Today I feel like the proverbial groundhog coming out of his hole and looking for his shadow. As I'm sure most of you know, my wife and I were blessed with a bouncing baby boy on 12/14, and as such my presence 'round these parts has been, shall we say, limited since then. Apparently, babies need attention. Who knew?
That doesn't mean that I've completely divorced myself from the raging dumpster fire (save the Dallas game!) that has been the Columbus Blue Jackets over the past three weeks. When Scott Howson finally admitted that things weren't working out and that changes would most likely be coming via the trading deadline, everyone else with eyeballs--including even me--went, "No, really??"
At any rate, with a laundry list of what's "wrong" with this club, I'm here to tell you a couple of things that I think are trending "right" with the team. And, to my eyes, two of those moderately less dim spots are rookies Ryan Johansen and John Moore.
The Case for Moore
John Moore didn't make this club out of training camp, and I don't know anyone that thought that was an oversight. I, myself, actually told a few people that David Savard looked far, far better in pre-season than did Moore. Well, I can admit that Moore looks more polished right now than does Savard, and things are starting to look like Moore is starting to catch up to the speed of the NHL game.
So far this season, Moore has played 27 games. He has just four points, but given the fact that he was on the bottom pairing for the majority of those games and isn't getting PP time, this isn't unexpected. Moore is -4 on a team with only six guys NOT in the negatives. He's averaging 13:19 TOI each game.
Nothing earth-moving, I grant you.
However, in December he appeared to be figuring some things out. In 11 games in December, Moore had a goal and two assists, and was -1 while playing 14:07 a game. Even better, those three points came in the last two games. Over the last five games of the month, Moore was actually +2 and played a total of 77:08, which comes out to about 15:26 per game.
Moore was moved up to a pairing with James Wisniewski before the latter got hurt for a short time, and he looked like he was flourishing. He looks more confident offensively, and more willing to use his legs and his ability to move the puck. These are all encouraging signs. We shall see if Moore's play drops off with Wiz out for a long while, but I don't think it will. At this point, what does Moore have to lose? He's not going back to Springfield given the injury list on defense, and anything he does won't exactly be costing the Jackets a trip to the playoffs, now, will it?
The Case for Johansen
Ryan Johansen obviously has had more eyes on him since the start of this season, given his high profile as the #4 pick in last year's draft coupled with the fact that the club couldn't send him to Springfield at all. Once the decision came down after his ninth game played that he was going to stay, many of us wondered if the club would ever take off the training wheels.
Well, enter Johansen onto the top line. Playing with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, Johansen looks like he belongs on the top line. He's the playmaker the other two guys sorely need. Sure, he's still raw. But, one need only look at the play Johansen made on Nash's first goal in Dallas the other night to see what he can bring to the table.
In 33 games, Johansen has seven goals, seven assists, and is +2. Again, on a team with only six non-negative players, one of those six is a rookie. 14 points isn't exactly a "Wow, this kid is AMAZING!" kind of number, but when you consider the fact that Johansen was stuck on the fourth line for a lot of the early season, and is STILL only averaging 13:06 TOI per game (22nd most on the team), it's impressive. Not to mention that seven goals is tied for third on this putridly bad offensive club.
Johansen is still growing into his body, but he already looks comfortable using the size that he has to his advantage, and his hockey sense is evident when he plays. Even more, the Jackets have won just 10 games. Johansen has played in all 10 of those games, and has nine points (4G, 5A) and is +7.
Johansen's ceiling becomes more and more evident (in terms of how high it can be) the more he plays. He has some work to do to get to the point where he can be considered a full-time center, but clearly he belongs at this level.
At the end of the day, there isn't a lot to hang our hats on as Jackets fans right now. Our coach appears to have reached the end of his rope, our GM is just now realizing that something's not working, this team can't close in the third period, and everything that seems like it could have possibly gone wrong has gone wrong.
But, with all of that said, the news isn't all bad. These two rookies are playing like they belong at this level, and there may be some hope for the future with each of them.