Coming into camp, it was really easy to write some players off based on the contract situations in Columbus, and the promise of certain players. But what we weren’t counting on, were certain players coming in more prepared than ever.
The first player I wrote off in July was Emil Bemstrom, and I could not have been more wrong. It seemed like he had been given every opportunity to make a difference, only to keep coming up short – but he’s had a really strong camp, and I definitely think he’s earned another shot. Whether or not he’s in the opening night lineup, I find it hard to believe that they’ll send down a guy who has been better than most of the competition this fall. Talk about taking advantage, just look at him winning on the forecheck here:
Carson Meyer wasn’t even on my radar in July, but he’s had a very strong camp as well. His energy, forechecking, and ability to chip in some secondary offense, has made him a standout whenever he’s on the ice. I still have him right on the bubble, mostly because of numbers; but I think you have to lean his way if it comes down to him and a guy like Voronkov. His energy stands out, big time.
Speaking of energy, we can’t talk about the forward group without mentioning James Malatesta, who has been better than most of us expected so far. Fresh out of junior hockey, the former 5th round pick has competed hard for every single puck, and he has a great release that will translate to goals very soon. I don’t see him starting the season in Columbus; they’ll want him to get some offensive confidence in Cleveland. But, he’s made himself a really hard player to cut.
With all of that said, here is my current prediction for the opening night roster for the Blue Jackets:
Gaudreau – Jenner – Marchenko
Laine – Fantilli – Johnson
Texier – Roslovic – Danforth
Robinson – Kuraly – Olivier
Werenski – Severson
Provorov – Boqvist
Mateychuk – Gudbranson
G (2) Merzlikins, Martin
*IR – Jake Bean, Daniil Tarasov
I think Adam Fantilli and Patrik Laine have shown strong enough chemistry to merit Adam getting at least a look on the second line. This puts Jack Roslovic in a third line role; where he has a couple of strong two-way players on either wing. In theory, that could give the team three solid scoring lines.
Mathieu Olivier starts on the fourth line, but I think that could be a rotation of him, Meyer, and Bemstrom; depending on the opponents. I do think Denton Mateychuk has earned at least a trial run on defense here; he’s been outstanding this preseason. So good, in fact, that I think he’ll get that opportunity ahead of another top prospect: David Jiricek. Part of that is due to him being a left-hand shot, but a bigger part of that has been his swagger and poise with the puck.
We’ll revisit this prediction, as well as the early roster prediction, once the season kicks off next week. Training camp has been fascinating to watch so far; I hope that all of the competition for jobs makes for a stronger, deeper Blue Jacket team this season.