Every Tuesday, WFNY’s The 5-Hole brings you up to date with the goings-on of the CBJ…
Before we look back at last week, it is important that we look forward as we’ve finally (FINALLY!) gotten to the point in the season where actual news happens, and actual action is taking place. Tonight is the first exhibition game of the 2008-2009 season for the Blue Jackets. They will be in Chicago playing the Blackhawks tonight at 8:30 EDT, followed by another game tomorrow night in Minnesota. This is the first look at the new-look Jackets. Check the “Up Next” section below to see their full pre-season schedule.
The Week That Was
The Jackets’ prospects finished seventh in the prospects’ tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, beating Tampa Bay in the seventh place game. This was a step back after two tournament wins and a second place finish the previous three years, but this year’s team was far younger than teams in the past. Blue Jackets director of hockey operations Don Boyd called right winger Jakub Voracek “arguably the best player in the tournament.”
And, of course, training camp officially started! The biggest news from the first weekend of training camp is that a rather significant line change has already taken place: when the off-season came to a close, trade import R.J. Umberger looked to be the #1 center, almost by default. But, as camp opened, rookie Derick Brassard was elevated to the #1 line as the center, bumping Umberger to the second line (with Fredrik Modin and rookie Voracek). This is a huge move, as Brassard is all but a rookie (he has played sparingly in the NHL, but nowhere near a full season). “By accident those players ended up together a couple of times (in recent pickup games), and I liked it,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I really liked it. Yeah, it’s summer hockey, but you could see the chemistry. So we wanted to take a look … and they looked really good.”
Finally, the Jackets made their first round of cut-downs on Monday, sending three players selected in this summer’s draft back to their respective junior teams.
Position Battles to Watch
In this new section, we’ll look at how some position battles are unfolding, as well as how the roster is shaping up as camp progresses. As we’ve discussed in previous 5-Holes, one of the biggest battles will be the seven players fighting for three spots on the defensive line. The top-five is fairly well set with Jan Hejda and Rostislav Klesla, along with the three newcomers Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman. The team will carry eight defensemen (three lines of two, plus two bench players). Players competing for those spots include: Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Kris Russell, Aaron Rome, Marc Methot, longshot-veteran Richard Matvichuk, Clay Wilson, and Jonathan Sigalet. It’s a fairly safe bet that Tollefsen and Russell have a leg up, based on their experience with the team. That would leave one spot for the remaining five players. Rome and Methot are intriguing because they would have to clear waivers to be sent back to Syracuse, and it’s doubtful that either would make it through.
And, of course, the other position of note at the moment is at center on the first scoring line. Right now, the job belongs to rookie Derick Brassard. But, should that line stagnate in exhibition games, or should Brassard struggle, don’t be surprised if R.J. Umberger makes his way back onto that top line. Brassard has been playing with captain Rick Nash on his left wing, and free-agent pick-up Kristian Huselius on his right wing. “That was really fun,” Brassard said. “That’s two guys who can really play. Kristian is so good with the puck. Rick is a big guy who can score. I just want to take my opportunity and, if we get a chance to play in a (preseason) game, I hope it works.” More importantly, the move has the approval of The Captain:
My first impressions were very good. I thought Brass was very good, and you know Huselius is going to be that style of player. I just found out (about the change) this morning when I got here and saw the lineup. I had the same impression as you guys; I was a little surprised. But Brass has made a lot of strides in his game, and he fit right in with us. –Rick Nash
Finally, the club has made a concerted effort to give back-up goaltender Fredrik Norrena a more set-in-stone schedule. The idea is to give him a better of idea of when he will play—similar to what the Indians did with catcher Kelly Shoppach in 2007—so that he can be better prepared:
We want to keep him in more of a consistent groove this season. We don’t want him to go 3 weeks without starting a game. So whether (starter Pascal Leclaire) plays two of three or three of four games as a matter of routine, we want Freddy to have an idea of when he’s playing. I think that’s especially important to veteran players like Freddy. –Ken Hitchcock
The Dispatch Team has posted their projected 23-man roster here. The 5-Hole sees Mike York stealing Jiri Novotny’s spot as the “extra” forward. The discrepancy between the two players’ off-season conditioning and preparation will be the difference, in my opinion.
Nikita Filatov, recovering from a broken fibula, was not on the ice the first day of training camp. He’ll begin aerobic exercises and will be examined by a doctor this week, and could be cleared to begin practicing by Thursday or Friday if all is well with his leg.
Center Michael Peca has missed time early in camp while battling bronchitis. Peca is slated to center the third line.
Winger Raffi Torres is being spelled every other drill thus far, in an effort to help him ease back into competition. Torres is recovering from ACL surgery in December. Torres is not expected to play in the pre-season until at least September 29th against Chicago.
Finally, and sadly, goaltending prospect Steve Mason has apparently suffered a setback in his rehab from surgery for a torn meniscus. Club officials have not yet released the details.
Quotes of the Week
When asked if this is a playoff team:
We think this is a playoff team, but it’s up to us to prove it. I don’t look at the rest of the Western Conference. I look at ‘What are we doing to make ourselves better?’ I think you can drive yourself crazy looking at what other teams are going to do, how good they’re going to be. Is Dallas any better? Is Nashville better? I’m just going to worry about Columbus, and if we get to the 95- or 100-point level, we’re going to be in. –General manager Scott Howson
We have to come together as a team. And we have to realize that to be a playoff team, you have to compete your way in, not skill your way in. There’s a big difference. You can add all the skill in the lineup you want, but you have to outwork people to get in there. I know this, though: We are going to be really entertaining, really competitive, and we’re not going to go away quietly in very many games. I can tell you that. The talent here is good enough to make the playoffs. –Coach Ken Hitchcock
9/23 – @Chicago
9/24 – @Minnesota
9/26 – NASHVILLE
9/27 – @Nashville
9/29 – CHICAGO
10/2 – BUFFALO
10/3 – MINNESOTA
10/5 – @Toronto
The first regular season game on Friday, October 10th in Dallas against the Stars, and the Jackets’ home opener is on Friday, October 17th against the Nashville Predators.