The atmosphere around the Blue Jackets training camp has become more business-like by the minute.
It seems like just yesterday the team was opening its 2011 camp and welcomed nearly 60 players from across the globe into the OhioHealth Ice Haus and Nationwide Arena. The McConnell Cup owners’ tournament is now history, and the number of players in camp has been nearly halved.
Competition for roster spots is the hot topic simply because there’s a lot of it right now. With the coaching staff leaning toward using three scoring lines this season, the possibility exists for different players to make the NHL leap. But nothing is settled. Not even close.
Tonight’s game at home against the Minnesota Wild is more than just a barometer for some of the young players like Maksim Mayorov, Cam Atkinson, John Moore and David Savard. Each has performed well in camp to this point and earned significant responsibility on-ice during preseason games.
In fact, the next two games – including tomorrow’s exhibition finale at Carolina – may be two of the biggest games of these players’ young careers. And going up against a strong lineup from the Wild is the ideal way to evaluate, Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said.
“If they’re out playing against kids or other young players, maybe you’re not getting a true read,” Arniel told BlueJackets.com. “Especially against Koivu, Setoguchi and Heatley, if they’re all coming in tonight, there may be situations when some of (the Blue Jackets’ young defensemen) are on the ice and you want to see how they handle those guys.”
Arniel said he anticipates getting a second look at most, if not all, of the players vying for spots when they travel to play the Hurricanes. Playing the back-to-back games is another valuable experience for those looking to crack into the league.
“You want to put them in that kind of role, in that kind of situation to see if that’s something they can handle,” Arniel said.
The ongoing battle for spots on the blue line is not the only area on the roster that could potentially be shaken up. Some of the Blue Jackets’ skilled prospects are making a strong impression on the coaching staff and have eyes on a full-time job with the big club. Atkinson, Mayorov, Ryan Johansen and Tomas Kubalik are four guys making roster decisions anything but easy for Arniel and company.
They are all in the lineup tonight, as well.
“There have been five or six forwards that are fighting for spots, and we’ve had some injuries (that have opened spots),” Arniel said. “It’s been very good. We wanted this to be a competitive camp, and I think it’s been a very difficult camp.”
Did last year’s intense camp establish a precedent for the Blue Jackets, in terms of letting the tough decisions fall in the players’ hands?
Arniel certainly thinks so, and he’s seeing similar things transpire from last year to this year.
“Maybe last year we set a tone, having three guys make our team out of camp with all of our one-way contracts (at the time), we still had new bodies here,” Arniel said.
“I think guys see this year that there are jobs to be had.”
Going The Distance
Arniel said he expects goaltender Steve Mason to start tonight’s game and play the full 60 minutes. He did not rule out going back-to-back with Mason and starting him tomorrow night in Raleigh.
Following is the full Blue Jackets’ roster for tonight’s game. The list does include extra players, but does not include those injured or on injured reserve.
FORWARDS: Jeff Carter, Maksim Mayorov, Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Vinny Prospal, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin St. Pierre, Alexandre Giroux, Tomas Kubalik, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Jared Boll, Antoine Vermette, Rick Nash.
DEFENSE: Radek Martinek, Marc Methot, John Moore, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell, Grant Clitsome, Nick Holden, David Savard, Fedor Tyutin.
GOALTENDERS: Steve Mason, Curtis Sanford.