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Who Will Be The Next Man Up?

With Ryan Johansen still unsigned, and the news that Nathan Horton's back issues are likely to keep him out of the lineup indefinitely, what are the Blue Jackets going to look like on opening night?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With just over a week left in the training camp schedule (and just under two weeks before the Blue Jackets take on the Sabres in Buffalo to kick off the 2014-2015 season), it's traditional to pull out the crystal ball and try to see what the team's roster is going to look like.

This year, that task has been made a lot more complex by the continued absence of Nathan Horton, Ryan Johansen, and Ryan Murray.

While Johansen could, in theory, return at any time once both sides finally agree to a contract, the other two are a bit more vague. Recent news about Horton's back problems indicate that it could be weeks - perhaps months - before we see him on the ice again, while Murray is "taking it slow" after having his knee scoped again during the summer. The good news is that Murray is skating on his own again, so hopefully we'll see him back in battery sooner than later.

Despite that silver lining to the cloud, "sooner than later" is still not a real timetable, and the team is going to need to trim this roster down.

At this point, we have to assume that all three will be unavailable for that first weekend of game action, if not longer. So what might that look like, and who might be taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity?

Forwards:

Scott Hartnell - Brandon Dubinsky - Nick Foligno

Matt Calvert - Boone Jenner - Alexander Wennberg

Brian Gibbons - Artem Anisimov - Cam Atkinson

Simon Hjalmarsson - Mark Letestu - Jared Boll

Extra / IR / Suspended: Tropp, Horton, Johansen

While this lineup isn't anything near ideal, I do like the way it looks on paper. All four lines are flexible, physical, and have some scoring threat, while also bringing up the overall ability to 'play fast' that head coach Todd Richards has emphasized since the start of camp.

The team's veterans end up concentrated on one line this way, but there's a lot to be said for that. All three are capable of playing a hard nosed, physical game against top competition, as anyone who saw Dubinsky taking on Sidney Crosby will recall, and Hartnell's ability to draw penalties and drive possession should mesh really well with the chemistry already established between Dubi and Foligno.

Wennberg's big frame and on-ice vision have stood out so far this year, but I suspect the team will keep him on the wing to start the season as he gets his feet wet in the NHL, while the "experiment" of moving Jenner back to the middle seems to be going smoothly so far - and pairing them with the always hustling Calvert is a recipe for delicious mayhem.

There's no slight meant to Cam Atkinson or Artem Anisimov by placing them on the third line - quite the opposite, in fact. With the blistering speed and quick hands they've shown, particularly with the way Cam seems to have turned up his game this season, they're a great "counter attack" line, and Gibbons has been quick as advertised so far, with his speed showing to good effect against St. Louis and his former teammates in Pittsburgh during the preseason. The three of them together might be one of the fastest lines the Jackets have ever put onto the ice, and should be able to make a lot of coaches think twice about who goes over the boards to face them.

Finally, the team's fourth line will continue to be anchored by the steady presence of Mark Letestu, though it wouldn't shock me if we see Test Tube move around in the lineup for special teams assignments or when coach Richards is looking for a "spark", just as he did last season. Hjalmarsson seems like a natural fit given the way he's been turning heads, and has a lot of the same potential as Letestu - a guy who can play in all situations, and could easily move up in the lineup when needed.

Last but (hopefully) not least there's Jared Boll. Love him or hate him, he seems to be making an effort to prove that he can be an effective contributor, and it seems likely that he'll be given the chance to prove it, though I wouldn't be shocked if he rotates in and out of the press box, particularly if certain players sign deals and / or get healthier.

Corey Tropp seems most likely to be kept as the extra forward - given a one way deal by the team, he's obviously satisfied someone in the front office after his performance last year, and it wouldn't make sense to sign him to a new contract and then expose him to waivers.

Defense:

Jack Johnson - Fedor Tyutin
James Wisniewski - Cody Goloubef
Dalton Prout - David Savard
Tim Erixon
IR: Murray

The pairing of Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin isn't going to shock anyone, nor is Dalton Prout and David Savard. While I think the team would LIKE to give Tim Erixon a shot to shine next to Wiz, the injury he suffered against Carolina last Sunday has worked against him. Meanwhile, Cody Goloubef has been quietly playing a very reliable game - by his own admission, he's never going to be a flashy guy or a crazy puck mover, but he's good at knowing where to be and how to anticipate his partner as well as his opponents. It's a little bit of a downgrade from last year's electric Wisniewski / Murray pairing, but it should be a quite serviceable solution until Murray is ready to rejoin the lineup. (At which point, unfortunately, the team would have to place either Goloubef or Erixon on waivers, but sometimes you have to just cross that bridge when you come to it.)

The defense was already a fairly known quantity going into the year, and this doesn't shake things up terribly much. The loss of Murray hurts, but if he returns relatively quickly I don't think anyone has reason to panic - if anything, I think we might be surprised by how well "Goldbeef" fits into the NHL corps.

Goaltending

Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

No surprises here. Bob's looked great so far, and C-Mac has been surprisingly effective as well. Pre-season or not, it's nice to see your goaltenders stopping everything that comes their way. If Bob picks up where he left off, this should be the foundation that everything else builds from.

I am in no way a qualified goalie scout, but it seems like Anton Forsberg is likely to take the starting job with Springfield (and potential callup status if something should happen to either netminder), while Dansk will spend some time honing his craft behind him.

All things considered, it's not a bad lineup - particularly when you see how several other teams in the Metro are being gutted by injuries this week. It's entirely possible the arrangements may change, but I feel fairly comfortable saying these are names you should expect to see on those opening night sweaters. The front office is going to have some interesting decisions to make as players become eligible to return - and there are several guys who will be working to make those decisions as difficult as possible.