With NHL training camp right around the corner, roster battles will be in full swing.
The Columbus Blue Jackets head into the season with a healthy mix of returning veterans, fresh new acquisitions, and young players looking to make their mark.
Here are three training camp battles worth monitoring:
Young Forwards Jockeying For Position
The Blue Jackets' young squad somehow keeps getting more youthful, as players like Cole Sillinger (19) and Yegor Chinakhov (21) made their imprint a season ago. Now, new young forwards, namely Kent Johnson (19) and Kirill Marchenko (22), will vie for a similar opportunity in the upcoming campaign.
Is there a scenario where all four of those players play in the lineup at the same time? Training camp will dictate where players start the year - and there's a chance that some of them begin the season in AHL Cleveland. On the other hand, Marchenko didn't leave Russia/Johnson didn't leave NCAA Michigan early to play in the AHL. Sillinger seems to have a spot locked down (more on that in a moment), but what about the other three? Training camp should give us that answer.
Sillinger vs. Jack Roslovic For 2C
Early indications point to Boone Jenner getting the first crack in the middle on the presumptive top line, alongside Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau. And with Sean Kuraly the natural fit at 4C and Alexandre Texier out of the picture for the upcoming season, that leaves Sillinger and Roslovic in a battle for 2C and 3C.
Unlike some conventional training camp battles, the stakes in this case aren't terribly high, as the middle-six wingers will likely be some combination of Jakub Voracek, Gus Nyquist, Johnson, Marchenko, and Chinakhov. Put another way, 3C isn't a bad consolation prize.
Still, playing higher in the lineup comes with more minutes and better linemates. Does Sillinger take that step? Or is that too rich for a 19-year-old?
The Right Side Of The Blue Line
The acquisition of Erik Gudbranson is a clear indication that management agrees that the defense was too easy to play against on many nights last season. And with most teams electing to play right-handed shots on the right side (and vice versa), the Blue Jackets have questions to answer regarding their order of operations.
Aside from Zach Werenski on the top pair, is anything in stone? I tend to think Vladislav Gavrikov is settled on the left side of the second pair, but it's not out of the question that the club eschews that norm and plays those two together on the top pair.
So, in what order do the Blue Jackets view Gudbranson, Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, and Nick Blankenburg? And where does Jake Bean, a left-handed shot defenseman, fit into the equation, if at all?
Training camp should offer some answers to these questions. The Blue Jackets open preseason play on Sunday, Sept. 25 with a pair of split-squad games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.