One of the subjects that's gotten constant discussion this offseason is how Todd Richards will be asked to improve the Jackets' powerplay, and how Scott Howson has retooled the roster to provide a more intimidating crew to challenge opponents.
Though we'll have to wait for training camp (and really, the final series of roster cuts) to truly know what the Jackets' special teams will look like, there are some educated guesses we can make based on the skills of players old and new.
Parts on the breadboard:
First, let's look at the Jackets acquisitions, and their previous performance with the man advantage:
Jeff Carter (C)
2010-2011 PP Stats: 8 G, 9A, 10.7% shooting percentage, 55% PPFOW, averaged 2:56 PP time / game
With his ferocious wrist shot, solid faceoff ability and high shooting percentage, it's not surprising that Carter was a regular on the Flyers' power play last year.
Vinny Prospal (C/LW)
2010-2011 stats: 2G, 8A, 14.8% shp, 64% PPFOW, 3:08 ATOI
The words "power play specialist" are usually saved for defensemen (and usually come with the expectation that a great deal of offensive production will offset their weaker defensive abilities), but Prospal's skills on the man advantage and his nose for opportunities around the net speak volumes. His shooting percentage is somewhat inflated by his shortened season, but it's notable that he was put out for major PP minutes with the Rangers as soon as he was healthy, and stayed on the first unit the remainder of the season.
James Wisniewski (D)
2010-2011 stats: 7G, 22A, 6.3% shp, 4:27 ATOI
The very picture of a first unit PP quarterback, "The Wiz" had over half of his production last year with the man advantage, and was munching minutes on the man advantage. He is, simply, the backbone of any improvements the Jackets make to the power play unit, and he will be expected to drive the offense whenever he is on the ice.
Radek Martinek (D)
2010-2011 stats: 1G, 0A 3.10% shp, :33 ATOI
Though Martinek has a fairly nice shot when healthy, it's clear that he was not considered a major portion of the Islanders' PP. (On the other hand, he was one of their most prolific penalty killers, so expect to see him taking a major role with the Jackets in that regard)
It's fairly reasonable to assume that while Martinek isn't likely to go onto the power play terribly often, Carter, Prospal, and Wiz are going to be major players - and likely first unit players, at that. That means that only two positions are likely to be added to the first unit, and that the second unit is likely to be mostly existing players - so who were some of our best performers?
R.J. Umberger (LW)
2010-2011: 8G, 5A, 11.4% shp, 51% PPFOW, 3:17 ATOI
A lot of people are assuming that Rick Nash would be on the #1 unit, but there's actually a pretty strong argument that, if he shows chemistry with Prospal and Carter, that R.J. might be a slightly better fit, especially with his willingness to go into the front of the net and cause trouble for the opposing D.
Derick Brassard (C)
2010-2011: 6G, 10A, 9.3% shp, 53% PPFOW, 2:58 ATOI
Brass was on the ice almost as often as Nash and Umby with the man advantage, and he made a good showing - most impressively in the faceoff dot, where he struggled more often at even strength. Perhaps giving him a chance to see more time on the second unit would be a wise choice, and help with his confidence away from the man advantage as well?
Rick Nash (LW)
2010-2011: 6G, 8A, 10.5% shp, 20% PPFOW, 3:39 ATOI
Not surprisingly, Rick Nash was the driving force behind the Jackets' power play - and his ebb and flow on ice was often directly related to how the PP unit fared. With Nash likely to see less focused defenses due to the addition of Carter, Prospal, et al, it will be interesting to see if he can take more opportunities as a result.
Antoine Vermette (C)
2010-2011: 3G, 7A, 10.4% shp, 57% PPFOW, 2:54 ATOI
Shuffled between the first and second units depending on the situation, Vermette saw less production last year, but was still the team's best faceoff man. If he moves to the wing, I would still expect him to take key draws with the man advantage, especially in 5 on 3 situations.
Matt Calvert (LW)
2010-2011: 3G, 1A, 22% shp, 100% PPFOW, 0:58 ATOI
Still growing into a role on the team, Calvert's creativity with the puck and tenacity around the net is likely to earn him more PP time in the future, but I'm not sure he'll be a regular in his sophomore season unless the Jackets see more injuries in the top six. His numbers are great, but remember that he played less games than anyone on this list save Clitsome or Prospal, and his PPFOW is based on a grand total of 1 faceoff.
Fedor Tyutin (D)
2010-2011: 1G, 11A, 5.5% shp, 2:55 ATOI
Though many expect Tyutin to be a first pairing d-man with Wisniewski at even strength, particularly given his recent extension, it's less clear if he will serve as his partner on the power play. I would assume for now that he will, but there are arguments to be made for both Grant Clitsome and Kris Russell based on their abilities.
Grant Clitsome (D)
2010-2011: 2G, 8A, 8.0% shp, 3:30 ATOI
Once Clitsome arrived in Columbus he became a fixture on the top powerplay unit because of his shot and the mobility he offered. Though he's normally a right side defender, like Wisniewski, I wouldn't be shocked to see at least one attempt to pair them in training camp for a few drills. Having two blueliners capable of ripping a heavy, accurate shot is something that could make a huge difference.
Kris Russell (D)
2010-2011: 1G, 5A, 5.7% shp, 2:45 ATOI
Despite two major injuries, Kris Russell quietly had a career year with 23 points. While he's still not using his speed or mobility as much as we had hoped, if he can stay healthy and get off to a strong start, I would not be shocked to see him earn 1st unit time in certain situations, and he's still one of our best options for the second unit.
With the players outlined, I wanted to offer a few possible suggestions for units based around their past performance. These are pure speculation, but there's reasons to think they could work.
Option #1: What To Expect When You're Expecting
This is, for lack of a better term, the "Vanilla" option based on media and fan expectaions
Nash - Carter - Prospal
Tyutin - Wisniewski
Umberger - Brassard - Vermette
Russell - Clitsome
I'll say for the record that if these units are what hit the ice? I think we're looking at some exciting power plays. Both contain a lot of offensive firepower, and I can easily see Rick Nash going to the net to create havoc on the first unit, especially with his stick handling skills in close.
Option #2: Top Shots
Umberger - Carter - Prospal
Clitsome - Wisniewski
Nash - Brassard - Vermette
Tyutin - Russell
This configuration is based around the guys with the best power play scoring tools and shooting percentages, "stacking the deck" against an opponent's PK with the first unit, and (hopefully) creating more opportunities for proven performers like Nash and Brassard against the opponent's second unit PKers, or potentially a tired first unit PK. Though Matt Calvert could be in the second unit based on his remarkable shooting percentages, I'm just not comfortable doing that until he's proven himself a bit more.
Option #3: Forward Up High
Nash - Carter - Prospal
Brassard - Wisniewski
Umberger - Vermette - Calvert
Johansen(?) - Clitsome
Using the option of putting a fourth forward out, which Scott Arniel played with a few times during last season, this configuration would offer a potential spot for Ryan Johansen to cut his teeth with some PP time should be make the squad.
Option #4: Big Guns
Nash - Carter - Prospal
Umberger - Wisniewski
A setup I'd only expect to see in a 5-on-3 situation, this is essentially stacking the deck and hoping to overwhelm a defense by sheer force.
Option #5: Speed Lines
Calvert - Carter - Nash
Russell - Clitsome
Umberger - Vermette - Prospal
Tyutin - Wisniewski
This configuration would basically just be stacking up the team's fastest skaters for the top unit and telling them to go to town, focusing on rapid entry, quick slashes at the net, and using the second unit for a more conventional group to hold the zone and hammer away.
Again, until we see the final shape of the Roster, it's all speculation - smoke and mirrors signifying nothing - but I wouldn't be shocked to see several of these combinations tested in training camp, or for something very similar to hit the ice as we reach game action.
Also, none of these take Kristian Huselius into account - when he returns, that's another top PP player would Columbus will need to work into their lineup - but I suspect that's a problem Scott Howson and Scott Arniel will enjoy having.