This is usually the period of training camp – a week into the proceedings – when the temperature gets turned up. Preseason games have turned from the conditioning phase to the experimental/evaluation phase, and that’s what Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel plans to do tonight.
Columbus (2-1-0) travels to Minnesota (2-0-0) for its fourth exhibition matchup, a game in which both clubs are expected to unveil (at least part of) their top lines. The Wild, under first-year coach Mike Yeo, will dress a line of Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Devin Setoguchi for the first time at Xcel Energy Center. The Blue Jackets will counter with Vinny Prospal-Jeff Carter-Rick Nash as their No. 1 unit, another “let’s see” step in determining which player is the best fit up top.
Special teams play consumed the majority of the morning’s first practice session, with assistant coach Todd Richards leading the way in some intense power play drills. Arniel wanted to see the players work hard on zone entry and puck movement, two things Richards’ power play units (while with the Wild) were very adept at.
While not usually one to reveal his starting goaltender, Arniel told JacketsTV and BlueJackets.com after this morning’s practice that Allen York will start in goal tonight. He will be backed up by Curtis Sanford, a guy who figures to get more work as the preseason continues.
One of the more underrated free-agent signings this summer could end up being Radek Martinek, signed to a one-year deal early in July. The veteran is entering his 10th NHL season, and spent the previous nine with the New York Islanders.
Throughout his career, Arniel said Martinek has proven to be a steady and reliable defenseman capable of playing in all situations. That’s one thing that Martinek wants to bring to the Blue Jackets.
“There are so many talented guys in this room,” Martinek told BlueJackets.com. “I don’t know if I have a specific role, but I’m ready to play any role that I’m needed to. “
He admitted that making a career transition to a new club after playing in one place has been difficult, but as with most challenges, time will be the best remedy.
“At age 35, it’s pretty tough (to adapt quickly to a new team),” Martinek said. “But I will eventually get used to it. “There are very friendly people around here. It has been much easier than anywhere else.”
Arniel needs only a second to point out the stand-out aspect of Martinek’s game.
“Poise,” Arniel says. “I saw it in the Owners' Tournament, I see it during the drills in practice. He makes his playing partner a little bit better. He’s got a big bomb, too. “He’s a lot of what we expected him to be, and I’m sure he will become more comfortable with partners and his surroundings as we move forward."
The BC Bullet
It seems as if each time Cam Atkinson lines up against NHL players, he only gets better. Since he was drafted in sixth round (157th overall) by the Blue Jackets in the 2008 Entry Draft, he has posted terrific numbers at Boston College and made his pro debut with Springfield (AHL).
He’s become pretty good at turning heads, too. The 22-year-old has had the opportunity to play with skilled players during this training camp, and will be on a scoring line tonight against the Wild.
“I’ve been very fortunate to play with some skilled guys like Brassard, Giroux and others (tonight),” Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. “You have to just take it one day at a time, and I’m going to work as hard as I can.”
While scoring goals requires a lot of talent, Atkinson has seen a noticeable difference in what it takes to be a regular scorer at the NHL level.
“In the NHL, guys are bigger and stronger so you have to work that much harder to score,” Atkinson said.
Arniel has seen that from the skilled winger thus far, and is comfortable placing him on a scoring line because that’s where Atkinson can do damage to opposing defenders.
The coaching staff has been impressed with his ability to find the puck and create scoring chances when he given space.
“Cam is an offensive, skilled guy and we’ve got to put him in that role,” Arniel said. “He scored a nice goal the other night (against Washington), and we’re going to put him with some skilled guys tonight.
“We will try as much as possible to put him in roles that bring out his talent and his skills.”