and general soreness, they’re taking a cautious approach early in camp.
4) A fast start to playing…faster: Without sounding like a broken record, we all know by now that the Blue Jackets have a goal of playing faster this season. They’d like to play faster systematically and structurally, which starts from thinking the game faster and making quicker plays with the puck from their own zone out. They’d also like to play faster with their feet, pushing the pace and forcing the opposition to match their speed rather than vice versa. It was crystal clear right from the first practice that anything less than top speed wasn’t going to cut it; Richards has reiterated the importance of quick, hard passes and executing plays coming out of the defensive zone. The Blue Jackets want to play faster, and a big part of it is execution, Brandon Dubinsky said; they want the forwards to better support the defense and for the defense to make quicker plays to exit the zone, all in an effort to come up the ice together and with speed.
5) Golo is no no-show: Don’t tell Cody Goloubef that he’s a long shot to make the Blue Jackets roster out of camp. Richards showed no hesitation in using him on Tuesday night, as Goloubef played nearly 25 minutes (24:48 to be exact) with most of his shifts coming alongside veteran Fedor Tyutin. Tim Erixon may be the favorite for one of the final spots on defense, but Goloubef — a player who has always gone about his business quietly — doesn't appear ready to let the matter be settled anytime soon. Richards described Goloubef as a guy that stands out as you watch him more, and that’s not for any reason other than the way he makes subtle, solid plays that often go unnoticed.