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Competition intensifies at CBJ training camp, presented by OhioHealth

Now, the process of deciding who makes the club's NHL opening night roster takes another significant step

by Alison Lukan AlisonL /

It's been a busy week for the 60 players that made up the Blue Jackets' 2017 training camp roster. The last seven days have been full of testing, skating, and scrimmaging. There have also been some injuries and comings and goings.

Now, the process of deciding who makes the club's NHL opening night roster takes another significant step.

Thursday is an off day for the club. One that you have to believe many will use to rest and recover. It's hard to believe that it was just a week ago that players were going through physicals and testing both on the ice and off in the form of skate tests and head coach John Tortorella's two-mile run.

In the days since, there's been hours and hours spent on the ice. Tortorella and his coaching staff have led players through a significant amount of skating drills to build a foundation of endurance for the 82-game season that awaits.

After four days of pure conditioning work, two preseason games gave players a chance to draw more attention to what they can do. Seth Jones scored two goals in a 5-2 loss to Chicago on Tuesday. Zac Dalpe notched two scores in a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis, and Sonny Milano earned two assists.

For many players, it was their first time playing on NHL ice, a dream realized. That includes goaltenders Matiss Kivlenieks and Ivan Kulbakov who looked solid playing in relief in each of the two games.

The Jackets were also able to welcome Alexander Wennberg back to Columbus. Visa issues had prevented the centerman from being at the first days of camp, but he arrived Monday night and was at Nationwide Arena and ready to go the next morning.

Wennberg is anticipated to center a line with All-Star Cam Atkinson and 2016 Calder Trophy winning Artemi Panarin. Now that the three are together, the Swede can join in the already burgeoning chemistry between Atkinson and Panarin.

Video: Wennberg is glad to be back in Columbus

But as it can go with camps, there were also losses.

20-year-old Kole Sherwood played all four games on the Jackets' Traverse City Prospect Tournament squad, but suffered a high ankle sprain. The New Albany native is expected to miss approximately four weeks as he recovers.

It was also announced Wednesday that center Sam Vigneault has a broken finger and will be out 4-6 weeks. The former Clarkson Golden Knight signed an entry level contract with the Jackets that begins this season. In 16 games with the Monsters last year, he had one goal and two assists.

The Jackets also trimmed their camp roster by six players. Defensemen Stephen Desrocher, Médric Mercier, Nate Billitier and forwards Luke Kirwan, Trent Fox and Justin Brazeau were released from their tryout contracts.

And now, as the number of days to the season opener gets smaller, the level of competition is raised.

On Friday, players will be divided into two groups as opposed to the four smaller groups they had been assigned to earlier. Even on game days, the groups as designed will practice together regardless of who is playing that night.

Staying in camp has been a sign to players that they are doing things the right way. Earning a spot in preseason games has been another. These groups serve as the next feedback loop.

Video: Tortorella ready to assess Jackets in preseason

"We're getting into two groups," Tortorella said. "(Monsters head coach) John Madden will have a Cleveland group with guys trying to win jobs there, and we'll have our National Hockey League group. That group will have more players than the numbers that we'll carry (on our final roster), but it will include guys that we think should be considered."

After Thursday's reprieve, the pace of camp picks right back up and the competition to become a Blue Jacket continues.

The team will play an exhibition game on each of the next three days. Pittsburgh comes to town Friday and the Jackets travel to Chicago Saturday before hosting the Nashville Predators for a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.

"It changes now," head coach John Tortorella said. "The players will know Friday where they stand."

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