The NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City is hosted by the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets have won the tournament five times, including last year. This year they will be looking for another trophy – and have a good chance of doing just that.
Among the group of players heading to Traverse City are Elvis Merzlikins, Veini Vehvilainen, Jakob Lilja and Alexandre Texier, who will try to make that NHL dream a reality.
Usually, when fans and teams evaluate the prospects tournament, they do see to see where certain players are in their development process, but this time, it will be a bit different for the Blue Jackets.
The regular evaluation of player development will be important for the Blue Jackets (and it continues beyond this tournament), but they will need to evaluate a few other players differently because there are NHL opportunities available.
Merzlikins vs. Vehvilainen
This could be the biggest story that comes out of the tournament, because while both goalies have been stellar in Europe, neither has played a real game on North American ice and practice simple cannot replicate game action. Make no mistake, though: Merzlikins comes to Traverse City with a leg up.
This tournament won't be a the be-all-end-all for either goalie, but if one falters while the other succeeds, it may give one of them a leg up heading into training camp. But the best possible outcome for the Blue Jackets is that they both play well, because even though it makes their decision harder, it shows that both goalies are ready for the challenge.
Lilja, Texier and no Bemstrom
Texier has a head start on both Bemstrom and Lilja because he was with the Blue Jackets at the end of the season and played his way into a postseason role. But this is a new season, and he needs to stay ahead of the curve if he wants to begin 2019-20 in the NHL. A good prospects tournament would a solid start.
Additionally, Lilja – who shared the ice with Emil Bemstrom with Djurgårdens IF before being signed by the Blue Jackets this offseason – has a huge opportunity with Bemstrom out of the lineup to prove he can be a go-to guy for the Blue Jackets in the tournament. At 26 years old, his window is smaller than Texier's or Bemstrom's, so he must be noticeable when on the ice.
It's only one tournament
While a good tournament is a step in the right direction for these players and a leg up could be achieved, training camp and the preseason (which begin in a week's time) are more important – and will have a bigger impact on who makes the opening night roster.
The first game of the tournament is today (Friday) at 3:30 p.m. as the Blue Jackets take on a loaded New York Rangers team, and it will be streamed live on BlueJackets.com.