After a short but action-packed offseason, the Columbus Blue Jackets are ready to kick off an unusually meaningful preseason.
Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger are in the lineup following outstanding performances in the NHL Prospects Tournament, and Adam Boqvist makes his Blue Jackets debut as Columbus travels to Pittsburgh to battle the Penguins in the preseason opener for both teams.
For the Blue Jackets, it's the first of eight exhibition games in advance of the October 14th season opener against the Arizona Coyotes. While the games don't count, there's plenty to watch for with a team that is vastly different from its previous version.
Four of the top six leaders in the time on ice category in January's 2020-21 season opener are gone; Seth Jones, David Savard, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Mikhail Grigorenko. Captain Nick Foligno is now with the Boston Bruins, longtime Jacket Cam Atkinson is skating for the Philadelphia Flyers, and the team is also without veterans Riley Nash and Michael Del Zotto. That's nearly half of the skaters from just eight months ago gone, and with it, so was an era of Columbus hockey that saw four consecutive postseason appearances.
Chinkahov, 20, and Sillinger, 18, were the talk of the NHL Prospects Tournament last week in Traverse City, Michigan. Whether or not either makes the opening night roster is a question that will be answered by their play and practice over the next two weeks, but both have made strong cases thus far.
Monday's game will also bring the debut of Justin Danforth and Gregory Hofmann. Both 28-year-olds have excelled overseas, but whether or not they can translate that success to the NHL is another storyline to watch for. So, too, is the play of young players that the franchise is already familiar with.
Alexandre Texier, Liam Foudy, and Emil Bemstrom will draw into Monday's lineup, each with something to prove as they enter into an important season in their young careers.
Texier has been with the Blue Jackets since the end of the 2018-19 season, but with just 87 career NHL games, has played the equivalent of just over one full season. One of the biggest wildcards on the roster, the 22-year-old could play anywhere from top line center to third line wing when the Blue Jackets open the regular season.
Foudy, 21, was a top-round draft pick in the 2018 draft. He's scored just once in the first 36 games of his career, but his first goal this season will be recognized as his first career NHL goal. Yes, we saw him score against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the bubble postseason last year, but the league does not recognize playoff games in the official stats, so technically, Foudy is 0-5-5 (no goals, five assists, five points) in 26 career NHL games.
Then there's Bemstrom. The oldest of the trio, but still just 22, has 25 points in 76 games with the Blue Jackets. After ten goals and ten assists in 56 games during the 2019-20 season, Bemstrom had just two points (both assists) in his first 16 games last season. Game 17 brought a random hat trick, but Bemstrom finished his 2020-21 season with 3-2-5 in 20 games.
Like Texier, Bemstrom is capable of playing all three forward positions. But unlike his same-aged teammate, Bemstrom's long-term future in the NHL - if he has one - is likely on the wing. With a surplus of bottom six forwards, he'll need to impress in the preseason for a chance to separate himself from getting lost in the shuffle.
Action gets underway at PPG Paints Arena at 7:00 p.m.