Lukas Sedlak is at a crossroads.
After playing 115 regular season games with the Blue Jackets over the past two seasons, he's in a precarious position where his ice time may be up for grabs.
The 25-year-old Czech, who was hampered by injuries in 2017-18, is fighting this training camp to keep that ice. The Blue Jackets brought in Riley Nash as a free agent to help stabilize the team at the ever-important center position. That was an insurance policy for Brandon Dubinsky, who struggled mightily a season ago.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Alexander Wennberg, and Riley Nash appear to have the top three center positions covered, but nothing is in ink yet.
Even if Dubinsky beats out Sedlak at the fourth line center position, the latter is well-positioned to keep his place in the lineup. A team can never have enough centers and Sedlak is a solid penalty killer. That's of more emphasis than in years past, as the Blue Jackets saw Matt Calvert move on via free agency. Sedlak is also among the best Blue Jackets in the face-off circle, as he's won 52.0% in his NHL career.
It's fair to surmise that Sedlak's injury-laden 2017-18 season didn't help his cause. Just eight games into the year, an ankle injury cost him 13 games. Then on Mar. 22, he took a slap shot to the head on a blast from Seth Jones. He missed the rest of the season and playoffs, and wasn't cleared to resume hockey activities until late May.
Assuming Artemi Panarin isn't moved before the start of the season and that no injuries to regular forwards occur, we can safely write that 10 forwards have secured roster spots: Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Dubinsky, Dubois, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Nash, Panarin, and Wennberg.
That leaves newcomer Anthony Duclair, Markus Hannikainen, Sonny Milano, and Sedlak, fighting for three spots – and that doesn't include any prospect that could make a push, such as Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, or Eric Robinson (or a veteran like Nathan Gerbe, Alex Broadhurst, or Zac Dalpe).
In this writer's opinion, Sedlak has shown more than Hannikainen, and his proficiency as a penalty-killer and his versatility to play center or wing give him a leg-up. But even if he beats him out, Sedlak will still need to edge at least one more skater to have a regular spot in the lineup. Teams only dress 12 forwards, after all.
While Sedlak's two-way game is heralded by the coaches, it would be foolish to consider him anything more than a fourth line player in the NHL. He plays a simple yet uninspiring game. A Venn diagram of Sedlak and, say, Milano, would be two circles sitting next to each other.
In Sedlak, the Blue Jackets know what they're getting: a solid, two-way center with limited offensive skill but a hard-nosed player that's not afraid to go to the dirty areas on the ice. But the club isn't interested in simply maintaining its roster, and changing the status quo if it means icing an improved lineup is certainly not out of the question.