We are continuing our Columbus Blue Jackets season preview series. In the first part, we asked 6 questions of Digital Content and Community Manager of the Blue Jackets Rob Mixer. If you missed that, you can read the interview here. This time, we asked a 6-pack of Blue Jackets questions of Alison Lukan, who covers the team for both Fox Sports Ohio and The Union Blue blog. Our goal with this series is to get you ready for the upcoming Blue Jackets season, while getting different perspectives from those who are well respected and who closely follow the team. Without further ado, here is our Q and A with Alison Lukan:
Mark: The Blue Jackets have had a very eventful summer after their Stanley Cup playoff appearance last season. Some moves have been made. To this point (excluding Ryan Johansen), what grade would you give the Blue Jackets to what they’ve done in the offseason (trades, free agency, the draft etc.), and for what reasons would you give that grade?
Alison: Probably a B+. Not because more or less moves should have been made, but I think we are taking a sound, calculated risk on how the bottom six shakes out. Smarter minds than me know what they are doing of course, and I love the Gibbons pick up – but getting that group to gel quickly will be key for a group that cannot withstand another slow start. I applaud the Dubinsky extension – those numbers should be more than fair with the extension kicks in next season. And don’t even get me started on the Hartnell – RJ trade – I could wax for days how I think the Jackets came out heads and shoulders above as the winner there performance wise.
Blue Jackets Future Prospects
Mark: The Blue Jackets prospects had a very successful trip to Traverse City ending with a victory in the prospects tournament. You were there in person. Which of the prospects most impressed you?
Alison: I think the players that impressed me the most were those who performed better than I thought they would. So when you don’t see Wennberg’s name here, that is probably why. The player that stood out the most for me was Josh Anderson mainly because of the improvement in his play. I had seen him play in London in the Memorial Cup and thought he was fine but not outstanding. He definitely came ready to make a statement at Traverse (and as we are seeing in training camp as well). He’s got a big physical game, a ton of energy and skill – he can finish. He had three game winning goals at Traverse and I was happy to see him rewarded for his effort. He became one of my new favorite leaders to make the CBJ roster. I also really enjoyed watching Oliver Bjorkstrand play. I had not been able to see him play before and he has skill for days…an elite scorer in the CHL last year, it was nice to see that firmly intact. Hopefully he can build some size and strength and start to be someone to watch in CBJ circles. And finally, someone who continues to impress me is Kerby Rychel. I’ve also had him on my very short list of who might make the CBJ team for a while. He has the size, strength, and skill to compete but what most impresses me about him is how he thinks the game. Kerby is always in the right spot, and doing all the little things that have him in position to make an impact -there was one power play in Traverse where he just played a textbook shift – great to watch. He plays with an intensity that is also amazing to see. Overall it’s an embarrassment of riches right now for the Jackets and that, perhaps more than anything, is what was on display in Traverse.
Mark: For the Blue Jackets, what do you see are some training camp storylines that fans should watch for, that may not be getting a lot of attention now?
Alison: Isn’t the beauty of things that you never really know? I mean who would have thought we’d be telling the story of such a magnificent year from Wisniewski? Or that Johansen would seemingly step into a first line center role easily, or that Nick Foligno would call a game winning goal in the playoffs? It’s that surprise that makes it fun. Now – that being said, key things I will be watching for – the evolution of the fourth line this year – the line with the most change and most opportunity for young and old(er). Who will make that lineup consistently and what will they do to stand out? Will they replicate the engine that the fourth line did last year? I’ll also be watching for how young guys perform as they get called up – because they will – but to see how they do on the big stage will be exciting. And finally – another year of free agency looms with fan favorites Letestu and Foligno both as UFAs, and Bob, Cam and Matty C. as some key RFA’s. And there seems to be groundswells for the appointment of a captain…will it happen this season? (For the record I don’t think it has to)
Mark: I see that you are someone who is knowledgeable in the area of advanced stats in hockey. In terms of the Blue Jackets, could you name us one underrated player and one overrated player on the team based on what the advanced stats say about them? What makes that player underrated or overrated?
Alison: Underrated, I would say Nick Foligno. Foligno is a curious case. He is in a contract year, and if you go by traditional comparables, he will probably price himself out of a contract with Columbus – but that is because comparables currently go against points. If you flip that on its head and look at Foligno’s possession stats, his value inflates, in my opinion. Foligno’s WOWY stats (with or without you Corsi stats – meaning, does a player’s corsi improve or decline when they are on the ice with Foligno) is one of the few sets on the current Jackets roster where every player is better with him. He also possesses the 2nd best Fenwick on the team (52.12%) second only to Wisniewski. With all that being said, his pay scale is a bit high – so it will be interesting to see what kind of season he has and also what comparables he has from a “fancy stats” perspective to see what makes sense for him after this year. In terms of someone who is overrated, he is not necessarily overrated, but I’m very curious to see how Ryan Johansen turns out this year after such a break out year. So this will be more of a true tale of the tape year for me with him.
Keys to Season Success
Mark: This is a very important year for the Blue Jackets in my mind, to continue to build what was started last season. Which player would you say will have the most pressure to succeed this season for Columbus and why?
Alison: Bobrovsky. Part of that might be wishful thinking as Bob thrives under pressure of competing to be the best. But I think he constantly has something to prove, and is a huge piece of the puzzle behind an offense that is “score by committee”.
"I want to play all the games" -Bobrovsky #CBJ
— Alison (@AlisonL) September 19, 2014
Mark: Las Vegas came out with their over/under point totals for NHL teams. The Blue Jackets came in tied for 7th in the East at 90.5. At the end of the day, how do you see this team doing this season? Can they truly be considered a serious Stanley Cup contender now?
Alison: 90.5 points sounds about right, and puts us in the playoff race. It’s always important to remember that “you just have to get in”. Everyone remembers the LA Kings from 2011-2012 – an 8th seed that won the Cup. So anything can happen, but I think that realistically, the Blue Jackets are a few years into having Cup expectations. That’s not a bad thing either – the key to success will be long term, sustained winning, not bursts of good seasons here and there. I think we are definitely on that road and will be in “the conversation” for seasons to come.