The dust is starting to settle.
After experiencing immense turnover this summer, the Columbus Blue Jackets' roster for the upcoming season may finally be coming to a more clear picture. The addition of Marko Dano on Thursday morning helped solidify that point.
Three forwards have need replaced, one goaltender, and let's not speak too soon about the defense. So, as players step up to fill the void, it's understandable the John Tortorella won't be shy about shuffling the lines come October (compared to who was linked with one another last season).
The team is in a new era, and a new identity is demanded. They will need to operate as a well-oiled-machine from their top forward line to their fourth, their top defensive pair to their bottom two, and even from who the backup goaltender will be on most nights.
They can no longer rely on Artemi Panarin to bail them out in a 2-2 game. They can't count on Sergei Bobrovsky to have a 17-save third period when the club can barely hold the lead. Organizing the lineup in a manner to compensate for these losses will be no easy task.
That being said, here's a stab at what the Blue Jackets' lineup could look like on opening night when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on Oct. 4:
Nyquist - Dubois - Atkinson
Bjorkstrand - Jenner - Anderson
Texier - Wennberg - Bemstrom
Foligno - Dubinsky - Nash
- Line 1: Gustav Nyquist (22 goals, 60 points in 2018-2019) has the unfair expectation of trying to fill the shoes of Artemi Panarin / Matt Duchene. Welcome to Columbus, Goose! Pairing him and Atkinson will help take the burden off of Cam to repeat another 40-goal season and give Pierre-Luc Dubois another skilled winger to work with as the young center continues to make strides.
- Line 2: Bjorkstrand's breakout scoring year (23 goals) should earn him a second-line spot with increased minutes. This is a line that will be a nuisance for opponents in the corners while also making a big impact on the score sheet.
- Line 3: Let's get the two young guns in the mix to revitalize the mysterious case of Alexander Wennberg. Perhaps giving the responsibility of nurturing Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom could push Wennberg to be more aggressive in his play?
- Line 4: Hopefully, this is the 'grind' line. Who knows if Nick Foligno will have the 'C' on his jersey come October, but that shouldn't matter in regards to it being time to put him on the fourth (35 points last season). This group will lay the wood on its opponents and play solid defense as well.
Werenski - Jones
Murray - Savard
Nutivaara - Kukan
- Pair 1: The Blue Jackets' defense is deep and therefore can afford to keep its two best defensemen together. They're only getting older and more experienced - this could be a scary sight for other top forward lines across the league.
- Pair 2: Ryan Murray is re-signed and will stay a Blue Jacket (for now). When healthy (in general, but especially last season), he was a force to be reckoned with during what was a career year. David Savard is your classic stay-at-home veteran who should compensate for any time Murray jumps up in the play.
- Pair 3: Nutivaara didn't have a season last year statistically that he likely wanted to, but he was a solid bottom-pairing defenseman nonetheless. Filling the final spot between the likes of Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke and Adam Clendening is not an easy decision, but Kukan should get the call. His play in the postseason was some of the best of any Blue Jacket defenseman, and his ability to skate the puck up through the neutral zone and make plays was very smooth.
- Starter: Joonas Korpisalo performed well enough last season when called into net (2.95 GAA, .897 SV%) that he should get the nod on opening night. He may not stay there as the starter as the season progresses, but it's the safe bet to start the season off.
- Backup: Let's be clear: There's no way Tortorella would ever start a rookie goaltender on opening night following the most dramatic season in franchise history...would he? Merzlikins is believed by many to be the next franchise goaltender, but there's no need to through the kid in the spotlight just yet. Let him get used to some North American hockey for a bit before he's tossed to the wolves.
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