A Silver Lining to all of the Injuries
If there's something positive to be taken from the almost unfathomable amount of injuries the Jackets have had to deal with this season, it's been the need to bring in outside help to fill the roster. Granted, that alone isn't necessarily a good thing but if you look at the contributions from the players the team has added- it's a true silver lining to a crappy situation.
The first player to be acquired to offset the injuries was Jack Skille, claimed off waivers from the Islanders. Skille has found a home with the Jackets after a strong showing last season and solid play this year. His speed and shot alone are worth a roster spot, and at times he's moonlighted with Ryan Johansen.
Adam Cracknell has come and gone, but when he was in the lineup he did nothing to hurt the team. His cheerleading on Twitter was refreshing and positive, and he'll help the Falcons out as they continue their push for a Calder Cup.
In November, Jordan Leopold was acquired from the St. Louis Blues to help shore up the ailing blueline. Though he's been a recent healthy scratch, he's a steady veteran who no doubt kept the team focused when the going was tough.
Easily the top outside addition to the team has been the waiver claim of Kevin Connauton. Props to the pro scouts for identifying what Connauton could bring if given an opportunity, and not only has he filled in admirably he's arguably locked himself into a starting roster spot.
Last month, to help offset the high number of healthy blueliners, Tim Erixon was dealt to Chicago for Jeremy Morin. Morin has been a fine addition to the forward group, playing on a scoring line and showing untapped offensive potential. The goals will come.
Though in the cases of Cracknell and Leopold their contributions were minimal, they by no means were bad transactions. Both players did exactly what they were brought in to do- offer NHL level play while the regulars worked their way back to health.
Skille and Morin will still be contributors when the likes of Artem Anisimov and Boone Jenner return, while Connauton is all of a sudden a big part of the team's future, perhaps enough to force management to trade an incumbent blueliner.
We all love to play with lineups, so how does this tickle your fancy up front:
Jenner - Johansen - Foligno
Hartnell - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Calvert - Anisimov - Morin
Tropp - Letestu - Skille
That's a group of forwards that is skilled and well-balanced. It's not even a pipe dream- the team just needs to continue to get healthy and avoid further injury. Perhaps the best part of this lineup is Jared Boll serving as the thirteenth forward, and Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano and Michael Chaput are where they should be- developing in the AHL.
A healthy blueline raises some interesting questions- if one assumes that Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski, David Savard and Ryan Murray are locks, you have four defenseman vying for one starting spot and one, perhaps two spots in the pressbox. As I mentioned above, Connauton has more than earned a starting spot, but Leopold, Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef are all NHLers. If one game is any indicator, Goloubef is a keeper after putting up two helpers last game and not looking like a player who's missed significant time. You can argue that Leopold is expendable, but his veteran experience may be priceless if the team can get back in the playoff mix. Prout brings a physical presence that his fellow defenders lack, but has been known to make the occasional error.
Johnson - Tyutin
Connauton - Wisniewski
Murray - Savard
Goloubef / Prout / Leopold
Depth is a key component to winning hockey games, but it also provides a position of strength when making deals. Perhaps if the team can get fully healthy and can make a run toward the postseason, they can dip into the defensive depth to acquire a piece up front to put them over the top. Or maybe they can parlay that depth into a future asset, to keep the pipeline fresh.
At any rate the Jackets have been savvy with their additions, and with continued health and strong play those additions will be part of a team that can eclipse the success of last year's squad.