Training Camp Battles Part One - Top Six Forwards

April 5, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) is congratulated after his second goal of the game by center Derick Brassard (16) and left wing R.J. Umberger (18) during the second period of the game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Just like that, it's September.

Almost any other year the turning of the calendar from August to September meant that training camp was about to begin, shaping teams for the start of the season in early October.

This year is different, because of the looming threat of another work stoppage/lockout.

Here at The Cannon, we'll keep you up to date on all of the lockout-related news, but we're not going to let it keep us from going ahead, business as usual, with our other content. To kick things off, I'm going to give you part one of our "Training Camp Battles" series.

Let's see which players are duking it out for a job on the top two forward lines.

With Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius gone, the door is open for other players to step up and be the go-to offensive forwards for the Jackets. Unlike in years past, the roster as currently assembled features a good mix of skill, grit, size and defensive awareness. What the team lost in high-end skill, it has made up for with above-average depth. There are arguably nine forwards who have the ability and/or experience to play in the top six.

Vinny Prospal
Vinny showed us last year that he still has some tread left on his tires, and he could provide offense. He's a hard worker, and that not only rubs off on linemates, but the rest of the lineup as well. At this point in his career, he is relied on for veteran leadership, and makes a very good case for being a stabilizing influence in the top six.

Artem Anisimov
Arty is a pivot with good size, and is very responsible defensively. He also has some untapped offense in him, leading him to being a candidate for a top six role. Given the fact he's so good when the puck is on an opposition stick however, he may be better suited for the role as shutdown center on the third line. If he shows a scoring touch in camp however, he may force his way on to a scoring line.

R.J. Umberger
There are few things that are for certain with the Jackets, but one thing is- Umby is going to bring it every night, and he's good for 25ish goals. I don't think there's much of an argument here, Umby will be on a scoring line.

Ryan Johansen
This is an important year for Johansen. The former first round pick has yet to nail-down a spot in the lineup, but with added bulk and experience he may be ready to take ownership of a scoring line center spot. He'll likely have every opportunity to take that job and run with it, but he'll have to fight off the likes of Anisimov to keep it. His skill set and Arty's defensive ability gives him the upper hand when it comes to the second line centerman slot.

Derick Brassard
The role of number one center is Brassard's to lose. He doesn't have the burden of trying to force feed Nash anymore, allowing him to unleash himself offensively on the opposition. At this point, he's one of the team's most talented players, and in my estimation the best playmaker. He finished the season strong a line with Umby, the duo may continue to ply their trade together on a line this upcoming season.

Brandon Dubinsky
Dubinsky is a wildcard, not so much due to his underwhelming season a year ago, but rather due to his versatility. Like Anisimov, Dubinsky is adept defensively. On the other hand, he also has a boatload of offensive talent. He can also play both wing or center. There's a huge hole on the right wing with Nash gone, and Dubinsky may be the best player to fill that hole.

Cam Atkinson
Speaking of that hole on right wing, Atkinson will be out to prove that he's the best man to fill the void left by number 61. He and Dubinsky are the top candidates for the top six right wing spots, but they'll duke it out for prime time on the big line.

Nick Foligno
See a pattern yet? The Jackets' forward corps is loaded with versatile, gritty, two-way forwards. Umby, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Prospal...now Foligno. Foligno is coming off a career year offensively, but he'll have to top that to steal a top six spot from the aforementioned players. They all have similar styles, but Foligno brings more grit with a touch less offense.

Mark Letestu
Test Tube will make things interesting once camp starts. He has offensive ability, and is very good on the powerplay. He can also play both center or wing, making him a threat to steal a job from the eight aforementioned players. If those guys can nail down the spots they're expected to, you'll likely see him moved to the fourth line to add a dose of offense to the energy/grit line.

The Battles

Second Line Center - With Brassard having dibs on the top pivot spot, look for Johansen and Anisimov to fight for the number two spot. If Anisimov earns it, don't expect Johansen to slide down to number three. He'll likely see time on the fourth line if he can't lock that spot down. If Johansen wins out, Anisimov is ideal as checking center.

Prediction: Johansen comes to camp hungry, and snags the number two center spot. Arty starts the season as checking center.

Top Line Right Wing - Atkinson and Dubinsky are both worthy of this spot, but Cam is a pure goal scorer. You'll see more of my method by the end of this, but if we're assuming Brass is the top center, Cam is the finisher for Brassard's passes.

Prediction: Camsanity starts the season as the top line right winger, with Dubinsky holding down the number two slot to the right of Johansen.

Second Line Left Wing - This position could see the most intrigue. If we're assuming that Umby has the top line left wing spot (and that's exactly what I'm doing) then we have Vinny, Foligno and Letestu fighting for the left wing slot on the line with Johansen and Dubinsky.

Prediction: Johan is the young pup in the lineup, and placing Vinny on the line makes the most sense. He can mentor the young centerman, while also benefitting from Johansen's playmaking ability. Additionally, Prospal and Dubinsky are former teammates from their Ranger days. This puts Foligno and Letestu on the third and fourht line left wing spots, respectively.

To recap, my predictions would give the following lineup:

Umberger - Brassard - Atkinson
Prospal - Johansen - Dubinsky

Foligno - Anisimov - Dorsett
Letestu - MacKenzie - Boll
Gillies

Stay tuned for a look at the bottom six predictions, along with a look at the battles on defense and in goal.

Anything can happen in camp- injuries, poor play, strong play from unexpected players, you name it. This is an exercise in prognostication, and a bit of fun. Let's just hope we're able to focus on training camp, and not daily CBA updates.

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