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2021 Blue Jackets Training Camp Battles: Forwards

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Let’s get talking about training camp - the season is only a few short days away!

NHL: JAN 04 Blue Jackets Training Camp Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wow! The season starts next week. First of all:

Who would have thought? Not me!

But here we are, despite it all, because of it all - for better or for worse, the NHL season starts next week in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic that’s raging at peak numbers right now in Ohio and around the world.

Woo, sports! Let’s see how this goes. Let’s think forward and talk forwards!

Any and all drama aside, the Jackets are signed up, geared up, and ready to go for this season. The most notable absence is in Gustav Nyquist, who had shoulder surgery in November to rectify a cyst - his timeline for return is 5-6 months, so he’ll easily be gone for the first half of the season, which opens up a left wing spot on the second line. Who will step up? Well, let’s take a look.

Current lines as of Day 1 and Day 2 of training camp:

Let’s dive into it, shall we?

Alexandre Texier
2019-20 Player Review

On the very last day of 2019, Texier suffered a back injury that would take him out of play for the rest of the regular season. Fortunately, he was able to return for the 2020 postseason, where he really stepped up with 10 games played, 4 assists, and an average of 21:52 minutes on ice per playoff game.

His connection and chemistry with Pierre-Luc Dubois is profound, so I’m looking forward to seeing that grow on this line. The goal is to have him eventually play as center, but in the current circumstances he’s on a line with two of the team’s most prolific scorers and will hopefully develop in cadence with their play.

Pierre-Luc Dubois
2019-20 Player Review

Tout est bien qui finit bien - all’s well that ends well, right? Ha! PLD signed a two-year contract in the eleventh hour, right before the commencement of training camp. Here are some more recaps of this situation so I don’t have to beat a dead horse: this week’s Cannon Blast and Cannon Cast.

Basically, it would appear that PLD has developed a case of the Artemirovksy Syndrome, which is a non-medical condition where a beloved and seemingly irreplaceable figurehead of the CBJ roster decides that he’s ready to move on to greener pastures more picturesque than the flat cornfields Ohio has to offer.

Anyways, I love PLD and I am currently confident that whatever he decides will not affect his level of play or his chemistry with his current teammates (please don’t make me eat my words, Luc) - and if last season, especially the playoffs, were any indicator, he is chomping at the bit to play hockey for another two years in Columbus.

Oliver Bjorkstrand
2019-20 Player Review

To round out an extremely strong first line, we have good ol’ Ollie Bjorkstrand. Congratulations to him for his recent engagement to his long-term girlfriend Jill, by the way! The start of his 2019-20 campaign was riddled with unfortunate injuries, but he came back and produced important goals in the playoffs. As long as he picks up where he left off, which I bet he will because that’s just the kind of consistent, underrated, good guy that he is, we’ll be in great shape.

Nick Foligno
2019-20 Player Review

Pale Dragon’s wise and debatably Not Great prediction came true - Foligno is stepping up to fill Nyquist’s hole in the second line. On Nov. 9, 2020, PD said: “This won’t make many of you happy, but I have a feeling that Foligno is the most likely to take Nyquist’s place on this line. The Captain’s offense has fallen off the last two seasons, but in that time he has been deployed more in a defensive role at 5v5. On this line, he could provide defensive coverage for the offense-first Domi. He could also crash the net and tap in rebounds from Domi’s and Cam’s shots on net.”

Let’s hope the entirety of PD’s prediction plays out this season! Domi seems impressed already by the leadership and locker room culture that Foligno and Atkinson have helped build, so it seems written in the stars that this trio is capable of great things.

Max Domi
Exclusive interview with The Cannon

Woo! This is the player I’m most excited to see debut for the CBJ. I encourage you to check out his full interview with The Cannon linked above, because he shared a lot of valuable information and insights about living and playing hockey with Type 1 Diabetes. But here’s my favorite bit of the interview that makes me excited about his attitude to play in Columbus:

“Anytime you get traded it’s tough; it’s never fun. But at the same time, when you’re going to a new situation, a new chapter, a chapter closes and a new one opens up for you. The teammates that I have now in Columbus seem unbelievable. They’ve all basically reached out to me. Very welcoming. A great group of guys. I’ve known some in the past, which is great. So to get to play with those guys is going to be super cool.”

We’re excited to have you, Max!

Cam Atkinson
2019-20 Player Review

Cam’s 2019-20 season was lackluster, there’s no way around it. His 2018-19 year was impressive, with a total of 69 points (a career-high) - so I believe it was difficult for fans, teammates, and Cam himself to fathom that he only scored 12 goals in 44 games in the following season. Many people (but not Cam) attribute this to Panarin’s departure. Yes, they worked well together, but Cam is going to need to adjust internally and externally to meet the circumstances of his current team. Hopefully Domi will be an exciting catalyst to boost Cam’s production.

Boone Jenner
2019-20 Player Review

Jenner isn’t a center - we know that now. So it’s refreshing to see him on the wing, where he should be better equipped to do more literal and figurative damage! We speculated in October that Koivu and Foligno would be his line mates, which would have him in a more defensive position, but with Koivu and Grigorenko, the role is really his to carve.

Here’s PD’s take on Jenner’s previous season, where he was one of three forwards to play all 70 games: “Is there a silver lining going forward? Maybe. Thanks to the acquisition of Max Domi and Mikko Koivu, Jenner can move back to his original position of wing. This allows him to get back to a role of forechecking and crashing the net. He had a 12% shooting percentage in his first three seasons, but it had declined to just 6.1% this season. Getting back to high danger areas could bring that percentage back up slightly.”

Mikko Koivu
CBJ signs veteran center for 2021

This was an exciting acquisition for the Blue Jackets - another grizzled veteran on offense. Can’t have enough of those! Elaine’s words on Koivu’s impressive resumé: “In 1028 games with the Wild, Koivu has scored 709 points in the form of 205 goals and 504 assists. Koivu also has 251 career power play points. Which isn’t that bad when you consider the Jackets’ power play record as of late. Signing Koivu as a bottom six center allows Boone Jenner to flourish in his natural role of left wing.”

Mikhail Grigorenko
CBJ signs forward for 2021

Let’s see how this pans out! Sounds like he’s got plenty of experience but is still relatively green at 25, and I’m excited to see him on this line with two other wild cards who are just now learning to play with each other. Here’s what the Blue Jackets reported when Grigorenko signed his one-year contract last April:

“Grigorenko, 25, recorded 22 goals and 42 assists for 64 points with 30 penalty minutes in 217 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres from 2012-17. He set career highs in goals, penalty minutes and games played with 10-13-23 and 18 penalty minutes in 75 games in his most recent NHL campaign with Colorado in 2016-17. In 2015-16, he set career highs in assists, points and plus/minus with 6-21-27 and a +2 plus/minus rating in 74 outings with the Avalanche. Selected by Buffalo in the first round, 12th overall, at the 2012 NHL Draft, Grigorenko made his NHL debut during the 2012-13 campaign and collected 1-4-5 in 25 appearances with the club.”

Liam Foudy
2019-20 Player Review

Foudy had a breakout playoff stint in 2020 after spending the majority of his time with the OHL London Knights. He had one goal and one assist in the 10 playoff games he appeared in, which were integral points to a team who were doubted to reach Round 1. The only direction he can go is up, in my opinion! I’m excited to watch what he brings to the table in this line this season.

Riley Nash
2019-20 Player Review

Will’s headline for Nash’s review sums him up perfectly: “He’s not flashy, but he’s consistent.” With 14 points across 64 games in the last regular season, he isn’t the teams highest producer, but his points came in clutch moments and his durability was an asset to a team so battered by injury. He played solidly in all 10 playoff games, notching two points when they were needed most. He’s entering the last of his three-year deal with the CBJ, and I’m excited to see if he’s able to remain a consistent stalwart for the team.

Emil Bemstrom
2019-20 Player Review

Young and capable, Bemstrom was an exciting acquisition at the beginning of last season. His potential appears in bits and spurts, where he has long dry periods for scoring and then peppers several in game after game. He tallied 10 goals and 10 assists last season, with an underwhelming performance in the playoffs - five games played with zero points. He was someone unfortunately afflicted by bad luck injuries, including a dislocated rib and broken cartilage from last December that caused him to miss 12 games. Assuming he stays healthy, I’m looking forward to seeing what Bemstrom can accomplish with this line.

Eric Robinson
2019-20 Player Review

Despite being familiar to the franchise for a couple years, Robinson really solidified his status as a regular last season - due in part to the copious injuries suffered by the CBJ, but also due to a maturation and consistency in his level of play.

Thanks for this wrap-up on his season review, Seeds: “Eric Robinson, after playing just 14 NHL games with no points over his first two years with the Blue Jackets, solidified his spot on the fourth line with the club in his third professional season.

Robinson may never blossom into more than a fourth liner, but his speed allows him to be a potential game breaker in limited minutes. He also dished out 79 hits in 50 games, showing that he is not afraid to use his physicality on a nightly basis.”

Kevin Stenlund
2019 Top 25 Under 25

Stenlund was another familiar face to really carve his spot on the roster last season and came into this training camp with every possibility to be a roster regular. And here we are! The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had this to say about Stenlund in his 25 Under 25: ““Stenlund looks like a player. There are times you see a 6-foot-3 forward with great hands, a fine skating stride, the ability to make plays and score goals, and think he should be on the fast track to the NHL. While he did play a few games this season, he has some work to do before he’s a full-time player. Stenlund has all the tools, but he lacks consistency. He doesn’t get to the middle of the ice that often and he needs to get better defensively. I know some scouts who are huge believers due to his massive upside.”

Nathan Gerbe
2019-20 Player Review

Gerbe was one of my favorite players to watch rise in the ranks last season, as he really spearheaded the trend of back-up players becoming roster regulars due to the unprecedented number of injuries. From watching him play with the Jackets, you wouldn’t even know he overcame an injury himself that knocked him out of contention for most of the 2018-2019 season. He performed consistently well for the Monsters, tallying 25 points for them in 30 games before getting pulled up to the CBJ for the rest of the season. I can’t wait to watch Gerbe, Stenlund, and Robinson’s line - they’re the ones with everything to prove this season.


That’s it for forwards - check back tomorrow for our wrap-up on defenders! What do you think about these lines? Are you feeling as hopeful as I am, or is my hope misplaced? Let me have it in the comments.