Jakob Lilja Continues to Turn Heads As Season Opener Draws Near

By Chris Pennington on September 23, 2019 at 1:07 pm
Jakob Lilja scored two goals in the Columbus Blue Jackets' preseason game against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 22.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Lilja – are you just hearing his name for the first time right now?

There's a shot you may be hearing it a lot more this fall, thanks to the performance of the past few weeks from the 26-year-old Swedish forward who scored two goals in Saturday's preseason game against the St. Louis Blues.

"That's a good feeling to score and try to contribute as much as possible - (but) I want to be a two-way player," said Lilja following his outing against the Blues. "It's a big step coming to a higher league...you have to start doing the defensive stuff, (but) it's nice to score goals too."

You may remember Lilja, who was an undrafted forward from the SHL, being signed to a one-year deal by the Columbus Blue Jackets in June, after an impressive season with Djurgårdens. Lilja finished the year tied for 10th in league scoring (12-25-37) and tallied 3-5-8 in 19 playoff games.

"He's putting himself in the discussion for sure."– Assistant Coach Brad Shaw on Forward Jakob Lilja

Coming into training camp, though, Lilja's name was hardly murmured in regards to those who would be in the fight to nab a spot in the bottom-six forwards. We knew Sonny Milano and Markus Hannikainen would have their annual attempt, with Emil Bemstrom (Lilja's former teammate in the SHL), Trey Fix-Wolansky and Marko Dano coming in as fresh blood as well.

This didn't phase Lilja. His strong preseason play and training camp is helping keep his name afloat and very much so in the conversation to be on the opening night roster.

"He shows he competes at the puck and he has some quickness, he has a lot of elements that you like," said assistant coach Brad Shaw. "He scores two great goals, he's putting himself in the discussion for sure and it's great...credit to him, it allows him to get another look down the line here."

In his two preseason appearances so far, Lilja is shooting 50% on four shots with his two goals and has a +1 rating. He lined up with veterans Riley Nash and Brandon Dubinsky on Saturday, and No. 17 was impressed with Lilja's play. 

"He obviously put in a good summer, he was here early," said Dubinsky, "You saw he's dangerous around the net when you get him the puck. He played well and it was good to see him tuck a couple of goals in tonight."

Just like Bemstrom and Elvis Merzlikins, though, Lilja has needed to begin to adapt to smaller ice in North America compared to his home rink in Europe. So far, he's adapted quite nicely.

"It's a little different game, smaller ice. So if you lose the puck in wrong places, its creating scoring chances right away," said Lilja. "Overall its a high-speed game and even in the pro-level in Sweden, it's really (defensive), so it's just better players and smaller ice (in the NHL) so everything goes a little bit faster."

A two-goal performance will certainly help the case for Lilja, keeping in mind that the club lost so much scoring to free agency this offseason. The focus on bringing up a scorer rather than a grinder (see Markus Hannikainen being sent down to the AHL), is becoming more clear every day for the Blue Jackets, which helps Lilja's chances all the more of making the final roster.

"I want to play good in all the games I get here. I want to show what I can do, try and be my best every day," continued Lilja. "That's' all I can do. Of course, I want to be better next game. That's how I think every time.

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