COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is finally October, and teams are about halfway through their training camps and preseason games.
Unlike past training camps and preseasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets started theirs without a handful of regulars who were off playing in the World Championships — defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Murray and forward Brandon Saad represented Team North America, forward Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Jack Johnson represented Team USA and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was the last line of defense for Team Russia.
Also unlike past years, they have opened preseason play with a 2-3-0 record — worse than they have fared in years past. Tonight’s 2-0 loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, was “underwhelming” according to players and coaches.
Tonight, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella watched from a suite while assistant coach Brad Larsen manned the bench. For this point in the preseason, Larsen said he wants to see more, especially for those who have yet to earn a spot on the team.
“For guys that are trying to fight for jobs, you don’t start making excuses at this point,” Larsen said in his post-game press conference. ‘[They] have to be better than that. You want to see guys separate themselves for those final spots, but it ebbs and flows from day-to-day in camp and games. At this point, there [needs to be] urgency for some of these guys. They need to start separating themselves at this point.”
One of those guys Larsen was referring to is 18-year-old center Pierre-Luc Dubois.
“He’s a kid who’s going to work really hard and wants to impress,” Larsen said. “Tonight, like a lot of other guys, he struggled. The speed of the game caught up to him. [The NHL is] a big step and he’s just 18 years old, coming into his first camp. He’s got nerves and [preseason is] his first taste of this speed. There’s a lot to sort through for a young man like that, but you can see there’s a lot of ability there.”
Another player on Larsen’s radar is right-winger Oliver Bjorkstrand. Coming off a strong campaign in the Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters, he was named the MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs and all but had his name penciled in for a roster spot come opening night.
However, he has yet to capitalize on many of the opportunities he has had, which tonight included significant time on the 5-on-3 and top power play unit.
Larsen said that “urgency” should be the key word for players like Bjorkstrand, as the management and staff are slowly cutting down the roster to the final one the team will debut opening night.
“These guys are smart—they know what positions they’re in and the opportunities that are in front of them,” Larsen said. “But, pressure does strange things to people. Your dream is to be in the NHL. There are a lot of kids with that dream right now, and it’s close.
“When you get a mish-mash of lineups and you get different opportunities in different roles but all you can really do is control your game and play as well as you can and play to your strengths. We’re trying to put everyone in a position to succeed in their strengths. You want to see them separate themselves and I don’t think many of that have done that yet, so we have a few more games to assess that.”
For the players, the mantra all camp has been “day-by-day.” Unfortunately, for many of the players trying to make an impression on the Blue Jackets personnel, those days are becoming numbered.