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Blue Jackets get healthy during pause, have high hopes if season resumes

Jones, Bjorkstrand, Atkinson among those poised to return

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Seth Jones is eager to finally see the Columbus Blue Jackets healthy again.

The Blue Jackets defenseman should get that chance if the NHL season restarts.

"We can be a great team," Jones said this week. "We have a lot of pieces that work well together. Guys buy into the system. Really, through all the injuries throughout this year you've seen us come together, produce and win. We're right in the thick of things when everyone doubted us."

Columbus (33-22-15) is tied for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. It has 81 points through 70 games despite leading the NHL with 419 man-games lost to injury.

The season pause has given the Blue Jackets a chance to heal.

Jones is well into his rehab after fracturing his ankle during a game against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 8. He had surgery three days later and was supposed to be out 8-10 weeks. Jones missed 14 games; Columbus went 3-5-6.

Video: COL@CBJ: Jones wrists home power-play goal

He's been skating and is expected play if the season resumes. It was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and there is no timetable for when it might restart.

"I'm doing good, very good," said Jones, who has 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 56 games this season. "We've taken a lot of strides, a lot of steps forward. The ligaments are a whole lot stronger than what they were. I'll definitely be ready."

So should forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, who fractured his ankle during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 20. Bjorkstrand, who has 21 goals in 49 games this season, had surgery March 3 with a recovery time of 8-10 weeks. He has been skating with Jones in Columbus because players injured prior to the pause have had access to team training facilities.

"I've skated a few times now," Bjorkstrand said. "I'm feeling good. My ankle keeps feeling like it's getting better and better every day. I'm hopeful that if we play that I'll be as healthy as I can be."

The Blue Jackets went 3-3-2 after Bjorkstrand's injury.

"You can't hide the fact that when a guy like Seth Jones, who is a Norris (Trophy) contender, and a guy like Oliver Bjorkstrand, who can score 30 and I think 40, are added to your lineup it definitely helps and gives a boost to your team," Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "If we do get a chance to come back, their additions, among others, will definitely help."

Video: PHI@CBJ: Bjorkstrand goes top-shelf for opening goal

The others are forwards Cam Atkinson (ankle), Alexandre Texier (back) and Nathan Gerbe (groin), and defenseman Dean Kukan (knee). All are expected to be back in the lineup if the season resumes.

Defenseman Ryan Murray will be healthier and stronger too. He played three of the last four games before the pause after missing 33 games with a lower-body injury.

It's also possible that forward Josh Anderson could be ready to go depending on when the season resumes, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

Anderson had surgery on his left shoulder March 2 with a recovery time of 4-6 months. He'd be at the four-month mark if the season were to restart in July.

Only forward Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) was ruled out by Kekalainen, who said he has a chronic injury.

"A lot of positive things, obviously, but we've said it all along with the injuries that we've had that we're going to have success as a team if we're going to have success," Kekalainen said. "That's been our key to the points we've gotten this year. We play a real tight team game. The coaching staff has done an excellent job of having everyone buy into the way we have to play to be successful. The individuals will help us, but our success will still come from the same ingredients as a team."

But the Blue Jackets will look different, and coach John Tortorella will have options he did not have two months ago, or really all season.

That also includes the possibility of using forward Liam Foudy, Columbus' first-round pick (No. 18) in the 2018 NHL Draft, because his season with London of the Ontario Hockey League season is over.

Foudy had an assist in two games this season with the Blue Jackets in February.

"He played really well the two games we had him up," Kekalainen said. "He's eligible to compete for ice time just like anybody else on our team. We've told him to prepare accordingly, so if we get back playing he'll be part of the group that gives Tortorella options."

Goaltending won't be an issue. Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo are healthy, and each has signed a two-year contract since the pause. Korpisalo signed on April 17, and Merzlikins signed six days later.

"I think that frees everybody's mind," Jones said. "Anytime you're in the last year of your deal, it's always a hot topic and always on your mind. That's just human nature. It's hard to play through stuff like that. We trust both our goalies, and that's what you need if you want to be successful."

Columbus' improved health got Bjorkstrand thinking about how the Blue Jackets played in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, when they swept the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Really focused on being above the puck, winning our battles, having good roles," he said. "If we're all healthy hopefully we can just bring that to another level, surprise people again."

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