The Columbus Blue Jackets addition of Riley Nash will push center competition to a new level in fall camp.
Center talent and depth have been the Columbus Blue Jackets achilles heel over the last two seasons. It has prevented them from overcoming their postseason challenges and led to early departures at the hands of two teams with great center depth.
The emergence of Pierre-Luc Dubois last year as a potential top line center was a franchise altering event. If PLD can take even a half step forward in 2018-2019, the Jackets will have found their #1 center.
Dubois will be forced to take that step if he expects to keep his job. Alexander Wennberg will look to bounce back after a season that was riddled with injuries and disappointment following a career year in 2016-2017. Wennberg started to find his stride at the end of last year and looked like a high-end second line center. He will push Dubois for top line minutes through fall camp and into the season.
New Kid on the Block
The arrival of Riley Nash though will be the biggest contributor toward a competitive and playoff ready center corps. The 29-year-old is coming off a great season with the Boston Bruins where he scored 41 points. Nash, a right-shot skater, played like an above average third line center for the B’s. The Jackets hope, at a minimum, he fills that role this year for his new squad.
Columbus Blue Jackets
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If Nash can play like that, it will certainly push Brandon Dubinksy to raise his level. Brandon will already be motivated to come back and play like the Dubi of old after a dreadful 17-18 campaign. The narrative around the Columbus Blue Jackets always was that if Dubinsky could be your third line center, you have a team with the depth to carry you deep into the playoffs. Dubinsky looked like a second line AHL center last year though and injuries caused a disturbance in the squads lines that they never were able to recover from. If Dubinksy can stay healthy, and that is a huge if, he should have a bounce back season where he can give Nash a run for his spot.
The same can be said for Lukas Sedlak. The young Czech center ended the year with a concussion and should come into camp recharged. He will be fighting for every second of ice time he can get. Sedlak can also play the wing but he would ideally like the responsibility of playing center.
He has shown in his limited NHL career that he can be an excellent defensive center. In 115 NHL games he has a started his shift in the defensive zone 58% of the time yet he has a positive corsi for percentage. Sedalk has proven that he can suppress shots, shut down the opposing team, and turn that into offense. That is the exact role a fourth line center should fill.
The front office always preaches the value of competition and they have put together a roster that will be competitive. The real question is whether the trio of Nash, Dubinsky, and Sedlak will push each other to all play like above average third liners or average fourth liners? Will PLD and Wennberg both play like second line centers or true first line centers?
Those questions will be answered at camp. What is known is that the addition of Nash is exactly what the team needed to take the next step down the middle.