Training camp is coming.
That means regular season NHL hockey is not far behind, and with hopes for a season that will start January 13th, it's time to take a closer look what needs answered for the Columbus Blue Jackets as camp begins.
Most questions for the upcoming season will be focused on the forwards, but the questions go beyond how the Jackets can find a way to score enough goals to make a deep run. How many goals will be "enough", though, could depend on how training camp plays out.
We already know that the Blue Jackets blue line is a strength. Just listen to this August clip from TSN, discussing how dangerous the Columbus defense is:
Here's what else we know: Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are going to be the top-pairing workhorses for the Blue Jackets this season, with the tandem of David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov not far behind. These two pairings will log big minutes this season, and will be on the ice for about 44-48 minutes a night between them.
But what about the other 12-16 minutes? It may not seem like a lot of time, but it's where the Blue Jackets have legitimate questions. Dean Kukan is almost a lock to anchor the third pairing. As I touched on in October, Kukan saw much more action last season than the Blue Jackets anticipated, compliments of numerous injuries.
Who holds that final spot, though? Andrew Peeke or Scott Harrington would seem to have the best chance, but there's nothing guaranteed there. Head coach John Tortorella has relied on Harrington in some bigger moments in the past, but gave high praise to Peeke in his limited NHL action last season. This is absolutely a battle that will be decided in camp.
One thing to keep in mind: the approximately 56 game season will be much more of a sprint than a marathon, with a high likelihood of back-to-backs, four game weeks, and possibly even bursts of games that would be two weeks on, one week off. That means the Blue Jackets are going to need to stay fresh, and the reality is that at least seven defenseman will see regular minutes in the coming months.
Who has the inside track to those spots? Keep an eye on Gavin Bayreuther, Gabriel Carlsson, and Adam Clendening throughout camp to see if any of them stand out above the rest - or perhaps even stand out enough to grab that sixth spot.
How that order shakes out, who earns Torts' trust, and just how much the third line can be counted on will be worth watching once camp opens, and the answers to those questions could play a key role in how successful the Blue Jackets will be in what will be a most unusual regular season.