The Jackets didn`t require a roster overhaul this summer, rather they needed to simply tweak the lineup. We`ve talked about the additions of Scott Hartnell via trade, and the free agent signings of Brian Gibbons and Jerry D`Amigo. We now turn our attention to potential roster additions from within the organization.
Alexander Wennberg was the prized draft choice in a year when the Jackets had three first round picks. He`s known as a playmaking center with great hands, and has a strong work ethic to match his talents. He spent last season in his native Sweden, playing for Frolunda where he had an interesting stat line of 16-5-21 in 50 games.
Born: Nacka, Sweden
Where Wennberg plays this season is entirely up to him. Assuming Ryan Johansen signs prior to training camp, there are very few spots potentially up for grabs up front:
Hartnell - Johansen - Horton
Jenner - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Calvert - Anisimov - Foligno
Gibbons - Letestu - Boll
The lineup I listed there is nothing more than a visual, to get an idea of how difficult it may be for a rookie to crack the lineup. There will be injuries, unfortunately, but given a healthy lineup I see Hartnell, Johansen, Horton, Dubinsky and Atkinson borderline locks in the top six. Boone played most of last season on a scoring line- if Wennberg outplays him in camp can the rookie break camp in the top six?
It wouldn't be a bad thing for him to start the season on the "third" line with guys like Anisimov and Foligno, either. It would help him work on his defensive game, while still allowing him to play with offensively creative linemates. He avoids the opposition's top checkers in this situation. It would also mean that a guy like Matt Calvert is playing on the fourth line.
Of all the rookies who will be looking to make the big club, Wennberg is perhaps the most NHL-ready and offensively gifted. His playing style may keep him off the roster if he can't make the top-nine, however. He needs to be playing, so a fourth line role in Columbus does him no good. He's eligible for the AHL, so anything outside of the top three lines means he's off to Springfield. There are other rookies like Kerby Rychel or Josh Anderson who would fit in as fourth liners in the NHL, if they impress in camp.
Wennberg is a very important piece of the future puzzle, but there isn't the rush to get the top picks in the lineup like in years past. The Jackets have depth and talent throughout the lineup. If a skilled player like Wennberg starts the season in the NHL, it means he had a hell of a training camp and forced the coaching staff to keep him. It's a win-win situation, really.
If I were a betting man, I'd say Wennberg makes the team and plays with two-way linemates Anisimov and Foligno. It's an ideal situation. The top six I listed above, with Calvert, Letestu and Gibbons on the fourth line. Boll and Tropp healthy scratches.
We shall see. Training camp will certainly be intense, that's for sure.