The Blue Jackets are three days away from dropping the puck on the highly-anticipated 2013-14 season. It's a fresh start, a clean slate, but everyone has last season's memorab in the back of their minds.
Can the Blue Jackets build on the momentum of their postseason push a season ago? Can they break into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009? There's a group of players in the dressing room ready to answer those questions, and solidify themselves among the contenders of the Eastern Conference.
You've probably become familiar with our "Friday 5" feature and know what that's all about, but today, we're doing a bit differently. While there are 23 players on the Blue Jackets' final roster, we're here to look closely at five who could make a difference over the course of a grueling 82-game schedule.
Ready? Alright, let's go.
There are few players as eager to get this season going than Wisniewski, the 29-year-old blue liner who has battled injuries during his time in Columbus that have hindered his ability to regularly stay in the lineup. He appeared in 30 of 48 games last season, contributing five goals and 14 points while seeing a lot of time on the power play and on the team's top defensive pairing.
A healthy Wisniewski is a very good thing for the Blue Jackets, who are looking for more production from their power play and more offense in general. One way to boost the scoring is to generate more second and third chances from the blue line, and with that booming one-timer, Wisniewski is a weapon that Todd Richards would love to have on a nightly basis. There's no denying the instant impact this guy has on a game, and he's an important cog for the Blue Jackets.
You can already see the confidence Richards and the coaching staff have in this kid, and based on his performance in training camp, who could argue (at least for now)? Jenner is a hard-working, in-your-face player who never seems to shy away from the confrontational aspect of the game. Jenner, who scored 45 goals a year ago with the Oshawa Generals, earned a spot on the Blue Jackets' No. 1 line with Gaborik and Dubinsky out of camp, and so far, has fit in well with those two.
It's premature to say the Blue Jackets are seeking top-line production from the 20-year-old rookie, but he's very highly thought of and has earned the opportunity to start the year in the NHL. One thing we feel confident in predicting: it won't be long before opponents are muttering his name under their breath.
The Blue Jackets aren't quite sure when Horton will be in their lineup, but when he's ready, it's going to be a huge boost. Signed in July to a seven-year contract, the 28-year-old winger is currently rehabbing from a shoulder injury he suffered during the Stanley Cup playoffs. This guy is the total package: he's a protoypical power forward, a pure goal scorer, and a true competitor. He comes with a wealth of postseason experience, the pedigree of 20 and 30-goal seasons, and perhaps most notably, he chose to come to Columbus in free agency.
Forget the trade deadline: when the Blue Jackets get this guy into the mix, it will represent the biggest deal they could make. Horton is a sure-fire impact player as soon as he dons the Blue Jackets sweater for the first time.
One of last year's biggest surprises at the trade deadline was Gaborik coming to Columbus, and right away, he made it very clear that he's still got plenty of game. Althought it was an overall "down" year by his standards, the 31-year-old Slovakian star repaired an abdominal problem in the offseason and is feeling 100 percent as the regular season approaches. Expect a motivated, determined Gaborik as he plays alongside a guy he knows well in Dubinsky, and aims to help the Blue Jackets get back into postseason.
For a team looking to improve its power play and turn the man advantage into a weapon, the Blue Jackets can look no further than Gaborik to help jump-start it. In getting a healthy and productive Gaborik this season, the Blue Jackets might very well be in business.
Dubinsky played just 29 games for the Blue Jackets last season, but there was a unmistakable difference when he was in the lineup. He was the NHL's fifth-best face-off man (over 53 percent) and was a stabilizing presence in the middle of the ice. Wherever Richards put Dubinsky in the lineup, he seemed to fit right in and dragged his teammates into the fight on many occasions.
Often overlooked is Dubinsky's point total in 2012-13: he racked up 20 points in 29 games but only two of those were goals, and that's a number he's looking to improve upon this year. If his dynamite preseason was any indication, it should be no surprise if Dubinsky is one of the Blue Jackets' impact players once the puck drops on Friday night.