You couldn't pick a more different set of roads to the NHL than the ones taken by R.J. Umberger and Derek Dorsett.
One was a highly touted NCAA prospect and product of the US National Team program who was taken as a first round draft pick.
The other scrapped his way to a spot on a Memorial Cup contender, but wouldn't find himself called at the NHL draft until almost the final pick of the 7th round.
While both spent a season in the AHL, one was a leader who took his team all the way to the Calder Cup, while the other was a role player on a good team that would be knocked out of the playoffs in a hard fought conference final series.
One was looked two for a "hard fought" goal and "gutsy" responsibilities at the front of the net. The other was seen primarily as an agitator and scrapper for whom "hard fought" was a quite literal statement almost every game.
Both, however, were seen as good checking line players, both were seen as excellent PKers, and each brought a high degree of "blue collar" effort. Both became fan favorites quickly in their debut cities, and both have been seen as players with strong leadership abilities.
In a year where their team has struggled all season, even Umberger's Ironman streak was broken, and his scoring is nowhere near his normal levels. Even in his worst full NHL season Umberger brought in 16 goals - he's currently on pace for 12. The player who got a new deal to stay in Columbus as the heart of the team still seems to be bringing his lunchpail most games, but he doesn't seem to be quite himself, and he hasn't been able to find the extra bursts of effort at the crucial moments that might push the club temporarily out of the valleys.
Dorsett, on the other hand, is well into a career season, having already doubled his NHL record in goals with eight, and just four points away from tying his career high in points. He has shown a surprising flair for shorthanded and "clutch" scoring at times this season, and visibly improving his game. Named one of the team's alternate captains once again by head coach Todd Richards (an honor removed by former coach Scott Arniel), Dorsett has filled the void that Umberger's struggles left in providing a new "heart' player for both fans and teammates alike to watch on the ice and follow by example.
With the Blue Jackets taking a long look at changes to this roster, it's difficult to imagine them moving Umberger right after signing a new contract, but Dorsett is a restricted free agent this summer and making a case for a decent raise. One could easily see Dorsett being offered to a potential playoff contender looking for a "spark" player to slot into their bottom six, or made part of a potential package deal.
Should this come to pass, I think it would be a mistake on the level of allowing Ray Whitney to leave town.
There's no question Dorsett is one of the few players showing the accountability and need to win that the locker room badly needs. His passion is an inspiring thing to watch - and subtracting it while the team continues to struggle to form an identity seems like a recipe for disaster. Even more, Dorsett has been one of the team's top penalty killers and one of the only forwards in the "bottom six" with a positive scoring chance ratio at even strength. He may never be a 20 goal scorer, but Dorsett could well be breaking out into a versatile and defensively responsible 20+ point player, providing badly needed depth without requiring the team to break the bank on a free agent.
Most of all, he's been willing to step up and try to put the team on his shoulders - and has clearly been learning to do so without using his fists. That's an impressive step of personal growth. Dorsett is also one of the few players to live in Columbus year round. He clearly loves the city, and we've had the privilege of watching him become a better, smarter player.
DD may not be the new RJ. But he has filled many of the roles that made Umberger a fan favorite on and off the ice. We ought to recognize the results, and not allow exactly the kind of player this team needs to slip away.