With the Blue Jackets opening training camp today, the countdown to the regular season is officially on. Here’s a preview of some storylines to watch on the front end heading into the on-ice sessions tomorrow, and the first pair of preseason games Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Who’s the top center?
Coming in, we already know one important detail: newly-signed star winger Johnny Gaudreau and Finnish sniper Patrik Laine will start the season together. Now the question becomes who plays between them. Putting Cole Sillinger there would provide an amazing opportunity for the youngster and basically guarantee he avoids a sophomore slump, but could leave them as a defensive black hole. Do you put veteran Boone Jenner in to cover that, allowing him to build on his great first season as captain, and serve as a tougher guy to protect the two stars? Or does Columbus-native Jack Roslovic get a shot? Any of the three of them could end up there, and all three will get looks, but it’ll come down to who’s the most impressive in the preseason.
The kids are alright, right?
In addition to Johnny Hockey, this season also marks the arrivals of Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko. How will they look in their first season in the union blue (aside from Johnson’s nine game sample last year)? Does Johnson play wing or center? Where does Marchenko fit in? Also, Yegor Chinakhov will need to improve on his rookie season to get minutes, and Emil Bemstrom looks to finally earn a regular spot. Looking at the roster, there’s really only room for two, maybe three, or these four youngsters, meaning someone has to sit.
What happens to the fourth line?
Towards the end of the season, the line of Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, and Justin Danforth proved a matchup nightmare for opponents, grinding teams down and scoring gritty goals in the classic Blue Jackets way. But does that line get broken up this year? Can one of Johnson, Marchenko, Chinakhov, or Bemstrom push out Danforth? Does Robinson play his way up the lineup? Or is that 50-7-17 unit just too good to break up?
Do Jakub Voracek and Gus Nyquist play together on the second line, or do they get split between the middle six?
Do any dark horse candidates like Brendan Gaunce, Liam Foudy, Trey Fix-Wolansky, or Carson Meyer make the roster?
Why are James Neal and Mathieu Olivier here?
With Bjorkstrand getting traded, who takes over as an alternate captain? (This is open to defensemen as well, most notably Vladislav Gavrikov, but if you ask me I think a forward is most likely.) Or is it just Nyquist and Zach Werenski with no rotation?
That’s all I could think of, but let us know what you’ll be watching in the comments. And if you want to watch in-person, all on-ice sessions at the Ice Haus are open to the public! The full schedule can be found here.