One week is in the books.
The Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their fifth practice in five days on Friday, concluding with a scrimmage before they get their first off day since opening training camp on Monday. Afterward, head coach John Tortorella and a couple of his players joined the media to discuss how things have gone. Let’s get into three things to know from their interviews.
Not since March 8 has Tortorella seen his team play an NHL game. By the time the Stanley Cup Qualifiers roll around and the Blue Jackets face off with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a five-game series, it will have been 147 games since their last game.
With such a long layoff, during which most players were away from each other, getting them back together meant a bit of uncertainty about where each of their conditioning levels would be at. Tortorella admits he “didn't know what to expect.”
After a week’s worth of practices to begin Phase Three of the NHL’s restart, however, he’s pleased.
“With the eyeball test, I like what I see,” Tortorella said. “And not only that, you could be in really good shape, but if you haven't played with the puck for four months in a situation like we're going through right now in our camp, those are the things I'm looking for also. I like our execution in some of these things here.”
Tortorella attributed the lack of conditioning issues to Phase Two of the NHL’s return to play, which allowed players to work with coaches in small groups. He said that’s how he typically runs his September minicamps. The majority of the issues with conditioning have been with players who weren’t in Columbus for the second phase.
Some people might overlook this area of the restart, but those in Columbus don’t have that ability. Not with Tortorella at the helm.
“I'm putting people on the ice and filling them with ice time if I think they can help us to win that particular game,” Tortorella said. “Because if you don't win that particular game, you're in trouble in a five-game series.”
Using His Speed
If Liam Foudy makes any mistakes in the postseason, don’t look to Tortorella for a blowup on the bench. He won’t care.
All he wants is for the 20-year-old to utilize the speed that helped make him the 18th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. That’s what he’s harped on ever since Foudy moved back to Columbus to prepare for what’s coming.
“The biggest thing with him, and we've talked to him quite a bit about it in the first four or five days here, we just want him to move his legs at all time,” Tortorella said. “I've been concentrating a lot with him offensively. If he keeps his legs moving and not look to make a play right away when he gets the puck, I think when he starts looking to make a play he stops skating. I want to see him beat people. I want to see him carry the puck more and then maybe plays will work off of that.”
Foudy opened training camp on the fourth line as the left winger, which he said was a “huge confidence-booster.” He wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be with the first group or the second group.
“Right now, I'm just excited to have that spot and just trying to play the way I am and hold onto it and just hopefully get in some playoff games and just keep going the way I am,” Foudy said.
How does he hold that spot? Well, speed, of course. Lots of speed.
“We're playing a very fast hockey club,” Tortorella said. “We need to get as much speed in our lineup as we possibly can.”
Being The Best
To say Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft just four years ago, has high expectations for himself and everyone around him would be an understatement.
“Any year, you say playoffs, I say Stanley Cup,” Dubois said.
Nobody outside of the locker room would have ever picked Columbus to reach the Stanley Cup finals ahead of the season, but he has a point. How could his team defy expectations if it doesn’t believe it’s a possibility? So, he has convinced himself it’s an attainable goal every year regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Along the same lines, Dubois expects a lot of himself, individually. Can he be the best center in the NHL?
“I'm working hard to accomplishing that,” Dubois said. “I think I still have a lot to learn and a lot of things I can get better at, but there's no doubt in my mind that I can become that. Now it's just putting in the hours, putting in the work. To be honest, I don't think I'm very far from that, so I've just got to keep working and one day I think I can be there. But there's a lot of work to do and a lot of learning to do.”