The eyes of the hockey world remain on the Columbus Blue Jackets. That won’t change all season so long as Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are with the team. Friday night’s game did absolutely nothing to change that.
Panarin recorded 2-2-4 and Bobrovsky allowed six goals but when it mattered at the end, kept the Pittsburgh Penguins from tying the game. The Blue Jackets won 7-6 in a game that saw both teams ice their likely opening night lineups.
Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski also recorded four points in the game. For Werenski, this was his preseason debut after offseason shoulder surgery. He looks healthy. He has full range of motion back. That is scary for the rest of the league.
What am I taking away from this game though? Let’s revisit how the initial lines looked at the start of the game.
At least for now, this is where the players “stood” in the eyes of head coach John Tortorella. His quote to the local media says a lot about his approach.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) September 28, 2018
Tortorella says that he’ll have a short leash with some guys. You give a coach options and he can afford to have a short leash. He isn’t going to put up with with poor play very long. There is too much on the line this season for prolonged periods of sloppy play. What do these lines reveal to us? And what else happened in the preseason? Here are my seven thoughts.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is your likely top-line center. In my eyes, Alexander Wennberg has done nothing to unseat Dubois at this time. I wonder if Wennberg is one of the ones Tortorella is referencing about not having a great camp. After a 1-1-2 in his preseason debut against Chicago, Wennberg has appeared in three games and not recorded a single shot on goal.
He is still a dynamic playmaker when he’s on. But he’s been mostly invisible in the latter stages of the preseason. Don’t be surprised if he falls to the bottom-six if this keeps up. It’s preseason and he can turn it on when the games count. But no shots in three straight games when everyone is trying to get him to shoot the puck more is concerning. Let’s see how he opens the season.
Oliver Bjorkstrand is going to open a lot of eyes this season. He scored again Friday night with a wicked shot. He has clearly put himself in the top-six discussion come opening night. Another contender, Josh Anderson, has underwhelmed in my eyes, especially considering the fact he’s been in camp the whole time unlike last season. Like Wennberg, Anderson has been held without a shot in his last two games. I expected to see more.
Centers of Attention
The Blue Jackets will enter the season with good depth down the middle. Considering Brandon Dubinsky and Riley Nash are your bottom-six centers to start, that gives the Blue Jackets a leg up on most of the league in terms of the depth on four lines. Can this translate to success is yet to be determined. But it does look promising.
Even if something were to happen up top, Nash can fill in. The team needed to address center depth and adding Nash did that. Did you notice at the end of Friday’s game who took pivotal draws in a 7-6 game? It was Nash. He beat Sidney Crosby on a defensive zone draw and the Blue Jackets got an immediate clear. It doesn’t appear on the score sheet but it’s just as important. If Nash can do the little things and win key faceoffs, he becomes one of the better offseason signings that doesn’t get the attention.
Both of these players will have to demonstrate they deserve to be higher in the lineup. That said, that “fourth line” looks really good on paper. But I have some questions.
We all know about Milano. He has all the offense in the world but questions remain in other parts of his game. In what I saw of him preseason, he still easily gets pushed off pucks. It will be interesting to see if he can finally put it all together and convince Tortorella he deserves to stay out for longer stretches.
As for Duclair, I see the upside. He has that element of flash in his game. Can he find a way to play with consistency though? Both he and Milano are going to have to use fourth line minutes to make their cases. These are two potentially dynamic talents that have real concerns. Can Tortorella find a way to get the most out of them?
Time to Bubble Wrap the Defensemen
Ryan Murray, injured. Seth Jones, injured. Scott Harrington, injured. Notice the pattern yet? The Blue Jackets have been hit hard with injuries to their blue line. Jones is out 4-6 weeks. Murray is not day-to-day. And we don’t know yet the full extent of Harrington’s injury he suffered Friday night.
As usual, it’s next man up. This will allow some bubble guys an opportunity not only to make the team, but to play.
Not counting the three mentioned above, here’s where the Blue Jackets stand on defense entering Thursday night’s opener in Detroit.
- Werenski-Markus Nutivaara
- Dean Kukan-David Savard
- Gabriel Carlsson-Adam Clendening
That will be the test for the Blue Jackets when the regular season bell rings for the first time. How will they do with this setup? Bobrovsky hasn’t been as sharp as he’d like to be. Will we see games like Friday that end 7-6? You don’t make the playoffs in October but you sure can put yourself in a huge hole in that month.
Foudy is back in London but enjoyed a good first camp. His speed was on full display and showed elements of what he can be. He does need to get stronger as do most 18-year olds. But all-in-all, this is a good start. He now will have the chance to help the Knights chase down an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup.
Don’t think the preseason matters? Think again. Michael Prapavessis made the absolute most of his opportunity after being cut by the Dallas Stars. He went from tryout to NHL contract in one camp. That is an incredible story given how difficult a hill that is to climb. Heck given the injuries, he could stay with the Blue Jackets as an extra. That’s not out of the realm of possibility at this point. He will have the chance to play with the Cleveland Monsters after a strong camp. I’m very interested to see how he does this season.
You have to feel for Lukas Sedlak. If we assume Friday’s lineup was an indication of opening night, Sedlak has a seat in the press box waiting for him. This speaks to the depth of the team at this point. Sedlak didn’t make enough of an impression to unseat any of the 12 at this time.
Lukas Sedlak on not playing vs #Pens tonight:
“Obviously, you want to be in this lineup. You know we’re probably going to start like that during the season, so obviously, I’m a little disappointed. But it is what it is right now."#CBJ
— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) September 28, 2018
Markus Hannikainen, Jonathan Davidsson and Kevin Stenlund also find themselves on the outside looking in. Two of these four likely head to Cleveland to start the season. Davidsson and Stenlund were impressive though. Look for them to eventually get their turn on the Blue Jackets’ roster in future seasons.
And that’s a wrap. The Blue Jackets open Thursday in Detroit and have their home opener Friday against Carolina. How is this pivotal season going to start? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of a preseason, we’re going to start getting some answers. Let the games begin.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.