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The 5th Line Report: Here We Go!

by Martin Poston / Columbus Blue Jackets

The wait has been nearly six months since the Blue Jackets went on a 15-1-1 tear to end the 2014-15 season -- their third straight winning campaign and second-straight 40-plus-win season.

Take the two months of playoff hockey, then the NHL Draft, then the blockbuster trade that brought Brandon Saad to Columbus. All of a sudden, anticipation for the next season was at a fever pitch, and it wasn't even Fourth of July Weekend yet.

And yet, through all of the wait, this week might be the longest wait of all.

The reason? The on-ice production fans saw not only from the veterans and the players expected on the opening night roster, but also the prospects who will anchor the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland.

It's one thing to discuss the anticipation of Saad joining the team and the impact he could have, even before training camp starts. It's another thing altogether to see what the top line of Saad, Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno has done on the ice during the preseason. The line played together in three of the last four preseason games, beginning with the Jackets' 4-2 win over Pittsburgh last Saturday. The line then led the offensive fireworks in a pair of games against Nashville this past week -- a 5-2 win on the road and a 7-1 win at home to close out the preseason.

Now, does preseason success necessarily precede domination the regular season?

Not exactly. The Jackets went 7-1-1 in the preseason last year, and then the regular season didn't turn out so well. Then again, the Opening Night roster was without three key players by the name of Nathan Horton, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky. Sadly, it would turn out injuries would play a huge role in the first four months of the season.

The team we are looking at going into Friday -- 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders -- is healthy. And from what Jackets fans saw on the ice in the preseason, there's a lot to look forward to this year.

With all the expected attention on the Saad-Johansen-Foligno line, it is important to not neglect the offensive contributions coming from the other lines. Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, Rene Bourque and Jared Boll all factored into the scoring in the games this past week, and the scoring in the road game against Buffalo was dominated by young prospects.

Our extended hockey family in Cleveland looks like it's in for a treat this season.

Establishing scoring depth is going to be the key throughout the season, but especially in the early going. A high-scoring top line is going to get a lot of attention from opponents, so it's important to get contributions elsewhere. The Jackets have the potential to roll out three quality scoring lines, and the potential combinations on that fourth line don't look too shabby, either.

The other key factor right now is going to be health, and the Blue Jackets are healthy (knock on wood). Pair that with what the team has done in the preseason, and it's not hard to think that this is a team on the verge of turning a huge corner.

It's enough to make a 5th Liner lie awake at night.


Welcome to the longest week of the year.

We'll see you Friday, 5th Line.

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