With the additions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, the Columbus Blue Jackets have effectively netted one additional NHL forward to their roster.
And while more talent is always going to be preferable to less, it will make for some complicated juggling on the part of John Tortorella.
Aside from Laine, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Max Domi, it's hard to say which players are in the top six with a sharpie. Players like Cam Atkinson, Alexandre Texier, and Nick Foligno have played in a top-six role at various times in the early season, while others, like Boone Jenner and even rookie Liam Foudy, have seen additional opportunities to move up the lineup. That leaves players like Roslovic, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mikko Koivu, Riley Nash, Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund, and Nathan Gerbe fighting for limited spots. With the additions, that's more than the 12 spots that play on a given night.
Note: the below depth chart is NOT a projection, more so a visual that should help crystalize the Blue Jackets' difficult lineup decisions.
|1||Patrik Laine||Max Domi||Oliver Bjorkstrand|
|2||Nick Foligno||Jack Roslovic||Cam Atkinson|
|3||Boone Jenner||Alexandre Texier||Mikhail Grigorenko|
|4||Eric Robinson||Riley Nash||Liam Foudy|
|5||Nathan Gerbe||Mikko Koivu||Kevin Stenlund|
That's at least 15 players that can play at the NHL level, and that doesn't even account for Emil Bemstrom, who could easily find himself back into the regular lineup as the season progresses.
There are plenty of positives to take away from this. For starters, the versatility within this lineup is stronger than any lineup I can recall. Any of Domi, Texier, Nash, Koivu, Roslovic, Foligno, and even Grigorenko can play center. Bjorkstrand, Laine, Foudy, Foligno, Grigorenko, and Robinson can - theoretically - play at either wing position. That gives the coaching staff a great deal of flexibility while compiling a lineup, and it allows them the ability to make changes mid-game, something Tortorella is fond of doing.
One coaching adage that I heartily subscribe to is that if a player isn't used on a given team's power play or penalty kill, it will be difficult for that player to hold down a lineup spot. Through seven games, the Blue Jackets have eight players who have played on the penalty kill. From most to least TOI, they are Jenner, Atkinson, Nash, Foligno, Robinson, Texier, Foudy, and Koivu. On the power play, the list of 13 players (note: both lists, courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, do not include Pierre-Luc Dubois, who played on both) are Atkinson, Bjorkstrand, Foligno, Domi, Grigorenko, Texier, Jenner, Bemstrom, Stenlund, Gerbe, Nash, Robinson, Foudy.
Suffice it to say that the Blue Jackets coaching staff feels comfortable playing all of their players on special teams, and surely Laine (obviously) and Roslovic will see special teams minutes, as well.
Something to watch will be how Tortorella chooses to deploy his lineup. He recognizes that playing Bemstrom, for example, in a fourth-line capacity is not helpful to the club. He would be better utilized in a more offensive role, with more offensive players, with (ideally) more ice time. That's why a player like Stenlund, who can more effectively play in a bottom-six role but can also chip in on the power play, has intrigue.
While it's a coach's dream to have more NHL players than roster spots, it does create a balancing act. In talking with Bob McElligott ahead of Tuesday's game against Florida, Tortorella talked about how "it's a tough decision" for him to replace Gerbe in the lineup after just one game.
We should expect constant line tinkering as the club settles into its new identity. Even with the addition of Laine, the team lacks scoring power through the lineup (though, obviously, it's a step in the right direction). That means Tortorella and his staff will have to be thoughtful as they plan out their lineups. While added depth should keep the team fresh, it could have a negative impact on creating and sustaining line chemistry, an inexact but critical formula for team success.
The hope is that, sooner rather than later, players like Roslovic and Texier, to name a few, can distinguish themselves from the group as legitimate top-six options. Because as nice as it is to have depth, it means less if there isn't enough talent at the top of the lineup.
Regardless, adding an extra NHL player to an already-deep lineup can only be a positive development, and it will be fascinating to see how Tortorella and his staff choose to keep his players engaged - and fresh - during this 56-game sprint of a season.