A debate that I have been having with myself for a few years now is who is my favorite Jacket? I don't neccessarily need to single out one player as my favorite, but I'd like to.
At this point in time, it's a no brainer for me to say that in the entire organization from top to bottom my favorite player is Jakub Voracek. I have so much emotionally invested in him- from being blown away by his hockey smarts and on-ice ability from the start of Mooseheads training camp last year, to the way my insides were being twisted in knots waiting to see if he would fall to the Jackets, to watching him dominate the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, before my own eyes at the Halifax Metro Centre.
However, in the world of pro sports, anything can happen. Jake could be traded before he even suits up for a regular season game with Columbus. He could (god forbid) suffer a serious injury which could limit his ability to have a prominent career as an NHLer. Therefore, until he is on the Jackets' roster for a regular season game, i need somebody else to hold the position of "My Favorite Blue Jacket".
Let me rephrase that. I'm not saying that once Jake makes the show I am simply going to push the incumbent off of the pedastal. No, Jake will be my favorite Jacket, but whoever was there before Jake will still be there. Kind of like a very close 1B.
I don't like how that sounded either. I guess what I am trying to say is I don't know if I will be able to have only one favorite Jacket. How about three favorites then? That would make things very easy.
Now I just need two more guys to be my faves until Jake makes it a threesome.
I'm not going to blow anybody away with this, but those two guys are Rick Nash and Nik Zherdev.
The London Knights of the OHL have been a junior team that I have followed closely for a long time. When Nash was starring for them, I quickly became a fan of his game. A hulking power forward with sick hands and a nose for the net. Going into the draft, Nash was the guy I was hoping the Jackets would draft. However, I didn't think they had a chance, with Florida and Atlanta picking 1-2, and Columbus drafting third. Doug MacLean was still preaching about building from the net out through the draft, so I thought that with the third pick I'd be hearing either Jay Bouwmeester or Joni Pitkanen's name called. Good ole Dougie though, he pulled off one of the best trades in team history and got the first overall pick from Florida and Columbus got their franchise player. In the years since, I have been amazed by Nasher. The things he does for the Jackets, his play at the All Star Games, (as lame as they are) and also for Team Canada. It's easy to be a fan of Nasher.
It's not as easy, however, to be a fan of Nik Zherdev. I think one word to describe his tenure with the Jackets so far is "mercurial". I am usually very happy the day after NHL Draft weekend, because every year the first rounder that the Jackets take is the guy who I wanted them to take. That is, except for the 2003 draft. That's the year Nik was drafted. I wanted very badly for the team to take Thomas Vanek or Nathan Horton to act as Nash's partner in crime. When Nik's name was announced, I was more than a bit puzzled. I read the scouting reports and seen a bit of video of what he had done with CSKA Moscow in the Russian League, but I thought he'd go later based on some rumblings i had heard about attitude issues.
I embraced him though, and looked forward to his arrival with the Jackets. His departure from Russia for Columbus was one of the cloak and dagger-type scenarios, similar to the Evgeni Malkin situation in Pittsburgh. After sneaking his way to the Jackets, Z went on to score 13-21-34 in 57 games. I was amazed by his stick handling ability and the fact he was the only player to every bring me out of my seat. The next season was the lockout season, where Nik kissed and made up with Russian Hockey and played for Mytishi. He played very well over there, and the following season, the first after the lockout, he improved his numbers scoring 27-27-54 in 73 games. Same old Nik- highlight reel goals and a tendency to undress even the most solid defenders in the league. That season however, fans started to hear some negative things about Nik's attitude in the locker room. He was not making an effort to learn English, he was standoffish with his teammates, and was generally not a good guy to have in the locker room. For me, that was kind of an issue. At that point i was in full "Rick and Nik Show" mode, (Thanks Hockey News) and I was bummed to hear these negative things about Nik.
The next season, things didn't get any better. I was starting to actually dislike Z, the reason being he began the season in Russia holding out for a new contract from Columbus. This did nothing to strengthen his ties with his team mates or the club itself. Eventually, Z signed a contract and began playing for the Jackets. His production that year, last season, was poor. In 71 games, he had only 10 goals. That is negligible contribution from a supposed cornerstone forward. Rumors circulated that Doug MacLean attempted to trade Z, with no takers.
Fast forward to this summer. Doug MacLean is gone. Scott Howson is the new GM. Ken Hitchcock is preparing for his first full season with the CBJ. Howson and Hitch both sit down with Z and while we'll never know exactly what was discussed, Z has responded by becoming the offensive force and good team mate that the Jackets need him to be. He is buying into Hitch's defensive system, while at the same time displaying his amazing talent with the puck. Nik's blocking shots, pinching back in his end, finding teammates with crisp passes, and he's back to scoring incredible highlight reel goals. Tonight, he had three assists in the Jacket's come from behind victory over the Stars. His third assist could have very well been a goal, the Dallas net was open, but in an unselfish move, he dished the puck to Nash for the goal. With Z's three assists, and Nash's goal, the two are now tied in scoring for the Jackets, Nash with 26-17-43 and Zherdev with 20-23-43.
It's back to the Rick and Nik show in Columbus, and back to me being able to legitimately say that my favourite Jackets are indeed, the Rick and Nik Show. Soon enough though gents, Jake will be joining you on my pedastal. We'll have to come up with a new nickname for the three of you it seems.
That felt good.