By Rick Gethin
“We had alot of positives in camp, alot of the young guys stepped up. Now camp’s over; it’s behind us and we have to start getting ready for Saturday night.” Blue Jackets Captain, Rick Nash
Over the course of eight pre-season games, the youth playing for a spot on the roster provided the spark and scoring that drove this Blue Jacket team. While these exhibition games mean nothing towards the regular season, they do make the coaches descision tougher on who stays and who goes. John Moore (CBJ 2009 1st round draft pick) showed everyone that Columbus has the puck-moving defenseman in the system that they’ve sought for a long time. Forward Matt Calvert has endeared himself to coach Ken Hitchcock with his heads-up play; although he’ll likely play his last year of Junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings this season as they host the Memorial Cup.
From day one of training camp, they have given the Blue Jacket faithful a glimpse of things to come. The short term will be taken care of by a team largely left intact from last season. Consequently, the player chemistry will take a much shorter time to gel. The veterans now have to pick-up the pace and continue on the path that was laid down last season. GM Scott Howson and coach Ken Hitchcock have laid the foundation to give this team depth. The next moves are up to the players.
Ken Hitchcock addressed the play of the team during training camp. “I think the most positive thing for us was our depth players really gave a good account of themselves. When you look at the guys that were trying to make the team or the guys that were trying to make an immpression through camp, I thought they really played well.”, he said. “They made it competitive and interesting. When you see their improvement it makes you feel good.”
2008 1st round draft pick Nikita Filatov has made the push to help himself secure a full-time spot on this roster. Ken Hitchcock on Filatov; “Up until yesterday, I would have said he’s going to be a player on the learning curve. He’s a dangerous player that is really competing at a much higher level now. If he’s willing to compete at the level he’s competing at right now, there’s no reason that he can’t push for a spot on opening night.” Filatov has high end skill that he showed glimpses of last year. The Blue Jackets need him to keep playing with consistancy to add to the scoring threats that are already in place within the team.
Five days from opening the new season, Ken Hitchcock is feeling more confident in this Columbus team. “This is the most depth, organizationally, that we’ve ever had and that part has us excited and we’re going to need it. This Conference and this Division is going to be really difficult, right off the bat. There’s going to be alot of really competitive, playoff-like games and we’re going to have to be good.”, he said.
The question that remains is if this team can jump out to a great start. The Central Division specifically and the Western Conference in general are extremely tough to play in. A fast start is essential to the hopes of the Blue Jackets making, or excelling in the playoffs this season. The fan base has been energized. Will the team respond in kind?