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Three Columbus Blue Jackets storylines to watch in Traverse City

The Blue Jackets prospects kick off their annual tournament appearance today. Here’s what to watch for.

NHL Prospects Tournament Day-2 Colubus vs Minnesota

The Columbus Blue Jackets kick off participation in the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament yesterday. If you missed it, you can follow along with the team and stream the games online.

For fans just checking in for the weekend who may have missed out on the opener, here are three storylines fans should be paying attention to that could affect the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

How is Kent Johnson handling playing center?

Before the tournament kicked off, we learned in practice that Kent Johnson was playing center, a notable development given the lack of high end center prospects in the organization.

Kent Johnson appears to have spent the offseason working on his body, adding muscle to his physique to handle the grind of an NHL season. If he can handle the responsibilities of playing center, it would go a long way to helping the rebuild along. Playing center in Traverse City will be his first real opportunity as a prospect to do that. He famously played wing at Michigan and played wing in limited appearances last season with the Blue Jackets.

Johnson will be given every opportunity to succeed at center, starting with this tournament playing next to Kirill Marchenko. Many eyes will be on Johnson to see how he handles the role and responsibilities.

How does Kirill Marchenko look as he transitions full time to the North American game?

Marchenko may have the most pressure on him of any Blue Jacket not named Johnny Gaudreau as we head into the season. Marchenko, a second round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, is entering the season at just age 22 but with three seasons of real KHL experience under his belt. Marchenko comes in as a seasoned prospect with 36 goals in 111 games in the second-most-competitive professional league in the world.

Marchenko, 6’3” and 187 pounds and who can play either wing, will slot neatly in to the middle six as he makes the transition to the Columbus Blue Jackets this year. Expectations are high for a big bodied, physical winger with an accurate shot - how will he handle the physical grind of an 82 game NHL season? How will his game translate, and how will he fit in on the roster? Getting experience in Traverse City will certainly allow him to hit the ground running this season.

How ready is David Jiricek?

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a loaded defensive corps and just signed Erik Gudbranson this off-season, but already two things may be true:

1) Jiricek may be the second-most talented defenseman or defensive prospect in the organization, and

2) Jiricek may make one of the rostered defensive players, including newly-signed Gudbranson, expendable as soon as this season.

His skill and talent level is that high. Even head coach Brad Larsen was not ruling out Jiricek making the club out of came. Jiricek is a physical player, a smooth skater, but also is more than capable of playing offensively. He has experience playing against professional players in Czechia. If he comes into training camp and impresses in much the way that Cole Sillinger did last season, he could force the front office and coaching staff to keep him on the roster.

What storylines are you following in Traverse City this weekend?