Blue Jackets 2007 training camp preview

By Ryan Madden

Blue Jackets training camp opened today with some genuine confidence in the future.  Original GM Doug MacLean is gone and the new boss in town is Scott Howson, who along with head coach Ken Hitchcock will bring new focus to the franchise.

This will be Hitchcock’s first training camp with the Blue Jackets, and there is a general agreement that he will bring stability to the organization, and that every player on the roster will have to earn his keep with honest effort. 

Last season, two prospects made significant contributions to the Jackets, with both forward Gilbert Brule and defender Ole-Kristian Tollefsen making the starting lineup out of training camp.  Another seven rookies played at least one game, with forwards Alexandre Picard and Geoff Platt, and defender Marc Methot suiting up at least 20 games with the youthful Jackets.

This season promises to be no different.  The Blue Jackets, in spite of several off-season signings, still have many question marks entering the pre-season.  In all likelihood there will be several rookies and young prospects breaking into the NHL this season.  The good news for Jackets fans is that these rookies will have won their job in tough competition under the watchful eye of Hitchcock, who has a Stanley Cup Ring on his finger.

Forwards

The most pressing battle heading into camp is the battle for the No. 1 center position, where 2006 first rounder Derick Brassard will be given the opportunity to compete for this spot during the early days of training camp.  Brassard, who recovered well after losing most of last season to shoulder surgery, will be participating in his first full NHL training camp.  He managed 25 points in his 14 QMJHL regular season games last year, and added another 24 points in Drummondville’s 12 postseason games. Brassard tied for second on the team’s entry at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in scoring with 5 points.

Another center who will compete hard for one of the available pivot spots will be 2005 free agent signee Geoff Platt.  Platt looked good in his 26 games with the Blue Jackets last year, registering 9 points, and has shown he can score in the minor pro ranks.  Not a big man, Platt stands at 5’9 and 175lbs., but his speed and tenacity, along with the tighter crackdown on obstruction penalties, might compensate for his lack of size.  His work ethic is bound to please Hitchcock.

Two older prospects, the 23-year-old Joakim Lindstrom and the 24-year-old Curtis Glencross will both be heading to camp hoping to secure a roster spot as one of the Jackets reserve forwards.  Lindstrom, a 2002 second-round pick, was good on a line with Glencross and Zenon Konopka with the Crunch last season.  He has seen action each of the last two seasons with the Jackets, and last year scored his first NHL goal.  Still eligible for consideration as a rookie, this camp will be an important one if Lindstrom does not want to be surpassed by younger prospects.

Glencross, signed out of the NCAA by Anaheim in 2004, came over in a trade with Anaheim along with Konopka.  He played well with the Crunch and earned an NHL promotion.  A hard-working player with a physical edge, Glencross is in as good a position to challenge for a roster spot as he could hope for.  Look for both Glencross and Lindstrom to be given a long look and to be among the final cuts if they do not in fact win themselves jobs.

Two prospects who pleasantly surprised with their play at Traverse City, Adam Pineault and Philippe Dupuis, will hope to make an impression on Hitchcock with an eye to the future.  The two were both tied for ninth most points in the tournament, with Pineault tying Jakub Voracek for the team lead with four goals.  Neither Pineault, a 2004 second rounder, nor Dupuis, a 2003 fourth rounder, are expected to compete for a roster spot with the big club in October, but both could well earn a promotion at some point this season if their hot scoring from the tournament carries into the 2007-08 season with the Syracuse Crunch.  Both will be entering their sophomore seasons in the AHL, so look for them to take on added responsibility with the Crunch this year.

Recent second rounder Stefan Legein from Mississauga (OHL), a diminutive forward with a tireless motor, will get his first training camp with the Jackets, as will Halifax (QMJHL) forward and 2007 seventh overall pick Jakub Voracek.  They will be the only 2007 draft picks to attend the camp.  Both are expected to return to major junior, although Voracek does have the necessary talent to challenge for a roster spot.  He bested all other Blue Jacket prospects by leading the team in scoring with six points in four games at Traverse City. Voracek is not eligible to play for the Crunch this season, so would probably only be kept in the NHL if he were to earn himself a spot on one of the scoring lines.

Konopka and Alexandre Picard will be sidelined for the training camp. Konopka looked good late last season with Syracuse after coming over to Columbus.  He is expected back early October.  Picard, the hard luck 2004 eighth overall selection, will be out possibly as late as January, although the team is hoping for a November return.

Defense

The Blue Jackets enter camp with six serviceable defensemen.  There will be a battle for the seventh defenseman position, as well as the possibility of several highly-touted prospects proving they are ready to play right away.

Two-time WHL Defenseman of the Year and 2006-07 WHL Player of the Year Kris Russell is entering the 2007 training camp with a legitimate chance of nailing down a roster spot. He is certainly expected to see some time in the NHL later on should he not make the team out of camp. Playing with Medicine Hat in the WHL last year, Russell tallied 69 points in 59 games and added another 19 in 24 playoff games.  Russell also won his second consecutive gold medal at the WJCs in January.  Look for him to be in a Columbus uniform sooner rather than later.

A former sixth-round pick in 2003, Marc Methot has been a find for the Columbus scouting staff. Methot looked very good in a late season call-up last season, and appears ready to compete for a roster spot this year, and may even challenge some of the incumbents for a starting job.  A big defender who plays a solid defensive game, Methot is a low-risk defender who uses his size to push opponents off the puck and clear the zone.  Look for him to play with the Jackets at some point this year.

Russian prospect Andrei Plekhanov is in North America, and played at the prospect tournament and will try out for the Blue Jackets in training camp.  While he is not expected to make the team straight out of camp, should he stay in North America and play with the Crunch, the 2004 third-round pick could progress through the system very quickly.

Goaltending

Just as Fredrik Norrena and Pascal Leclaire will compete for the Blue Jackets starting goaltending position when camp opens, so will Thomas Popperle and Daniel Lacosta compete for the starting position in Syracuse.  Popperle, the 2005 fifth-round selection, competed well for the Crunch last season, winning 25 games and earning a two-game promotion to the main club.  But Lacosta, the 2004 third rounder, outplayed him during the four-game prospect tournament, and hopes to leap frog Popperle in the depth charts.

2006 third-round selection Steve Mason, who played well for Canada in the recent Summit Series, will be at camp but is not eligible to play in the AHL this season.  He will in all likelihood return to London (OHL).

Preseason schedule

Sept.   16 Sun.    NASHVILLE PREDATORS   5 p.m.
           18 Tue.    CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS    7 p.m.
           19 Wed.   at Chicago Blackhawks        8:30 p.m.
           21 Fri.       at Buffalo Sabres                   7 p.m.
           23 Sun.    BUFFALO SABRES               5 p.m.
           27 Thu.    CAROLINA HURRICANES   7 p.m.
           28 Fri.      at Carolina Hurricanes          7 p.m.
           29 Sat.     at Nashville Predators           8 p.m.

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