Let's Chat About the Columbus Defense
I don't think you'll see many fans of the Jackets argue with you if you say the Columbus Blue Jackets defense has traditionally been the weakest part of the roster.
That is, until this upcoming season, providing the CBA nonsense gets cleared up.
For the first time since expansion, the Jackets' strength is on the back-end. Take into consideration the moves that GM Scott Howson has made in the last year or so. He signed James Wisniewski after finishing fifth in defenseman scoring the year prior. Midway through the season, he acquired Nikita Nikitin from the Blues, and "Nikki Six" wert on to have a very strong season. At the trade deadline, Jeff Carter was dealt to the Kings for Jack Johnson, who was instrumental in changing the culture of the team for the better, regardless of what the stats geeks will have to say about him. When free agency opened up, veteran Adrian Aucoin was brought on board to mentor the young guys. Most recently, Howson picked up top prospect Tim Erixon from the Rangers in the Rick Nash deal. This was after taking highly-touted Ryan Murray second overall in June's entry draft.
Those are just the new guys. You can't forget about Fedor Tyutin, arguably the team's most complete defenseman- for now, anyway. Former first round pick John Moore is also in the mix, along with high-end prospect David Savard and AHL veteran Nick Holden. Dalton Prout is another name to keep in mind, he had a cup of coffee with the Jackets last year and didn't look out of place.
It will be interesting to see how the three defense pairings look when the Jackets start the regular season. Based off the lineup from last season, I think it's easy to put Tyutin and Nikitin together again. The duo showed chemistry, and their skill sets offset eachother nicely. Johnson and Wisniewski played together for a spell, and when together, dubbed themselves "Controlled Chaos". I think it's safe to say we'll see more of #CCCBJ in the future.
Things get muddy after that.
Is Murray ready for NHL-duty? He was touted as being the most NHL-ready at the draft. In talking to followers of the Rangers, Erixon is ready to make the next step. Moore and Savard each spent time in Union Blue. Aucoin is a wily veteran, who can still put the puck through, rather than past a goaltender when given the opportunity. Holden and Prout have both shown that they can hang in the NHL.
That's a lot of talent for two to three spots. I've always been a proponent of letting the best players play. They are wasted if they are sitting the press box more often than not. Let's assume that the top four that I mentioned earlier, the All-American pairing, and the Russian duo, make up the first two pairings.
I'd like to see Murray get in as much action as possible, with Aucoin backing him up as his partner. One of Prout or Holden would make a good seventh defender.
That would allow Moore, Erixon, Savard and either Holden or Prout to get major minutes with Springfield of the AHL. Based off of their level of play in Springy, these guys would be called up when/if injuries happen.
Never in the Jackets' history have they had the luxury of having so many defensemen with such talent. The coaching staff are in for some hard discussions when deciding on which seven guys make the team. Heck, I wouldn't be shocked if the team carried eight blueliners and rotated the bottom pairing in and out for the first few weeks of the season.
Either way, both the Columbus and Springfield bluelines are chock full of excellent defensemen, and this, my friends, is a good problem.