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Blue Jackets training camp preview

Jones, Atkinson returning from injury, starting goalie among keys to watch

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, NHL.com is taking a closer look at each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Columbus Blue Jackets were 33-22-15 (.579 points percentage) in the regular season and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 8 seed, the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, .579), in one of eight best-of-5 series, and the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Columbus lost 419 man-games to injury this season, including forwards Josh Anderson (44 games, shoulder surgery), Cam Atkinson (26, ankle), Oliver Bjorkstrand (21, ankle), and Alexander Wennberg (12, upper body); defenseman Seth Jones (14, ankle); and goalie Joonas Korpisalo (24, leg). General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said all but Anderson, who had surgery in March, should be available.

"Just to have this kind of a time for those guys to heal and come back and help us, it's huge," captain Nick Foligno said. "I don't want to knock anybody on our team, but they're guys (coming back) that eat big minutes. They're not players who are up and coming, they're established. They're leaders."

 

Player to watch

Jones scored 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 56 games before he was injured Feb. 11. His ability to shadow forward Steven Stamkos played a key role in the Blue Jackets' sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round last season.

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

 

Biggest question

Who will be the starting goalie? The Blue Jackets tied the Arizona Coyotes for third in the NHL at 2.61 goals against per game, thanks to Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 goals-against average, .911 save percentage, two shutouts) and rookie Elvis Merzlikins (13-9-8, 2.35 GAA, .923 save percentage, five shutouts), who each stepped up as the No. 1 during the season. Korpisalo was the starter until he sustained a knee injury Dec. 29 that kept him out eight weeks. Merzlikins started 21 of the next 24 games and went 12-5-4 before Korpisalo returned Feb. 24 and started four of Columbus' final five games before the pause.

 

Injury updates

Josh Anderson, F -- Not expected to play after having shoulder surgery in March. He was expected to need 4-6 months to recover.

Seth Jones, D -- Healthy after having ankle surgery Feb. 11. Jones was activated from injured reserve June 18.

Cam Atkinson, F -- Has recovered from ankle injury. Atkinson, who scored an NHL career high 41 goals last season, did not play after Feb. 8.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, F -- Healthy after having ankle surgery March 3. Scored 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 49 games prior to his injury.

Dean Kukan, D -- Activated from injured reserve June 18 after he missed the final 29 games because of a knee injury sustained Jan. 2.

Alexandre Texier, F -- Healthy after he missed the final 30 games with a back injury sustained Dec. 31.

Nathan Gerbe, F -- Expected to play after struggling with a groin injury late in the season; Kekalainen said he should be ready.

 

Fresh face

Forward Devin Shore scored two points (one goal, one assist) in six games after a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for forward Sonny Milano on Feb. 24. Shore can play center or wing, can take key face-offs, and has played on the power play and penalty kill in his NHL career, the type of versatility coach John Tortorella covets. Shore has 106 points (39 goals, 67 assists) in 288 NHL games.

Video: CBJ@CGY: Shore nets first goal as a Blue Jacket

 

Telling stat

Jones ranks 10th among all NHL players in average ice time per game (24:44) and leads with the Blue Jackets with 132 assists since the start of the 2016-17 season.

 

They said it

"[The Maple Leafs] are a very dangerous offensive team and when they get feeling good about themselves, they can really make you pay. For us, it's understanding who we are and playing to that. When we do that, we rival anyone in the League. It's not so much about them, it's about us. Respect them for sure, but also respect our own game and knowing that when we play a hard forechecking, disciplined style of game, we can give fits to anyone." -- captain Nick Foligno

 

Projected lineup

Alexander Wennberg -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Gustav Nyquist -- Boone Jenner -- Cam Atkinson

Nick Foligno -- Riley Nash -- Emil Bemstrom

Alexandre Texier -- Devin Shore -- Kevin Stenlund

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Vladislav Gavrikov -- David Savard

Ryan Murray -- Dean Kukan

Elvis Merzlikins

Joonas Korpisalo

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