John Tortorella's x-factors for the Qualifying Round are a lot younger than most would think.
In his weekly feature on 97.1 The Fan's 'Hockey & Hounds' segment, Columbus Blue Jackets' Head Coach John Tortorella spoke with Anthony Rothman and Bobby Carpenter about the Blue Jackets' training camp thus far, and who he thinks will be key players in the upcoming best-of-five series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It wasn't veterans like Cam Atkinson or Gus Nyquist that he named, or rising stars Zach Werenski or Pierre-Luc Dubois. It was two players that have a combined 48 games of NHL experience.
Those youngsters would be 20-year olds Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy.
"Texier has looked really (good), I played him the first three days (of training camp) with Pierre-Luc (Dubois) and (Oliver) Bjorkstrand", said Tortorella. "If he can play there, and I don't know if he can or not, (but) if he can play there, it can give us some balance to our lineup."
Dubois and Bjorkstrand seem to have a solidified spot together on the top forward line in Columbus, but who to play with them has been a toss-up. Mainly because the injuries sustained to the Blue Jackets have given them chemistry fits all season an inability to test line pairings, but also because nailing down a top line on any team can be difficult. It's not as easy as throwing your three best players up top.
Do they fit well together? Do the other lines remain balanced? What are their natural and best positions? There's a lot to keep in mind.
For now, though, the rookie Texier (6-7-13, 36 games played) is getting his shot. A speedy winger who put his name to the hockey world with three points in four games against the Tampa Bay Lightning In the first round of the playoffs last year, Texier has a wicked wrist shot and high hockey IQ, not to mention incredible quickness.
And this quickness is what Tortorella wants to utilize against a high-powered and fast Maple Leafs' offense, who scored the second-most goals in the NHL this past regular season. This plan also includes Foudy, who played just two games with the club this campaign.
That certainly hasn't wavered the confidence of Tortorella in the kid, though.
"I'm certainly really interested in Foudy...we need to get speed in our lineup and not take any of it out, because this Toronto team is a very fast team," said Tortorella. "Those are two of them, Foudy and (Texier), that can skate that would really be a big boost for us - if we can place them into maybe a top-nine situation within the lines and then have an identity on the fourth line."
So, Tortorella is not just trying to get Foudy into the lineup and throw him on the fourth line. He wants the speedy winger to be up with Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner (for the time being) and see if the Ontario-native can be a sparkplug for a lowly Blue Jackets' offense.
Lowly, in the sense that they were in the bottom-five in goals scored in the NHL this season. So, yeah, age doesn't matter here to Tortorella, clearly. It’s about who can create scoring chances.
Texier and Foudy will need to prove their top-nine worth in camp, but if they can solidify their names in a crucial spot in the lineup, it will be fun to watch their speed counteract the Maple Leafs come August.
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