Earlier today, the Blue Jackets Prospects team bus shoved off from the Crowne Plaza in downtown Columbus. The team's last three top draft picks were gracious enough to hang out in the lobby for a few minutes before heading out to get on the bus, and I was able to catch up with all three.
John Moore and Ryan Johansen were both part of last year's TC tournament team that got waxed out of Traverse City to the tune of an 0-4 record and 23 goals allowed. Both stopped short of christening this year's trip as "payback," but it was clear they certainly want to go up there and have a much better showing.
And, as Mike reported earlier this week, the team is in much better shape. Both Johansen and Moore talked of "having experience," and for Moore and some of his Springfield cohorts, of having a pro year under their belt to help them better compete. Overall, all three guys sounded ready to go and drop the puck. More after the jump, including video and audio!
The one guy I spoke to today who was not on the team last year was Boone Jenner, this year's top draft pick (#37, 2nd round). When I asked about whether he was going up simply to get ready for camp or to help the team avenge last year's performance, Jenner spoke about wanting to do "a little bit of both. It's my first experience up in Traverse [City]. I've heard a lot about it, so I'm going to go up and try my hardest, compete as hard as I can, and leave a good impression on the staff here, and try to win [some] games for the Blue Jackets."
When I asked if there was anything he's wanting to work on either in the tournament or in camp, Jenner noted that: "Each part of my game can get better to get to that next level. I've got to try to become a more complete player. I need to work on skating, shooting, everything like that to get to that next level."
The team did fitness testing with the prospects this morning, and Jenner commented on feeling stronger this year than last. Overall, Jenner has always been discussed as being "sweater letter" material, and I asked him about being named Captain of Oshawa, and how it feels. "It's a great honor, especially for the Generals and the history we have. I'm just honored to be on [the list of people who've been captain]."
None of the three guys knew what their lineup position would look like, though it's assumed that Jenner will most likely center either the second or third line.
Full Boone Jenner video:
The Johan was part of the team last season that had so much trouble up in Traverse City (with a capital-T?). When he talked of his mindset going into the tournament, he talked of experience: "We're coming with a lot more experience, and a better team. For myself and for the rest of the guys, we want to go up there and win some games, and get ready to come back to mini-camp, and for some guys to get some contracts."
Johansen, when asked about possible linemates, returned to the theme of experience. Though he didn't know who he'd be playing along-side, "For the 13 returning guys, we're all pretty familiar with the systems. A lot of the guys have played under Rob [Riley] in Springfield, so we're definitely going up with a lot more experience."
When I asked about a "chip on the shoulder," versus just going up to get into some game speed and shape, Johansen alluded to a little of both. "I want to go up there and get my competitive level up and make sure I'm competing as hard as possible, and [I want to show] our coaching staff that I really want to be [in Columbus] this year. I want to be one of those guys that stands out in this tournament."
Probably the most interesting nugget was something I overheard Johansen saying to Aaron Portzline, so I asked him to confirm for me. The Johan has been hitting the weights, suffice it to say! "I was around 6'3", and [around 184 or 185] pounds in August last year. I'm at 202 pounds at the same height right now. [That's] definitely a big improvement in that area of my game. I found during the season last year near the end that it helped me out a lot in the battles in the corners and in front of the net." No kidding! That's A LOT of weight and strength for a guy his age to add in a calendar year.
In terms of getting ready for camp, Johansen told me that the biggest thing he wants to bring into camp from last year to this year is his improved decision-making. "The big thing I noticed last year in main camp, and even going into the pre-season games, is that I need to make my decisions a lot faster. The speed of the game is a huge increase up a level. That's kind of the thing I've been working on this summer and even last year, just being able to make my decisions as quickly as possible. I think I've gotten to the level where I can handle the NHL level."
Full Ryan Johansen audio (Apologies, but my Flip cam deceived me into thinking it was recording when it was not!)
Like Johansen, John Moore was a part of last year's team that didn't fare so well in Traverse City. When I asked him if he, too, might have a chip on his shoulder, he was direct but also careful to point out that it's not just about getting even with other teams. "There's definitely a chip. Last year, I don't think anyone was satisfied with how it went, but at the same time what's done is done, and it's definitely a clean slate. Just like last year, it's an opportunity for guys to go up there and prove themselves, and I'm just excited more than anything."
With the changes made to the blue line in Columbus over the summer, Moore's chances of making the big club appear slim. He doesn't let that faze him. "I'm just going to go into camp and play my game, and hopefully it all works out. If I end up going back to Springfield, it's a great place. There's a great coaching staff there. Obviously, with a year of pro under my belt there's certain things, certain nuances of the game that I've picked up, and I'd like to think my game's a little more well-rounded. Hopefully we can go up [to Traverse City]...and show them how good we are."
He mentioned having good chemistry with David Savard, both in terms of the Traverse City tournament as well as playing together in Springfield. Speaking of which, there a few guys on D for the tournament who spent the season in Springfield last year. "I'd like to think [the team will be better on defense this year]. Only time will tell, but I think we're at an advantage here. I've seen some of the other rosters; there are some good teams we're going to be playing, but we have some good players. We're going to go up there and work hard, and hopefully things will fall into place."
When I asked him about his workout and size, he kept it simple by saying he was: "Bigger, stronger, faster. Hopefully that translates onto the ice."
Full John Moore video:
Here's hoping the team can bring home some wins. They'll almost assuredly be much, much better than last year's team, and might have a chance to bring home the hardware like they did back five and six years ago.