Columbus Blue Jackets preview: The boys are back in town

PHOTO+BY+KYLE+ZIES

PHOTO BY KYLE ZIES

Kyle Zies

BY KYLE ZIES (’16)

After another season of the Blue Jacket faithful sitting on the couch in June during the Stanley Cup, the Jackets’ are back in town and gearing up for a playoff run. A deep playoff run. After being decimated by injuries in the 2014-15 campaign, which saw 508 man-games lost (by far the most in the league), Columbus enters this season with a new outlook and a recharge igniting throughout the locker room.

General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen made another mark on the team by pulling off a blockbuster trade, acquiring two time Stanley Cup champion, Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. Kekalainen and management then dipped their toes in free agency and pulled out the former Boston Bruin, Gregory Campbell, to anchor the fourth line.

“The feeling is they are more dangerous at forward with Saad,” said Blue Jackets’ beat writer Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch.

Brandon Saad, 22, adds a rare value to the Jackets as he is young and experienced, having already two Stanley Cup rings on his fingers.

“Campbell makes them a little nastier.”

Hockey fans often remember Gregory Campbell as the Boston Bruin who continued to serve his time on the penalty kill with a broken leg after deflecting a shot in the playoffs just a short time ago.

Boone Jenner, another youngster who plays a man’s game, is sporting a grown man’s beard upon returning to Columbus after the long offseason.

“There’s no way Saad or [Boone] Jenner falls out of the top six,” Portzline continued, when asked about where Saad fits on the team and in the lineup.

Defenseman Kevin Connauton strolled into Nationwide Arena with a little extra muscle in the chest and extra jump in his step. Also on the back side, Ryan Murray is looking like a potential Norris Trophy candidate as he has taken place in optional skates this offseason in Columbus. When Murray’s name came up in the discussion with Portzline, it didn’t take long for him to jump in.

“Ryan Murray is the most talented defensemen… he’s a top four guy.”

Murray (a first round pick in 2012) has only played in 78 games in his NHL career as he has been bit by the injury bug more than enough times at this stage in his career.

The Blue Jackets also took a big step this offseason by finally naming a team captain for the first time since the trade of Rick Nash in 2013. Nick Foligno was named the sixth captain in franchise history in June after producing a monster season statistically, and establishing himself as a true leader in the locker room.

“Foligno is definitely in a different setting than he’s faced,” Portzline said.

Foligno will be accepting the task of leading a young team to its first playoff series victory and maintaining a presence felt throughout the league.

A couple players of to keep an eye on this training camp will be forwards David Clarkson and Rene Bourque. Clarkson, acquired from Toronto, looks to regain his rough and tumble play style that found him in success in New Jersey just a short time ago. Bourque, acquired from Anaheim, is in a make or break year.  If Rene Bourque is unable to produce and hang on with the club, it is inevitable that his professional hockey career will be over. That is enough motivation for any professional athlete.

It would not be a Blue Jackets preview without talking about the one and only, Sergei Bobrovsky. The Jackets’ Russian net minder spent the offseason in Russia working on new techniques with goaltending coach Ian Clark to help reduce stress on his groin that set him back in December last season. Bobrovsky looks to be staying in union blue for a while as he and his wife, Olga, purchased a $2.1 million condo on the Scioto River this offseason. ‘Bob’ looks to return to his .932 save percentage that earned him his Vezina trophy in 2013 and was the ultimate backstop for the young Columbus team.

The Jackets are young, tough and dangerous on paper. The key will be translating those numbers from sheets of paper to the ice as training camp approaches. Professionals are fighting for jobs and ultimately fighting for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup in June.