This summer, the Columbus Blue Jackets could see some massive player overhaul.
When the dust clears, though, they'll still have a damn good defensive unit remaining. You also won't need to ask Seth Jones twice about it.
"Steady guys that you can trust in any situation. That's what makes the D-corPS special."– Seth Jones on describing the blue jackets' defense
Though Jones himself had a "down" year production-wise (compared to his usual output) he improved tremendously at the end of the regular season and entering into the playoffs. He recorded nine points in 10 games played in the postseason, which was good for third on the club behind Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Not bad.
His exit day interview on Wednesday proved further that even if Jones was half the player he currently is, he's one of the alternate captains on the team for a reason. Jones described, in detail, the talent and skill set of his blue line teammates.
He's clearly not letting the potential departure of offensive talent and a prized goaltender change how he feels about the Blue Jackets' defensive corps.
On Zach Werenski:
"You have Zach, who's one of the most offensively-skilled defensemen I've ever seen, and obviously I have the opportunity to play with him every night and watch him," said Jones.
Werenski, an offensive-minded defenseman, came into the 2018-2019 season with a goal to improve his defensive-zone work, after an offseason of hearing criticism regarding that part of his game. Jones knows his partner improved greatly.
"He's always had it," Jones said of Werenski. "He's a big body, he's explosive, he's powerful...it's great to see him grow."
On David Savard:
Savard is the oldest "regular" Blue Jackets defenseman, and the longest-tenured. Being 28 years old on this Columbus team probably makes you feel a lot older.
"You have Savard, who comes to the rink every day, he's a true pro," said Jones. "He's a definite leader on our back end. (He's out there) blocking shots, just does whatever it takes, (he's) just one of those players."
On Vladislav Gavrikov:
Step right up, Gavrikov. The 23-year-old's NHL debut came in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins, and the youngster certainly held his own. In two games played, he averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time, and Jones was certainly impressed with the newcomer.
"Gavrikov comes in in the postseason, does some great things – big body, physical, can move his feet, skate," Jones said.
On Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington:
Rounding out Jones' list (at first) was Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington – two young defensemen that were thrust into playoff roles after minimal regular-season experience. Harrington was serviceable in his role, and Kukan stepped up big time, even scoring a blistering tying goal in Game 5 at Boston.
"All these guys can play. They're all competitors," said Jones. "I think moving forward, we're all going to continue to grow."
On Ryan Murray:
"I always forget 'Murr'," Jones said with a laugh. "He was huge for us this year. He had one of his best years before he got injured."
Murray had a career year while only playing in 56 games. Unfortunately, injuries have become a regular occurrence for the 25-year-old, but he was efficient and productive when in the lineup. He finished the year with 28 assists, tied for fifth on the team by season's end.
"I played with (Murray) a little bit this year when I was struggling," Jones said. "Playing with him, you seem to settle down a little bit. He's got great vision, neutral zone passing, his quick-ups are spot on. We had good chemistry."
Whether it's late in the game, on the penalty kill or on the power play, Jones said all of his fellow defensemen stepped up throughout the year, and he's excited that most if not all of them will be returning. There might even be some competition on who should get the sixth spot in the rotation, too:
|Vladislav Gavrikov||2 (playoffs)||0||0||0||48.4|
So, with a core like this (hopefully) intact come October, the Blue Jackets should be a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end at least, right?
Well, at least one member of the Blue Jackets' front office sure thinks so.
"We saw that we have great depth on our D going into next year. All players are under contract except Zach who is a restricted free agent, but I'm sure we'll come to an agreement. I don't know who has a better D core than we do.” – GM Jarmo kekalainen
It's a claim that certainly can be argued, but it's not all that wild. What should be the Blue Jackets' top-six next season in Jones, Werenski, Nutivaara, Savard, Murray, and Kukan/Gavrikov/Harrington, are all under the age of 29.
Whoever is between the pipes for Columbus is about to have a solid, skilled group in front of him.
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