John Tortorella knows his team was 10th in the league last season in 5-on-5 goals for. He also knows that they were 27th in goals against.
This season, he is challenging his team to play more aggressively in order to solve that problem, but perhaps not in the way you'd expect.
"I think we need to score more goals," Tortorella said. "But the bottom line is we need to keep the puck out of the net, too. It's not just about playing defense to keep the puck out of the net - it's about making plays and keeping the puck in the offensive zone."
With this strategy in mind, Tortorella is placing emphasis on a young defensive corps that includes 19-year-old Zach Werenski, 22-year-olds Seth Jones and Markus Nutivaara as well as 23-year-old Ryan Murray.
"I do not want to put any type of harness on these young defensemen as far as just getting up the ice and allowing them to play," Tortorella said. "It's not always about being in your position. We're doing a number of different things with our defensemen in the offensive zone as far as not just staying in the backend and looking for a shot, or looking for a pass and trying to get a shot on net.
"It's hard to get a shot through. You need to get some action on the blue line, and I think we have some people we can do that with."
The Jackets are armed with some promising outcomes from last season. After joining the team in January, Jones led all Jackets players in 5v5 Corsi For/60 (62.22%) meaning that among defensemen, when he was on the ice, the team had the highest percentage of offensive shot attempts. Jones was also 10th on the roster in primary points (goals plus primary assists) / 60 (.57) and David Savard was 10th on the team in 5v5 total points/60 (.93).
And while preseason games represent a very small sample size, both Nutivaara and Werenski showed their ability to think creatively and offensively with the puck on their stick. Tortorella sees in Werenski a player who can lead the rush but also quickly recover on the defensive end, and he likes Nutivaara's "guts to make a play."
But the other side of this coin is that as defensemen challenge themselves to be more aggressive, join the rush and "not play safe" as Tortorella says, that also means the challenge lies on the coaching staff to allow any mistakes that might result to roll off their backs.
"I'm going to have to turn away at some of the mistakes that are made as we're trying to get this straightened out," Tortorella said. "That's a big part of me allowing them (to play) and not to feel is something bad happens (I'll come down on them)."
The concept of how to play has been baked into the latter half of this training camp, and now the challenge will be to maintain it through 82 games, whether play is going well or not so much.
That's part of the identity that Tortorella wants to see.
"I'm looking at the youth of our team and I'd like to see our team develop into the type of club that's not afraid to make a mistake and make some more offense," Tortorella said. "That back end's young, but this is part of the process of building a team and part of that is allowing them to play."
NOTE: All data from corsica.hockey unless otherwise noted.