Let's be honest, it really wasn't supposed to happen this soon.
Earlier this summer, shortly after the Jackets acquired Scott Hartnell from the Flyers and the team dipped its toe into free agency, the scribbling of potential lines began. No matter the lines, it appeared the Jackets were going to run with a relatively veteran lineup, with few spots for rookies.
Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Hartnell, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert, Nathan Horton, Mark Letestu, Jared Boll, Corey Tropp and Brian Gibbons were the 13 forwards we all had penciled in for opening night. Simon Hjalmarsson and Jerry D'Amigo were thought to be the bubble players.
There was always the potential for injuries, but we didn't expect Horton to be diagnosed with a potential career-ending ailment, nor did we foresee the long-term injuries to Dubinsky or Jenner. Toss in the contract dispute with Johansen and the poor play/minor injuries to Hjalmarsson, D'Amigo and Gibbons in training camp, and the Jackets were left looking to fill holes up front.
This opened up an opportunity for the Jackets to look internally to fill out the roster. At their disposal was a trio of highly promising rookies, the big three prospects from the 2013 draft- Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano. I'm sure the plan was to let these players marinate in the AHL for at least a season, prior to giving them a chance to crack the NHL roster. However, their services were required much earlier, and they were given every shot at making the squad in training camp.
If they showed in camp and in the exhibition games that they truly weren't ready, the team would be forced to look outside of the organization. Rychel was in that situation, though he showed improvement over last season, he's still not at the point where he can be an NHL regular. He was sent to AHL Springfield, and the team made waiver claims on Jack Skille and Adam Cracknell.
Wennberg and Dano though? These kids seized the opportunity that was created with all of the injuries and the Johansen holdout, forcing their way on to the opening roster. Not only did they make the team, but they are playing a regular shift, not serving as warm bodies on the fourth line.
Dano has already scored his first NHL goal, while Wennberg had a handful of chances on Tuesday night to do just the same. Wennberg has looked especially good, playing on the "40s Line" with Anisimov and Hartnell.
These players are showing a willingness and ability to backcheck, forecheck and their creativity with the puck is more than evident. Though Dano has had a pair of notable plays where his inexperience has led to him being on the receiving end of a hard hit, he hasn't made the same mistake twice. In the game against the Stars Dano was moved to the fourth line, but I'm willing to bet he turns in a solid performance on Friday against the Flames.
It's likely that when Dubinsky and Jenner return to the lineup these two players will be sent to the Falcons, but in the meantime let's all enjoy the early glimpse we get of the future, which thanks especially to these two players, looks very, very bright.