Some hockey is better than no hockey.
And after enough back and forth to push back the previously targeted January 1st start date, it seems that we're finally close to seeing the return of hockey in a pandemic.
That means that training camps are just a few short weeks away, and for the Columbus Blue Jackets, there are plenty of interesting storylines to keep tabs on.
On the offensive side of the puck, every top line player has a question to go with them. For Pierre-Luc Dubois, that question is whether or not the version we saw in the Toronto bubble is just a taste of what's to come. It's hard to believe that he's still just 22 (and will be for the entire regular season), and that his breakout play in the bubble could be just the beginning of his climb to stardom.
For Oliver Bjorkstrand, that question is whether or not his ankle injury is completely in his rearview mirror. Prior to the February fracture, Bjorkstrand had 21 goals and 15 assists in 49 games, for a 0.73 points per game average. In the bubble, however, Bjorkstrand had just two points (both goals) in ten games, for an average of 0.20 points per game. That's less than a third of the pre-injury point production, and if the Blue Jackets offense has any hope of improving, Bjorkstrand is going to need to be his pre-injury self.
Alexander Texier is the leading candidate for first line minutes at left wing, and the question there is a simple one: Can a 21-year-old with less than one full season of experience (and less than a half season when it comes to regular season games) be a top line player on a competitive team? Texier meshed well with Dubois and Bjorkstrand in the bubble, but were those ten games a microcosm of a full season?
New faces will be worth watching, as well. Looking to turn a weakness into a strength at the center position, the Blue Jackets added Max Domi via trade and Mikko Koivu via free agency. There is little doubt that Koivu will fit right in to head coach John Tortorella's system, but the relationship between the Jackets bench boss and Domi could be worth watching as camp progresses.
Other questions that should begin to answer themselves when camp opens:
- Liam Foudy was impressive and quickly earned Tortorella's trust in the postseason, but where will he slot in and can he make the most of his first training camp as an NHL player?
- Emil Bemstrom has a deadly shot, but can he continue to develop the rest of his game?
- Who's going to fill the skates of Gustav Nyquist? He'll miss at least a majority of the regular season, if not the entire season, after a November shoulder surgery.
- Spots on the fourth line are available. Riley Nash will likely plug in at one of the spots, but the other two? Eric Robinson, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nathan Gerbe, Kevin Stenlund could all make a case - and that's if the Blue Jackets don't add another name between now and the beginning of the season. That is still a distinct possibility.
Plenty of questions, yes, but that will give us plenty of intrigue when camp opens in the near future.
Defense and goaltending is a much more clear picture, but elements of intrigue exist there too; look for a training camp primer on the blue line and between the pipes later this week.