With opening night just days away, the Blue Jackets forward group has been named.
On Monday, the club waived Marko Dano and demoted Eric Robinson to AHL Cleveland, signifying that the final three forward spots on the club have been claimed by Emil Bemstrom, Sonny Milano, and Jakob Lilja.
Bemstrom was seen as a near-lock to make the club in recent weeks, as his scoring prowess was hard to ignore. Had he been cut, the Blue Jackets would have been forced to send him back to his Swedish club for another year. The Blue Jackets clearly believe he's ready to contribute, and John Tortorella has hinted that he may be used in a similar capacity to Sam Gagner circa 2016-17, where he played largely in a fourth-line capacity but moonlighted on the top power-play unit. That was the last season the Blue Jackets had a quality power play, and it's no coincidence that Gagner registered 18-32-50 that season. While Bemstrom won't play the 'bumper' position that Gagner played, his one-timer and general finishing ability will make him a prime candidate for the left flank.
Milano making the club is a bit more noteworthy. On the one hand, he's proven to be a talented producer at every level, including the NHL. That, plus his status as a veteran player who would require waivers to be sent to the AHL may have been enough to keep him on the roster. On the other hand, his warts are well-documented and the Blue Jackets are very much aware of them. In the end, keeping a productive scorer on the NHL roster outweighed the possibility of losing him for nothing (which would have been on-brand for this off-season).
Their inclusion on the roster signals a shift in philosophy not just on the Blue Jackets, but around the NHL. Assuming the top three lines are penciled in to begin the season (Texier-Dubois-Atkinson; Nyquist-Wennberg-Bjorkstrand; Foligno-Jenner-Anderson), coupled with the injury to Brandon Dubinsky, the club will enter the season with Riley Nash centering two of Bemstrom, Milano, and Lilja, a far cry from a typical fourth line from yesteryear.
NHL teams have - for the most part - smartened up when it comes to roster construction. No longer are one-dimensional enforcers seen as value-added players, and today's game of speed and skill has forced the role of a fourth line to evolve. Using the Blue Jackets as an anecdote, the fourth line has progressed in the previous few years from a gritty, high-energy/low-skill line to (what appears to be) a skilled line that lacks a 'traditional' fourth line feel.
Gone from the opening night lineup are Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, and Eric Robinson, who strike fear in zero NHL goalies. And while they have their limitations, having Milano and Bemstrom on a fourth line should help to replace the goals that left via free agency this summer.
The jury is out to see if the strategy of employing Bemstrom and/or Milano into a fourth line is a recipe for success, but at the very least, we can expect to see a more complete lineup that could strike at any time.