Blue Jackets Young Studs Paying Dividends

The Blue Jackets embarked on a journey to California hoping to impress and play well in the process. After going 1-1-1 on the west coast, the Blue Jackets feel pretty good about themselves coming home. They could go above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 season Tuesday when they host the Dallas Stars at Nationwide Arena.

I went back and watched the tape of the three games in California. Despite some obvious mistakes (see overtime goal in Los Angeles), the team has made great strides early in this new season. Most notably, it’s the youth of the team making a real impact. Some of this won’t show up on the score sheet. But you can’t ignore the impact it has on the team.

Seth Jones

Seth Jones is deceptively fast, and that's good for Columbus. (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Seth Jones is deceptively fast, and that’s good for Columbus. (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

If you get a chance, watch Jones on tape. He’s doing things that have a major impact on his teammates. Coming into the season, one of the keys for the Blue Jackets was how the top defensive pair would handle big minutes against the opponent’s best players.

In California, Jones averaged over 23 minutes/game, while playing steady. Despite the end of the Kings game, where he circled around the Kings zone and made a pass that led to Alek Martinez’s game-winning goal, Jones has been outstanding. I have no issue with him trying to make something happen there. But you have to complete that pass or at least put in the puck in a place where the Kings can’t start an immediate 3-on-2 the other way. Brandon Saad also needs to play his man coming back. In the end, it’s a learning experience for all those involved.

Besides that, I have nothing but good things to say here. I underrated Jones’ speed. The way he makes controlled exits look so easy sometimes is a direct result of how fast he is. Once he gets the puck on his stick, he uses his smarts to either complete the exit, or make a great first pass to get the puck out. There was many examples of Jones hitting Zach Werenski or a forward with a perfect pass. Before you could blink, the puck was out of their zone.

The Blue Jackets have desperately needed someone who can control their own zone like Jones can. This is part of the reason the team traded Ryan Johansen. Also consider Jones adds significant minutes on both special teams units, and you see why he’s such an important part of the team.

Jones has three points in the first seven games. Of note, he has an even +/- rating. Consider the players he’s had to face early on. These include Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn among others. His performance allows the team to gain confidence in their own game. We’ll see if this continues in a bigger sample size.

Josh Anderson

I was hoping to see the Calder Cup version of Anderson before too long. You know, the confident, fast Anderson that ran everything and everyone over while stabbing the heart of the opposition by scoring timely goals.

Although he didn’t score in California, he did other things very well on tape. He played with purpose in a such a way I hadn’t seen from him at the NHL level.

Two things stood out. First, he looked fast. Anderson is at his best when he uses his speed. When he has the puck on his stick and then crashes the net, that freight train is hard to stop. That’s an obvious sign that his confidence is high.

Second, he’s using his physicality. Just watch the first period of the Anaheim game. He had no issue getting into the rough stuff with both Clayton Stoner and Josh Manson. Anderson is quickly developing into someone who is a pain to play against, but teammates love him. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote a nice piece on Anderson and how he is no longer awed by the NHL.

He’s getting comfortable with daily life in the NHL and that’s great news for the Blue Jackets.

Lukas Sedlak

Those of you around the country may not be familiar with Sedlak. Those who follow the Blue Jackets closely know the game of game Sedlak brings to the table. It’s not often an NHL newcomer makes an immediate impact. He’s done that centering the Blue Jackets’ fourth line.

There’s nothing “flashy” in Sedlak’s game, just sound decision-making and confidence. He played around 10 minutes/night on the trip. He tallied two assists. He had other chances to score as well. There were times he was a threat to score when he was out there.

I love the play he made that led to Scott Hartnell’s goal in San José. With the score 2-0 late in the third period, the puck finds Saad on the right-wing. Saad does the sensible thing and puts the puck toward the net. Sedlak does the right thing and drives the net. He tips Saad’s shot, making it hard for Sharks goalie Martin Jones to handle the rebound. The puck goes to a crashing Hartnell who buries it. It’s a simple play that leads to a goal.

Sedlak then appears on the scoresheet on Sam Gagner’s first Columbus goal. Again, Sedlak is in front of the net creating traffic and havoc. What was really cool to see was him keeping the play alive on the wall.

Sedlak’s first shot was deflected away, but he chased the puck down and made a nice pass to Hartnell who got the puck behind the net. Sedlak then B-lined back to the front of the net in place for a possible rebound. Gagner put the puck in front, where Hartnell and Sedlak battled to score, before Gagner slipped in front and pounded it home.

This line keeps plays simple, gets the puck deep, and crashes the net. That’s what you need from this line. It’s great to see that the fourth line is finally not a liability for this team in the early going.

We must also give honorable mention to Alexander Wennberg’s line. Saad is sniping. Nick Foligno leads the team in scoring. And Wennberg continues to make strides in his overall game. Both Foligno and Wennberg are at a point/game after seven games.

What’s Next?

The schedule this week gets no easier. As mentioned above, Dallas is in town Tuesday. Who knows when their top line will break out of their slump. Then Friday is a home date with Montreal. After that is a Saturday night date in St. Louis.

If these young guns continue to produce, the team will stay in every game. See you next week at this time for more Blue Jackets film review.