The Blue Jackets' injury situation has recently contributed to a large amount of NHL firsts.
The most recent first for a Columbus Blue Jacket came Friday night against the Washington Capitals in the 2-1 loss. Despite the disappointing overtime finish, it is undoubtedly a game Jakob Lilja will ever forget.
Halfway through the second period, Lilja, camped near the Washington crease just under the right circle, watched as Ryan MacInnis backhanded a pass to Riley Nash, who headed for the net. Nash, ever patient, waited around a diving Washington defender to feed Lilja who hammered home his first NHL goal.
Little tic-tac-toe action for career goal No. 1 for Jakob Lilja. pic.twitter.com/ZlXggPXnkZ— NHL (@NHL) December 28, 2019
Lilja's NHL first comes after an up-and-down beginning to the season. After making the team out of training camp, Lilja had but a limited, 4th-line role on the club, only playing more than 10 minutes once in 10 games. After a lack of offensive contribution and impressive performances from other younger players, like Eric Robinson, the Blue Jackets sent Lilja to AHL Cleveland. He remained there for most of November.
However, the recent influx of injuries to the Blue Jacket roster caused him to be recalled for another chance at the NHL. A chance he capitalized to capture his first NHL score in his first North American season
Jakob Lilja hasn't had the path of a "typical" NHLer. Until this season, Lilja, now 26 years old, had been playing in Sweden. From 2015 until 2019, Jakob Lilja played in the Swedish Hockey League for Linkopings HC and Djurgardens IF. While he had respectable numbers in his early seasons, his breakout campaign (and the one to most likely attract the interest of NHL clubs) happened just this past year.
In the 2018-2019, he led Djurgardens IF in scoring with 37 points in 52 games, playing on the opposite wing of current teammate, Emil Bemstrom. While Lilja's signing this June may have surprised some, others who knew Lilja's history with Bemstrom assumed it may be to give Bemstrom a familiar linemate to help with adjustment to the NHL.
But with Emil Bemstrom (among many others) out of the lineup, Jakob Lilja looks to make a name for himself with his second chance in the NHL. With his first goal scored, the first step has been accomplished. Now, he has the opportunity to cement a spot while NHL regulars recover and force some difficult decisions when they return.
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