The 2015 NHL season has finally arrived, and that only means one thing: meaningful hockey games will be abundant.
The Columbus Blue Jackets start off their season on Friday against the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena starting at 7:05 p.m. Coming into the season, the Blue Jackets have big expectations after some offseason moves and look to continue to take steps toward a Stanley Cup coming to Columbus. With a new captain in place for the first time since Rick Nash was traded in 2012, forward Nick Foligno is ready to lead this team on the march for the playoffs.
If one should give credit to anyone on the team, it is Sergei Bobrovsky. The goalie has emerged as one of the best in the league and is the backbone of the team. He took Columbus by storm in his first year with the team by winning the Vezina Trophy (the best goaltender in the league) in 2012-13. Bobrovsky has also been working a bit differently this year. He normally takes a few months off after the season to relax his body and mind away from the rink. This year, he worked more on and off the ice to be ready for this season.
Having a healthy Bobrovsky is always a plus for the defense, which also has some bright spots.
Ryan Murray, a young defenseman, has been considered the key to the defense. However, he has also been hurt quite a bit the last two seasons. If he can stay healthy, he can give Bobrovsky some relief from taking unnecessary shots. He has 70 shots on goal in his two seasons, meaning that he can bring the puck down the rink and even put the puck on goal.
Alongside Murray is another young defenseman, David Savard. Savard is entering his fifth season in Columbus, and is coming off a 36-point campaign. Savard also had three game-winning goals last season, an impressive mark for a defenseman. Those two should help keep some pressure off Bobrovsky, and help keep the puck with the offense.
Speaking of offense, the top line has not yet been mentioned. Center Ryan Johansen has made a statement over the last two years, and is now considered one of the best young players in the league.
Teaming him up with Johansen is the new captain Foligno, who had an all-star year last season, even being named the captain of his squad in the 2015 All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena.
He had a career year with 31 goals, 42 assists and three game-winners.
Those two should be lined with a third potential all-star, in Brandon Saad.
Saad comes over from Chicago, where he won two Stanley Cup Finals in 2013 and 2015. The forward is only 22 years old, but he is considered one of the up-and-coming superstars in the league. Having a top line of Foligno, Johansen and Saad should stack up against any other team’s.
Columbus, on paper, doesn’t seem to have too many weaknesses, but that does not mean that it is perfect.
After an injury-riddled 2014-15 season, regaining the team’s timing is going to take some time. With the loss of center Artem Anisimov, who was moved for Saad, that leaves a hole on the power-play and short-handed lines. Saad will be shifted to his spot, which he should be able to handle.
The third and fourth lines are a mystery right now. Players such as winger Corey Tropp and center Mark Letestu’s departures could hurt the team’s depth. Tropp was a good physical presence last year, and gave fits to other defenses, while Letestu could score from the bottom lines — notching seven goals and six assists — and had a knack for ending up with the puck.
This team, just like last year, needs younger guys to step up and produce in order to have any chance with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Overall, this club has a good-looking roster to compete with any team in the NHL, especially with the blue-collar attitude that Todd Richards has incorporated into the Jackets’ play over the last few years.
Expectations have changed in Columbus. The city expects the club to not just compete, but win. These are not the same old Jackets that were pushovers in the Western Conference. This team has tasted the playoffs, and can see the opportunity of this year. If it plays up to expectations, it should return there for the third time in franchise history.