Columbus Blue Jackets Training Camp Battles: Wingers
Can Vitaly Abramov earn a spot on the roster? Who else might be pushing for more minutes? Today, we take a look.
Welcome to the next installment of training camp battles! Today, we take a look at which wingers will be battling it out for spots on the roster to open the season, as well as several positional battles that will be taking place.
Vitaly Abramov: One of the most closely watched prospects heading into camp will be former QMJHL MVP Vitaly Abramov. The diminutive Russian (listed at just 5’9” and 172 pounds) boasts plenty of scoring ability, registering over 100 points for each of the last two seasons. Abramov won the MVP during a season in which he put up 46 goals and 58 assists in 66 games played and showed no signs of slowing down last season, notching 45-49-104. Abramov’s talent is undeniable, but his slight frame could be a concern for the coaching staff. Still, Artemi Panarin is not much bigger than Abramov (5’11”, 168 for the Bread Man), and like his fellow Russian, Abramov shows no fear on the ice. For a team that finished 16th in goals per game last season, Abramov’s ability to put the puck in the net could force the front office to keep him here.
Last season, during his time in the QMJHL, he moved to center and worked to develop the defensive side of his game. He was the centerpiece of the top line of his Victoriaville squad the eventually fell in the Memorial Cup semifinals. His work rate and scoring never suffered, even as he added defensive responsibilities to his game. The talent is there to make a push for a roster spot this season.
Jonathan Davidsson: Jonathan Davidsson, Swedish born right wing, spent last season with Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League where he recorded 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 52 games played. The 21 year old signed a three year entry level deal this spring and GM Jarmo Kekalainen has praised his “top end NHL speed” at several point during this offseason, which is important because the front office has made a concerted effort over the last couple of offseasons to get faster up and down the lineup.
Davidsson is in a strange place with his contract - if he does not make the Blue Jackets’ roster out of camp, he will be required to return to Sweden to finish the final year of his deal. His skating ability is what could force the front office to keep him in Columbus this season.
Eric Robinson: Eric Robinson, who signed an entry level contract last spring before making his NHL debut in game 82 at Nashville, comes to the Blue Jackets from Princeton University. The former captain at Princeton put up 17 goals and 14 assists during his final collegiate year and plays a power forward, two way game that has been a hallmark of Blue Jackets Hockey for the better part of two decades. Robinson, despite his size and smarts, seems a long shot to make the roster out of training camp. As he plays left wing, he has to compete for a spot with Artemi Panarin, Nick Foligno, Sonny Milano, Anthony Duclair, and possibly Lukas Sedlak. It does not appear there is room for Robinson on the current roster, but he will likely spend time in the AHL developing his game this season.
Maxime Fortier: Maxime Fortier signed a three year entry level contract at the outset of last season before returning to the QMJHL, where he was named captain of the Halifax Mooseheads. In his 61 games, Fortier registered 32 goals and 43 assists in Halifax last season. Fortier was undrafted twice in the QMJHL draft, but his skill, work ethic, and ability to make plays allowed him to stick around and become a solid prospect in the Blue Jackets’ system. Fortier, like Robinson, will likely be a long shot to make the roster this season, competing with Jonathan Davidsson for a spot on the right wing behind Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Josh Anderson. His scoring ability and familiarity with North American ice could be the reason he sticks on the roster over Davidsson.
Kole Sherwood: The local boy, New Albany native Kole Sherwood, spent last season in junior hockey where he recovered from an injury that kept him out of action until Christmas. Upon his return, he took it upon himself to play a smart and dominant 200 foot game. Sherwood projects as a bottom six forward, but with a glut of options, it will require a standout camp for Sherwood to make the roster. In the event that Sherwood does not make the roster, look for him to join the Cleveland Monsters this upcoming season to continue his progression.
Anthony Duclair: More to come from fellow writer William Chase on Friday, but one spot to watch is where Anthony Duclair slots into the lineup for the Blue Jackets. He has been compared to the Sam Gagner signing in the past as a player with a lot to prove who could spark the bottom six. Duclair comes to Columbus with 37 goals and 52 assists in 219 career games played and scored 20 goals in his rookie season. Duclair plays on the left wing and will likely battle Nick Foligno for the second line spot next to Alexander Wennberg.
Sonny Milano: Few players have more riding on training camp and development performances than Sonny Milano. Milano has enough offensive talent to be a top level contributor for the Blue Jackets, but he has never shown enough defensive capability or established the trust necessary from John Tortorella to truly stick in the lineup. Last season he managed 14 goals and 8 assists in 55 games, but Milano disappeared for long stretches of play and was scratched as well as sent to Cleveland at various points throughout the season. In a perfect world, Milano would take a step forward this season and cement himself as the second line left wing behind Artemi Panarin, but Milano has not shown that consistency. His two way play and defensive work rate will be what determines Milano’s future with the club this season. Milano could play his way into that second line spot, consistent bottom six minutes, or a trade - anything is on the table for Milano this season.
Oliver Bjorkstrand: Oliver Bjorkstrand will not be unseating Cam Atkinson this season as the first line right wing. Bjorkstrand’s challenge will be to consistently play well throughout the season and to utilize his goal scoring touch more to finish off plays. Bjorkstrand has one of the better shots on the team, yet he managed just 11 goals in 82 games last season. Bjorkstrand could battle with Josh Anderson for the second line role, particularly if Anderson starts the season on a hot offensive streak. It will be imperative for Bjorkstrand to play more consistently this season and showcase his goal scoring ability.
Josh Anderson: Anderson started hot last season after holding out for most of camp, and then fell off for the second half of the season. Anderson scored 19 goals but registered just 11 assists, the latter number simply not good enough for a player who saw 18+ minutes a night for 63 games last year. Anderson is a power forward who uses his body to get into the tough areas as well as screen goaltenders, but it would help his overall game if he could occasionally set up his teammates as well. Anderson and Bjorkstrand will likely battle for the second line wing spot this season.
Boone Jenner: Formerly a center, Boone Jenner will nearly exclusively play on the wing this season while occasionally contributing from the face-off circle. Jenner signed a new four year contract over the offseason and will look to build upon his 13 goal 19 assist performance from last season. Jenner will likely be shuffled down the lineup, but he will still contribute on the penalty kill as well as in front of the net regardless of which line he settles on. Jenner’s challenge will be to maintain his effectiveness in potentially reduced minutes this season.
Nick Foligno: Nick Foligno had a down season last year, a function of his own poor play and how frequently he was moved throughout the lineup due to injuries at the center position. Foligno managed to post just 15 goals and 18 assists during his age 30 season and will certainly look to bounce back this season. For the first time in many years, Foligno will be pushed for the second line left wing position. The signing of Anthony Duclair and the continued development of Sonny Milano will push Nick Foligno to raise his game to previous levels to maintain his status. For the Blue Jackets to make a postseason run, they will need Nick Foligno to play consistently well. If he is pushed into third line duties, Foligno could form a formidable third line partnership with newly acquired center Riley Nash, a solid playmaker last season for Boston.
While there are few roster spots up for grabs in training camp at the wing positions this season, many spots in the lineup are unsettled and strong showings by players can change the look of the lines. Watching these battles will be key as the team approaches opening night in October.