The Columbus youth movement was not just shaking Nationwide last night, but then again, there is only so much that can be said about beating a rather complete Boston roster without the entire first line and four of the top six defenders.
Leave it to the Blue Jackets to have the red cross marks etched beside players names only a couple games into the pre-season. While some of the best players have yet to really get involved in the pre-season, early wear has become apparent in some of the depth players.
As the season draws closer, The Columbus Blue Jackets have made yet another move to solidify the teams top six players. Antoine Vermette was given a five year extension worth 18.75 million. This will pay the Jackets center around 3.75 million per season. He is due to make 3 million this coming season.
Columbus defensively may be the biggest question this year. With a decent showing last year, and young players like Methot and Russell showing their capacity to function at the NHL level, Columbus certainly has the cornerstone of what could be a very strong defensive core.
Obviously the biggest off-season effort was put into the Rick Nash signing, but I do believe finding a puck moving defensemen was second on their list all the way. While Rusty Klesla has shown signs of being a great player, his inability to stay healthy has cost the Blue Jackets much needed depth on the blueline. If they hope to acquire a quality defender, it is no doubt they will try and package Rusty with a forward (hopefully one of Chimera or Modin). Here are my preferred lines heading into the pre-season;
1 – Commodore – Hejda
2 – Russell – Tyutin
3 – Methot – Klesla
While I do think these combinations show a great deal of depth in their current state, I think it will be necessary for a couple of these guys to step it up and really force their play into the first pairing. I do not think any one of these players deserve the top spot more than another, although I do think their style of play may become a factor.
Commodore and Hejda became the ‘go-to’ pairing for Hitchcock last year. Both were able to prove their critics (including me) wrong and play a strong defensive game. They will have to up their game if they want to avoid losing their spot to one of the young guys still working on developing into their career style and ability.
Russell and Tyutin are a pairing we have seen before. Russell has a tremendous ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and draw pinching forward away from Tyutin. This will allow hopefully for a lot of open point shots from Fedor. While I think both can achieve top line status, I think the most opportunity lies with Russell and the level he can achieve this year.
Finally, we consider Methot and Klesla. Both seem to continuously have something to prove to the coaching staff. There will be no free rife for Methot, although with the release of Backman, it will give him the opportunity to truly own an NHL position. In Klesla’s case, everything rides on his summer development and how he can avoid injuries this year.
As I had previously mentioned, a lot of room for modification to the defensive lines may really force these six palyers to amp up their game. One thing I will personally anticipate is that these lines will look completely different after the first month of the season.
Carry the Flag!
One of the Blue Jackets main concerns over the years has been not only their lack of secondary scoring, but basically their lack of anyone scoring outside of the mighty Rick Nash. Over the off-season, the Blue Jackets welcomed Sammy Pahlsson to the mix, said their goodbyes to guys like Malhotra and Williams, and re-signed one of their budding young centermen, Derick Brassard. Also, considered to be this years ‘new face brightspot’, Nikita Filatov, fresh off a summer of weight gaining and conditioning will look to penetrate the roster in a big way.
Here are my preferred lines;
1 – Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Kristian Huselius
2 – Jakub Voracek – Antoine Vermette – Nikita Filatov
3 – RJ Umberger – Sammy Pahlsson – Raffi Torres
4 – Jared Boll – Derek Dorsett – Chimera/Modin
Let me start with line one. Nash and Huselius are somewhat of a staple on the first line, especially this early in the season. Adding Brassard, which is what the coaching staff was toying with before his injury seems like the logical decision to make. He is good for a point per game and sees the ice well. That really translates into the perfect compliment for guys like Nash and Juice.
Moving on to the second line, I think it is important to explain the third line in conjunction, as the style of play from the two lines will be substantially different. Generally speaking, successful playoff teams can play a grit line against the opposing teams top line to stymie their offensive opportunities and wear them down with physical play. Last year, Columbus’ best line in the playoffs was Dorsett – Umberger – Torres because of their relentless forecheck. While I do not think Dorsett is deserving of a third line role, I think Pahlsson is exactly the replacement the Jackets needed. They can use their tenacity and high paced forecheck against some of the better lines in the NHL, not allowing them the time and space needed to make big plays. Because the third line is designed for power, I believe the second line should be built on playmaking. Both Vermette and Voracek seem to really pursue the pass before the shot. Bringing in a guy like Filatov is a perfect way to compliment two play makers. He has the ability to find the seam and get into the right positions, which will open the opportunity for big passes and even bigger goals.
Now to the fourth line. A lot of Jackets fans probably do not agree with my snubbing of Modin and Chimera, but I assure you, it is well warranted. Chimera playing well last year was a direst result of his linemates in Brassard and Voracek. Rather than placing him on a scoring line, why not throw him on an energy fourth line with Dorsett and Boll, and really let them pour on speed and punishment? In regards to Modin, I really think he is as relevant to the Jackets roster as Malhotra was. There are entirely too many confident and ready young players to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging, injury prone winger.
Collectively speaking, the quality of these lines may be mildly sacrificed by what I believe their main goal is, but at the same time, it may be the perfect way to distribute the talent and really play a 60 minute game.
Carry the Flag!