Well, we're closing in on the drop of the puck--pucks?--for tomorrow's split squad games, and the Blue Jackets got a full practice in this morning in two separate groups. The emphasis was on offense today, and the second group that I had a chance to see spent a good deal of time working on transitions and forechecking as well.
Some good news on Jeff Carter's injured foot: nothing is broken, and he's feeling a lot better this morning. Scott Arniel said that with that type of injury--blocking a shot off the foot--you typically see the instant swelling that lasts about 48 hours. Arniel also said that, typically, if a player can put weight on it, it's usually going to be OK. Such was the case for Carter, who again did not skate today as a precaution.
From the morning group, I had a chance to chat with Ryan Johansen and Steve Mason, and I asked them about their experiences over the weekend in the Owner's Tournament. I also asked Johan (a.k.a. "Joey" to the PR staff) about how Traverse City got him ready for camp. With Mason, I asked about his work this summer to get ready for camp, his experience with Ian Clark so far, and of course about his new adventures on Twitter.
From the later group, I caught up briefly with James Wisniewski. He's a guy that the fans will love the more they get to know about him. Read on after the jump...
Johansen had himself a very good day yesterday in the Owner's Tournament for Team McConnell. In the consolation game, he had a goal and three assists in their 4-1 win over Team Crane. Johansen, ever demure, passed on some credit to his teammates. "The first game I thought I was mediocre. I did some good things, but I also had my off-shifts," he said. "In the second game I thought I did really well to put a couple in the back of the net. Straka made a nice pass to me [on a goal] and same with Prospal; it was pretty much just a tap-in each time for me. Playing with all these highly-skilled guys, it makes it a lot easier out there."
When asked about playing with a guy of Vinny Prospal's stature, Johansen showed a bit of awe and reflected on his good fortune. "Coming off the ice," he said about playing with Prospal, "you're just like, 'Wow'. The plays he can make on the ice make your eyebrows go up."
I asked him about his experience on the Traverse City prospects team. He had set a mission to be one of the biggest impact players in the tournament. How'd he do? "I thought my first two games were OK; I had some good shifts, I had some bad shifts," he said. "I think that's just rust and not being on the ice that much throughout the summer. In my final game in the last two periods I thought I was really strong. I came back here pretty confident and I'm feeling good thus far into camp."
I wondered if getting to play in the Traverse City tournament would help a guy like Johansen hit the ground running in training camp, especially when they break into teams and play two games the second day in. "For sure," Johansen told me. "It gets you that competitive edge. It gets your lungs back a bit, and you're able to play at a higher pace than some of the other guys."
Johansen will be on the part of the team traveling to Winnipeg Tuesday night for the Jackets' "second" pre-season game. Though he's a bit young as a Western Canada guy, he told me he does have some family in Saskatchewan and is thinking they may make the trip to see him play. He'll be playing with Derek Dorsett and Alexandre Giroux. "I got the chance to play with Giroux on Team McConnell," Johansen said. "He's a really highly skilled player, and we had a little chemistry there at the end of game two; I had an assist on one of his goals. He's a great player, and I've known Dorse the most on this team the past two years. We've been practicing together the last few days, so I kind of know how he plays a bit. I think I'm going to be pretty comfortable going up there."
I wanted to get a sense from Mason how he was feeling after being the winning goalie in the Owner's Tournament on Sunday. "The tournament was fun for all the players to get back in a competitive environment. For myself, the work that I put in this summer with [coach] Ian [Clark] definitely paid off. It's early right now, but there are definitely things I translated into the games yesterday that [Clark] had been preaching on over the summer."
And what might those things be? Coach Scott Arniel had mentioned specifically his rebound control, and I mentioned his high glove saves late in the championship game. It's all part of the big package for Mase: "[I focused on making] sure I was getting set, and feeling comfortable on the post," he said. "There's a lot of stuff with recovery, ensuring that you're taking the proper angle and route so that when you do get back to the post your feet are properly set. That takes away from the sloppiness. When you are set, you have a better chance of controlling your rebounds and making sure that you're getting the pucks out of the danger zone."
Mason generally uses sharper skates than a lot of NHL goalies, and I wondered if that played a role in his positioning and recovery. "I think sharp skates are important for my game in particular," Mason said. "I find that when you have that kind of grip on the ice, you have better recoveries, you have stronger pushes. It enables you to get where you want to go quicker and with more purpose."
I had asked Mark Dekanich about his skating yesterday, as when he got pulled late in the championship game he covered the ice from crease to bench pretty quickly. I asked him who would win a race flat-out between he and Mase, and Mason had noted that he had "nitrous oxide in [his] skates." I asked him about his early relationship with Dex, and his exploits on Twitter. "It's going well," Mason said. "We're both young guys, we're going through a lot of similar things. He likes to be on the Twitter site. He sends out a lot of Tweets. Right now, we're getting along real well. He's anxious to learn, and it's good to have him here pushing me."
Mason, of course, is a recent addition to "the Twitter site." Don't count on seeing his Tweet count rising sharply anytime soon. "It's kinda cool," Mason said. "There are some benefits. You get to interact with some of the fans, but I'll never be a perennial Tweeter out there." Looks like Dex will have the leg up there.
Obviously, when you're talking Wiz, you're talking The Shot. I wondered if a guy with a shot like that might surprise a few teammates with it when they're not used to seeing it. "Sometimes the young guys like to go in front of the net," Wisniewski said. "That's where you have to go to score goals. I might rip one kinda hard at 'em, and I just like to tell them, 'I know where it's going.' I guess it could surprise them a little bit."
Much like our discussion with Marc Methot yesterday, Wiz claims to be a constant tinkerer with his twig. "I think this is the first year in the last six years that I haven't changed my flex, lie, or curve," he said. "I've kept it [the same] since last year. I think I came up with a good combination last year." Makes sense, since he had a career year. Wiz says he uses a heel-curve with a big, early twist open, which helps him get elevation on his shot as well as make solid saucer passes.
Coach Arniel talked about Wiz's shot as a weapon, and he agrees. "That's something that leaves a lot of room for our forwards," he told me. "If they have to worry about me up top, that gives the forwards a little bit more room; they can't collapse down low. It gives guys like Nash, Carter, Vinny, all the skilled forwards more time and room to create plays. I feel like I do see the ice well, and I can help them get some scoring opportunities down low."
When asked about Columbus as a city, Wiz lit up. Without hesitation, he said: "It is a diamond in the rough. [Playing in Chicago and] coming here the night before [a game], you don't get to really feel the city and what it brings. There's something to do all the time. The people are so nice here. The food's great, the night life, the golf, the communities, the suburbs, I just can't say enough about it."
When I asked about his expectations taking the ice here at Nationwide Tuesday night after the summer and the expectations, he kept it simple. "I hope we can come out and show [the fans] the assets that we have and the young guys that are up and coming in our organization," he said. "We've turned it around and said 'this is going to be a hockey town from now on.' Now we have the responsibility of playing well and winning and providing playoff berths every single year."
Wisniewski will be paired with John Moore, and he had some glowing remarks about the kid. "I tell you what, he's a good young player," he said of Moore. "He's gonna have a long career in this league. The best thing about him is that he has all the tools, and not only that he likes to listen; he's a sponge. He wants to learn and to become better. He's not like some young kids that feel like they're good enough and they're going to do it by themselves. He's asking everybody the right questions, and going about it the right way."
The guys are all ready to drop the pucks and get going, and with (technically) three pre-season games in the next two nights, we should get a chance to look at just about everybody in camp in a game situation at least once or twice. Let's GO!