NHL Lockout: A Blessing in Disguise?

Can the lockout really be a good thing? Well, for the fans, absolutely not. The players? Not exactly. The owners? Apparently. Money will be lost, people will be fired, and most players will find a new place to play to begin the season. For the Jackets, many young players destined for time in Columbus this year will instead be playing for the Springfield Falcons. These players include the likes of Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, John Moore, Tim Erixon, David Savard, while Jonathon Audy-Marchessault, Matt Calvert, and Tomas Kubalik would have likely gotten a shot at some point as well.

It is well known the Jackets are a young team and were in for a long season after the Nash trade. The jokes have poured in about us being an "AHL caliber" team after trading Nash to the Rangers. Most Blue Jackets fans were considering this year a "transition season". We were going to move on from the Rick Nash era and let our young kids develop. Most people believe that since it was going to be a transition year, we may as well let everyone get as much NHL experience as possible. So looking at this long list of players that were likely to be in the NHL, one might think that losing a NHL season (at least part of one) would be a setback towards their development moving forwards.

Not so much. I personally believe it is best to let our young players develop slowly (especially our defensemen), playing top minutes in the AHL. Looking at the Blue Jackets roster headed to Springfield, a lockout might not be a bad thing in the long run. The Jackets have an influx of young talent that is on the fine line between NHL ready, and needing more time in the AHL. And the lockout will ensure that we do not rush these players, even if we wanted to.

Ryan Johansen- Our first round, fourth overall pick in the 2012 spent his year with the big club last year. This was more due to the fact he was ineligible to play in the AHL because of his age. He was simply too good to go back to Portland, but arguably not good enough to be a full time NHL player. Heading into the 2012-2013 campaign, Johansen was poised to improve on his previous season. He put the effort in over the summer packing on around 15 pounds. Watching him at development camp, he was much bigger and hadn’t lost a step. He is a player that would have likely not been with the Falcons this year, but could really use some time in the AHL to re-find his scoring touch and add some confidence back. Being forced to be in Springy will only help Johansen in the long run. Keep in mind, the AHL will not be the same as it is when the NHL is in session. Many good players will be playing in the league, which is shown by the multitude of great players being sent to the minors during the last few days. This should be a good stepping stone for Johansen come the time CBA negotiations are resolved and he is back with the big club.

Cam Atkinson- Atkinson spent the majority of the season with the Falcons, playing 51 games while being named an AHL All Star. Atkinson finished the year with the Jackets, and he did so in impressive fashion. He, like Johansen, was likely to be a lock to start with the big club this year. Spending (at least) the beginning of the season with the Falcons will not be a bad thing for the small forward. At only 5-7, another year in the minors will only help the young forward in the future.

Out of the names listed above, Atkinson and Johansen are likely the two most NHL ready. Both spent significant time in the NHL last year and are primed to have long futures in the NHL. The rest of the bunch is even closer to the fine line between NHL and AHL.

John Moore- Moore was another player to spend most of his time with the Jackets last year, playing in 67 games. John Moore started off impressive, but slowly fizzled, finishing with seven points and only two goals. Although his play last year was an improvement over his short time with the big club the year before, it still was not good enough to write his name in with pen on the roster sheet for the upcoming season, especially with the Nash trade bringing in another top young defenseman in Tim Erixon. He is still young at only 21 years old, and another season in the AHL will help him in the long run. He was all but forced to jump up to the NHL last year with all the injuries, and I think him playing in an improved AHL will be good for his long term development that he might not have gotten without the lockout. He should get a lot of minutes and will still be playing against good competition. It should not be too much of a step backwards from what he was dealing with in the NHL last season.

Tim Erixon, David Savard- I am going to group Erixon and Savard together since they are very similar in terms of their development and I think would have had a similar chance of being on the big club. Only one year apart, both are considered top defensive prospects and are destined to be key contributors to the Jackets defense for a very, very long time. Erixon and Savard have both spent the majority of their time in the AHL putting up solid numbers, while occasionally dabbling in the NHL. They were both used similarly (pretty heavily sheltered) in their time with their respective NHL clubs, with Savard being slightly better. Both gained great experience playing in the minors last year, and another year will only help them. They can continue to get large minutes against top competition that can prepare them for their future time with the Jackets. Neither player was good enough in the NHL to stick around for an extended period of time last year, so another year of playing in the AHL will benefit them in the long run to be the best player possible. As far as I am concerned, young defensemen can never have too much experience in the AHL. Having Moore, Savard, and Erixon in the AHL during the lockout will allow them to take their time developing to make sure they are not rushed to the NHL. There is no reason to rush them. It is most definitely not a bad thing giving them all another year to develop.

Jonathon Audy-Marchessault- “JAM” will be a fun guy to keep an eye on this season. He was a great pick up by Scott Howson on free agency day, and he should be a key player with Springy this year. The lockout does not affect him in the way as it does the players already mentioned above. He was likely to start the season with the Falcons and spend most of his time down there. However, the lockout does help him in one way. He will get the opportunity to play with top talent in Johansen and Atkinson while practicing against top defensemen in Moore, Savard, and Erixon. Although it is far from playing games at the NHL level, it is an important stepping stone to be able to play and practice against those guys. It should help teach him what it is going to take to be an NHLer. A player he will likely learn more from than any other player on the Falcons is Cam Atkinson. Standing at only 5-9 (with a smaller frame than Atkinson) he will be able to learn from Atkinson about what it takes being a relatively small player and succeeding in the NHL. This is an important lesson gained that he would likely not have gotten had there been a lockout.

Matt Calvert, Tomas Kubalik- Matty Calvert and Tomas Kubalik are two guys that were likely to begin the season with the Falcons even without a lockout. They both had a tough year last season, battling through injuries suffered in preseason and not producing at the rate most expected. Many expected Calvert to spend the season with the Jackets after his scoring outburst, but that wasn’t to be the case. With improved talent around them in Springfield and healthy bodies, this is their chance to show that they can contribute and be an offensive force. The lockout affects Calvert and Kubalik less than the others, but it does help them in the long run because of the fact that even if either had a pretty good training camp, we would not be able to rush them back to the NHL just yet. They both need more time developing in the AHL after the seasons they had last year. The NHL lockout ensures they will receive a little more time, and give them more talent to work with.

Keep in mind; this is not your prototypical “AHL”. There will be a lot of NHL caliber players in the league this year. These players will get to play against guys like Krieder, Henrique, Larsson, Hamonic, Neiderreiter, Holtby, etc. Our great defensive prospects will still get the chance to shut down top talent and our forwards will still get the chance to go against top defensemen. Looking at our roster, I see a ton of guys that are right between being an NHL player and needing more time developing in the AHL, more so than most (all?) teams. Most of these tweeners are defensemen, who take longer than forwards to develop. Long term, I think an NHL lockout might help the Jackets to better develop the youngsters, even if it sucks as a fan to not have hockey to watch.

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