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NHL Playoffs Preview: Getting to know the Blue Jackets

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Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

I got to catch up with Dan P. from our Columbus blog Jackets Cannon. Below is part 2 of our conversation where we chop it up and he entertains my questions and we get to know the current status and learn some information about the Jackets. Be sure to head over to Jackets Cannon for Part 1.

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JR: What’s the mood of the fans and/or team do you think after the last 6-7 games where Columbus was slumping down the stretch? A big cause for concern or more easy to dismiss?

DP: The fans were definitely antsy

And I think the fact that Tortorella seemed to think things were fine was actually making it worse it's clear that, once that run through Chicago, Washington, and Pittsburgh pretty much locked them into #3 (AND got Zach Werenski run by Ovi) that they took their foot off the gas and played not to get hurt at times.they had spurts of looking decent, but offensively they struggled to score and were gripping the sticks a bit tight. Torts indicated after yesterday's win that they've been meeting/planning on Pittsburgh for the last two weeks, so that gives a little boost in fan confidence that they've been coasting a bit but man, watching some terrible hockey doesn't instill a lot of confidence, eh? I think a lot of fans are really just waiting to see what game 1 looks like. You and I talked in '14 and I remember thinking it'd be a miracle for us to get to 6 games, but I walked away from that series feeling like Columbus had ample opportunity to win it. They came out in Game 1 and got that (dreaded, in that series) 3-1 lead, and looked like they belonged on the ice.this year's team, when they play to their ceiling, can play with anyone. We know that. It's just the uncertainty of not knowing whether they'll be back anywhere close to that level in this series, while knowing the Pens aren't going to give you any breaks.

JR: Very true, the series was a wild ride for sure. I have (not fond) memories of being at the double OT game that will be trivia for your first playoff win but it isn't terrible pleasant

Speaking of injuries, it definitely looked like the sudden absence of Werenski was a huge hole and hurt a lot, is it known his status for the start of the series?

DP: I was in the press box for Game 3, and I feel the same way about that one (though I was in the seats for Game 4, which is still awesome in memory even given how the series ended)

The team is making noise like they expect him for Game 1, but no one is really sure what to expect. His biggest asset is his skating and offensive instinct, and it was clearly and upper body injury. That said, a shoulder (we think?) going into the playoffs, knowing teams have been trying to hit him? Ugh. Also, if it's a shoulder, does it affect his shot, which is another of his big strengths? Does it make him tentative? We just don't know. The dude went from getting bounced at the NCAAs with Michigan to winning a Calder Cup (and being one of the two or three best guys on that roster) with no real growing pains last spring, so we know he's got the moxie. But he's also never dealt with an injury, and NHL playoff hockey is a whole other level.

JR: OK, I won't lie I picked the Jackets to finish last in a tough division (I though Philly and Carolina were both better than they were)

Other than the obvious of Bob playing amazingly, where did I go wrong?DP: Dude, no apologies needed. Most of us that write for The Cannon had them no better than 7th

JR: Haha, it's cool I just wanted to own it..Where did we all go wrong?

DP: I think none of us knew how much better Seth Jones would be this year from last year (he was solid last year; he's been amazing this year)No one had any predictions for Werenski at all (we hoped he'd look alright with sheltered third pairing and PP minutes)no one knew whether Bobrovsky could stay healthy all season. No one knew that Wennberg would be a passable top-line centerno one knew who the hell Markus Nutivaara (last year's 7th round pick) even was, and he was a decent third pairing defenseman all seasonno one knew if guys like Nick Foligno and Sam Gagner had anything lefti don't think anyone saw cam atkinson at 35 goals coming, either.

TL;DR - it was everything.

JR: Atkinson is so fun to watch

DP: like, when we did the SBNation "best case scenario" think we shot for the moon. And like 85% of that stuff happened.

JR: One player who wasn't improved was Boone Jenner going from 30 goals last season to 18. Is that a huge cause for concern? Also why does he act so mean so long after the whistle?

DP: He was like that in juniors. Outting him in a dressing room with Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky only made it stronger, haha.

JR: Yeah i know his game a little and obviously it's April so it happens, just a personal complaint I noticed.

DP; In fact, when Hartnell was being talked into waiving his NMC to come here, he remembers going through the roster with Jarmo [The GM] and John Davidson and going, "Ohhh, that TURD Jenner". As for the goals, Jenner was definitely the beneficiary of some good luck last season, and some bad luck earlier this season. his scoring normalized later in the season. Apparently, there was a point earlier in the year where Torts told him, "look, you're not getting 30 again. just go out and play" and things improved for him.

JR: Gotcha. You touched on this a little with your (deserved) praise for Jones, but the last team we saw the Jackets in the playoffs Ryan Johansen was a 70 point center for CBJ. Now that the dust is settling on that major trade how do you judge it?

DP: I was a bit hesitant on the trade when it happened, because I thought it was "kicking the can down the road". I really, really liked Jones but at that time, Wennberg was still looking like a 3C and we hadn't drafted PL Dubois (much to the chagrin of the Internet). Center looked like a huge hole so, with all of that in hindsight, the trade looks genius.

JR: I think it's worked out well for both teams.

DP: Johansen hasn't scored on that level in either of the past two seasons (and his contract negotiations are going to be yucky).

JR: And unlike trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson at least your team wasn't majorly on the wrong end of the value stick....It's so tough to get defensemen like that the price is always going to be sky high.

DP: And Jones looks like a Norris contender, hard not to like a trade like that. Johansen is still a very good player, and i think he can be a 70+ guy again, and consistently but his GAF meter isn't always turned on.

JR: Along those gears of team building, Jarmo was a big punching bag with some of his major decisions and as we discussed it's fair to say the team majorly out-performed everyone's expectations this season.....How do you feel about the future under this management? Do you think they can be a more steady playoff team year-after-year or do you see more of the inconsistencies that's sort of been a hallmark of the whole organization up until now (no offense intended, of course).

DP: I do think they can be, and the reason is simply because his drafts have finally had the chance to mature at the lower levels. The Blue Jackets used to be notorious for rushing guys to the NHL before they were ready and were of course also notorious for picking shitty players. I think Jarmo has learned a bit about roster construction after the first "foundation" of guys he inherited over-performed coming out of the lockout. He made a couple of "swing for the fences" moves in acquiring Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton that blew up in his face. This team feels much more built to win for a long time because it's still very young, and the guys he's drafted all have more speed and skill than we used to have.

He bit the bullet and pruned a lot of dead wood off the roster the last two summers, so even though there wasn't the big splash move beyond getting saad, the team got better by virtue of being able to roll four lines and three pairs without having to hide no-skill grit guys. And finally, our young guys are playing their way up to the NHL instead of just landing there by virtue of hype and hope.this year's team has four guys that were on the Calder Cup winner last year, and most of the best players on the roster are 24-and-under.

JR: You've mentioned a couple of names but to ask you a question you asked me: who is the one player that maybe the average Pittsburgh fan doesn't know, that they will know after this series is over?

DP: Best case scenario? Oliver Bjorkstrand.

He scored the no-goal in the last game in Columbus, but i don't think he played in any of the other games between us this season. He made the roster out of camp but was just...Not ready. But, he played in 12 games last spring and went 4-4-8, and since his last callup this spring he had 6-6-12 in 21 games, sandwiched around a concussion from Roman Polak he's small, not elite-fast, but his shot is elite.JR: Can you give me expected lines?

DP: Lines are a bit of a crap-shoot given that Torts has been experimenting all over the place, but assuming Werenski is good to go, D pairs will be:

Werenski--Jones

Johnson--Savard

Nutivaara--Quincey/Harrington/Carlsson

(Carlsson is a rookie who just made his debut and played 2 games in the NHL, but he's a better skater than the other two and doesn't seem to be too rattle-able)

Forwards? subject to change, but

Saad--Wennberg--Bjorkstrand

Foligno--Dubinsky--Atkinson

Hartnell--Jenner--Gagner (with Jenner/Gagner both taking FOs)

Calvert--Kalsson--Anderson

Depending on how Game 1 goes, Columbus could look entirely different in Game 2

JR: Do you think Werenski-Jones vs Sidney Crosby's line if they have the choice? Or Jack Johnson?

DP: I think for D-zone starts they'll look for Savard/Johnson, just because Savard is a much better stay at home guy O-zone, it's Werenski/Jones all the way.

Johnson is a wild card, he's been dreadful away from Savard but he looks very very good with Savard. They have some weird complementary chemistry.

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Thanks to Dan for his help, and you can see his prediction in Part 1 over on Jackets Cannon.