The second grouping features Wisniewski, who is a fine passer and puck handler and also solid at the blue line, with 21-year old Ryan Murray. Murray played in 66 games last year and showed that he is capable of being a strong contributor full time this year. Murray can help on the power play (three goals) and has a good shot from the blue line. Expect Columbus to use veteran Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout as the third pairing, with Tim Erixon the extra defender. Tyutin is a steady producer who had 22 assists last year, while Prout will be looking to step forward after playing in 49 games in 2013-14. Erixon, meanwhile, is trying to stick with the big club, after playing in just two games last year. Blue Jackets Goaltending Okay, so Bobrovsky didn’t win the Vezina Trophy last year, as he did in 2012-13, but he still had a good year. “Bob” posted a healthy 2.38 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. While those numbers didn’t put him among the league’s elite last year, they certainly didn’t hamper the Blue Jacket effort, and it was clear that he played a big role in the playoff run. Bobrovsky had five shutouts – a career high – and showed consistency that he wasn’t able to demonstrate during his first two years in Philadelphia. His trouble came in the playoffs, with a 3.17 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Bobrovsky had better stay healthy, because backup Curtis McElhinney doesn’t have a glowing NHL resume. Last year’s 28 games represented a career high, and his 2.70 GAA wasn’t stellar. He did, however, register 10 wins, most in his time in the league. Power Play Although Columbus’ 19.29 percent success rate last year was not that far above league average, it was more than five percent higher than the 2012-13 performance, which was abysmal. The Blue Jackets weren’t very good on the advantage for the preceding three seasons, with 2010-11’s 13.95 percent the nadir. Although Columbus doesn’t have one big gun, it has several players who can score on the unit, and that makes it dangerous. Of course, it doesn’t have Umberger, who led the Jackets last year with eight power-play goals. Losing him could hurt. Once Johansen gets settled, he can be counted on for production, as his seven scores on the advantage proved last year. Letestu may be a fourth-line center, but he did hit the net five times on the power play last year. Dubinsky, Atkinson, Jenner and Johnson round out a versatile collection of man-advantage weapons who should give Columbus strong success once again. Penalty Kill Brandon Dubinsky Kirk Irwin/Getty Images The Blue Jackets weren’t necessarily a juggernaut on the kill last year, and their 82.14 percent rate was pretty much the league average. But when you add up the two special teams, the total exceeds 100, and that’s what a lot of coaches want to see. It would help the team’s playoff hopes if the number improved, but it is still strong. Dubinsky, who seems to do just about everything for Columbus, is a key player on the kill. It also helps a lot to have Bobrovsky along the back line. He’s a reliable backstop who can handle tough shots and doesn’t always need to be protected that much. Along the defensive line Tyutin is a stalwart, but during training camp, Savard jumped onto the first unit, ahead of Wisniewski, continuing his strong play and continuing to show promise. Three Questions 1.Will the Blue Jackets be at full strength? This doesn’t have anything to do with the special teams. It’s all about the injuries and complications along the first line. It’s unlikely Johansen will sit out the season, but if he doesn’t get the contract he wants, he could be grouchy. Jenner isn’t likely to be out too long, but Horton’s back is reason for concern. 2. Can Bobrovsky keep it going? Bobrovsky has only been in the league for four years, but he already has a Vezina trophy and a strong follow-up on his resume. He may not be one of the four or five best goalies in the league—yet—but he has the potential to be a steady force between the pipes for several years. 3. Is Columbus on the upswing? There are those who wonder whether last season was merely a combination of toughness and grit, not to mention some other Eastern teams’ stumbling. But the Blue Jackets have a young core, improving depth and a good goaltender. Good things could well be ahead. Prediction This team isn’t ready for Cup contention, not by any stretch. But if the first line plays together for a good chunk of the season, Bobrovsky doesn’t slump, and the young players continue to emerge, this is not only a team that could make the playoffs but also one that just might win a first-round series.
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