Trial and Error: John Tortorella Won't Be Afraid to Change Things Up when It Comes to the Blue Jackets' Lineup

By Ben Jandrain on August 5, 2019 at 1:20 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella reacts during a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in February of 2018.
Tom Szczerbowski- USA TODAY Sports
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Out of the mix for the Blue Jackets are Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Added to the mix is Gustav Nyquist.

With all of that, it's the prospects at forward and the goaltending battle between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins that will ultimately decide whether Columbus is one of the best eight teams in the Eastern Conference for a fourth straight season.

No pressure, kid(s).

"We have some really good young players coming, which is the reason why we could trade some of the futures and former draft picks," GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in talking about the Blue Jackets earlier this summer. "We kept all our best prospects that are now pushing to make our team and are gonna get great opportunities to make our team."

Following the 2019 NHL Draft, Kekalainen added: "You've seen how young the league is now (and) how guys can come into the league as 20-year-olds and make an impact on the team."

What do Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, and Liam Foudy all have in common? They're forwards and all will be exactly 20 years of age when the new season starts. Which begs the question: Will all of them make the opening night lineup?

Texier feels like a lock to be an every day player, considering he scored a goal in his second career NHL appearance and added a couple goals in eight playoff appearances. Tortorella seems to like him, even if he sat him during the second round against Boston.   

Bemstrom may be the most intriguing of the young prospects, thanks to his scoring more goals than any other player in the SHL (Swedish Hockey League). Kekalainen even hinted that Bemstrom might be the goal-scoring addition that the team desperately needs on the power play.

Then there's Foudy, who the Blue Jackets selected in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft. Foudy's speed is impossible to miss, but his ability to make plays in space (or in tight spaces) and being sound on the defensive end could make or break his chances of being on the roster. 

The lower expectations for Columbus this season only add credence to the logic of giving these prospects a chance to play at the highest level. 

Tortorella may run hot under the collar when mistakes are made (what coach doesn't?), but he's also shown that he can evaluate players and give them a larger role when it's earned–as he's done with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. 

It's one task to decide who's in the lineup, but an entirely different story when trying break down the line combinations of the forwards. It's reasonable to think Texier would be on the second or third line. Bemstrom and Foudy haven't played in the league yet, so they'd probably be inserted into a third or fourth-line role depending on their camp performances.

When looking at all the players who could get on the ice, it seems plausible that Tortorella will have umpteen line combinations by the end of October alone.

Here are three other forwards for the Blue Jackets who could drastically move around the lineup as the team looks to find a blend of chemistry and production:

Oliver Bjorkstrand

Bjorkstrand finally found a consistent scoring groove this past season, tallying 17 goals in the final 36 games of the campaign. Bjorkstrand only averaged 12:20 of ice time last year, but that jumped to 15:07 during the playoffs. When Bjorkstrand is hot, he can be worthy of a start on the top line here and there, but it's more likely we'll see hime on the second or third line.

Josh Anderson

Anderson was durable, fast, physical, effective on the penalty-kill unit, and showed he could score–burying the biscuit 27 times during the regular season. Expect Anderson's ice time to go up from 17 minutes last season without Panarin in the fold. Odds are Anderson will be on the second or third line, but his body of work makes a fair case to give him top-line minutes if the opportunity arises.   

Alexander Wennberg

Wennberg has become an offensive liability, but hasn't disappointed on the defensive end. It's no secret that Wennberg's offensive game can push him up the lineup, or, worst case, out of it.  

As seen above, there are plenty of ways to shuffle the offensive lineup. Still, we haven't even gotten to the best part: Who starts in net?

Who gets the majority of the starts and who wins the job between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins is up in the air. One thing is certain: each player will have an opportunity to grasp the starting job when the season gets underway.

Nobody knows what the Blue Jackets' lineup will look like at the end of the season, but you can bet Tortorella won't hesitate to experiment with a multitude of them en route to finding what finally (and hopefully) works in the end.

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