We’re less than a week away from the July 13 start date of training camps. There are some concerns about picking the season back up from where it left off in March, you know, with the pandemic very much not under control in America, but hey - here we are. Let’s give it the good ol’ college try and see where it gets us.
As of July 7, 22 skaters have rejoined on the ice for training in Columbus - including defensemen Gabriel Carlsson, Vladislav Gavrikov, Scott Harrington, Seth Jones, Dean Kukan, Markus Nutivaara, and Andrew Peeke. Notable absences include Ryan Murray, David Savard and Zach Werenski, who have reportedly not returned yet for team training but are expected to be on the roster for Phase 3.
This pandemic’s impact on sports sucks in an infinite number of ways. However, if there is a single silver lining to be found here, it’s that the bruised and battered Blue Jackets have been gifted several restful months to recover from injury, and should return in full force for whatever the remainder of this season is going to look like.
Alright, let’s break this down to a cellular level. If the team is a cell, the Blue Jackets defense is the mitochondria. They are the ones creating and doling out the energy that the rest of the team needs to initiate reactions - the defensive lines have always been the backbone of this franchise, more or less, and we’ll need to see that come into play in the remainder of this season.
As much as it’s been a blessing that the Jackets have had several months to recover from a particularly injurious season... every other team they’ll face was given the same blessing. The Jackets defense is what sets them apart from other teams, and they’ll need that going into Phase 4 of returning to play.
But, not every other team gets to say that Seth Jones made a full recovery during these last few months and will return to play in full health.
So, we’ve got Seth and Z, Vlad and Sav, and a handful of other healthy, young guys who have shown they can perform and are chomping at the bit to get into a regular rotation - Carlsson, Nutivaara, Harrington, Kukan, Peeke. I’m sure much of their training this week is John Tortorella throwing these guys at the metaphorical wall and seeing what sticks.
The Jackets are going to need to meet Toronto with their trademark stingy defense, right off the bat. The Maple Leafs will bust out of the gates like a bat out of hell with their offense, and the Jackets will need to immediately mitigate while they get back into the swing of scoring. I really have the most amazing premonition about Oliver Bjorkstrand’s performance against Toronto - we’ll see how that pans out.
Zach Werenski is currently the most productive defensive scorer in the NHL, so let’s hope that continues trending upwards. Assuming Gavrikov and Savard show up with their take-no-prisoners style of defense, we should be good to go there. It will be interesting to see how Torts pairs the remaining slots, but he’ll have done his research and he’ll have his reasons, and he has a really solid group of guys to pick from.
To have a full bill of health is going to be the Jackets most powerful weapon in this upcoming series - watching them claw their way into a playoff position by March was so exciting, and the sky is the limit for them when their roster is full, healthy, and ready to prove themselves. Fingers crossed no one gets COVID.