Getting to know your enemy: The Columbus Blue Jackets

Bruce Bennett

Edged out by the Wild for the playoffs last season, the Blue Jackets have a bit more to prove this season

Happy terrific Tuesday Wilderness! The players are in town, and tomorrow officially starts training camp. The end of a mostly hockey-less summer is near.

Today we continue our NHL preview with a team who almost Cinderella'd their way into the playoffs over the Wild last season. Love them or hate them (I'd hate them less if their coach wasn't such a jerk), you have to admit that you were almost pulling for them to squeak into the playoffs (as long as the Wild were in for sure). Thanks to Mike from Jackets Cannon, who was kind enough to send us his thoughts on the Blue Jackets.

Offensive Threats
Without a doubt the Jackets' top offensive threat is Marian Gaborik. He was acquired at last season's trade deadline, so we only got a brief glimpse of what he can do in a Columbus uniform. He has game-breaking ability, as you're well aware in Minnesota, and with the benefit of a full camp and the fact this season is scheduled to be one of his "up" years (up year, down year, up year, down year) big things are expected of him. Though he's not expected to make his debut until Christmas, Nathan Horton was signed to give the team another big-bodied weapon up front. He'll provide secondary scoring along with Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson. R.J. Umberger, Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu contribute to the offense as well. The wildcard for the Jackets is former first rounder Ryan Johansen. He's primed for a breakout, and if it comes to fruition the Jackets will have another prime scoring option.

Defensive Threats
The Jackets are very sound defensively as a unit, but have a handful of defense-first players. Though he contributes regularly to the scoresheet, Anisimov plays a very good two-way game, as does Letestu. Derek MacKenzie and Blake Comeau do an excellent job as fourth line energy/shutdown players. The defense is greater than the sum of its parts, but Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout are very steady in their own end. Jack Johnson, previously known for his poor decisions in the defensive zone, is turning into a very trustworthy two-way defender.

Unsung Heroes
Mark Letestu does it all. The coaches have had him play all three forward positions and have used him on every line, at various points since his arrival in Columbus. No matter where he's playing, he's contributing. He was second in team scoring last season, and led the team in goals. He's also capable of playing a defensive role when required. His contributions don't go completely unnoticed however, as he was given a new two-year deal this past offseason. Matt Calvert is another player who doesn't get a on of attention, but has a large impact on the team's success. He's got energy and heart in spades, whether it's scoring a timely goal, banging bodies or standing up to players in far larger weight classes.

Goaltending
The Jackets received stellar goaltending last season from Sergei Bobrovsky, who of course came away with the Vezina Trophy. He signed a two-year deal this summer, and will once again be the team's clear-cut number one. Curtis McElhinney was part of the organization last year as the Springfield Falcons (AHL) number one goalie. He was an AHL All-Star, and his play in the "A" earned him the backup role in Columbus.

Coaching
The Jackets are led behind the bench by former Wild coach Todd Richards, who was recently named to the Team USA staff for the Sochi Olympics. Craig Hartsburg, a former NHL head coach, is Richard's right-hand man, with the staff rounded out with assistant coach Dan Hinote and goaltending coach Ian Clark, who prior to joining the Jackets was Roberto Luongo's goalie coach in Vancouver and Florida.

Prospects
Prior to the 2013 NHL Draft, the Jackets prospect pool featured a handful of excellent defensive prospects, a trio of high-end goaltenders and a mix of forwards, none of whom outside of Boone Jenner has high-end potential. This was remedied this past June, when the Jackets used three first round picks on forwards- Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano. These three players, along with Jenner and other interesting players like T.J. Tynan, Daniel Zaar and Oliver Bjorkstrand, are the future up-front in Columbus. The defense prospect pool is led by 2012 second overall pick Ryan Murray, Cody Goloubef, David Savard, Dillon Heatherington and Mike Reilly, who plays for the University of Minnesota. Oscar Dansk, Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo are the team's future between the pipes.

Depth
The Jackets are very deep on defense, with potentially three to four players penciled for the AHL able to step in and contribute in the NHL if/when injuries occur. Up front, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Boone Jenner are likely the first options for callups from the AHL, with a handful of energy players providing forward depth. Goaltending depth is a bit of a concern, if Bobrovsky goes down, the team's next three goaltenders on the depth chart (McElhinney, Mike McKenna and Jeremy Smith) are career AHLers. Within the Columbus roster itself, the team has bottom-six forwards who can moonlight on a scoring line if need be. Calvert and Letestu are the two leading candidates to fill this role.

Fan Favorites
Anisimov developed a huge following last season, thanks to his clutch goals, some of which were of the highlight reel variety. Calvert's hustle has endeared himself to fans, but I think Bobrovsky- the number one cop on the force-has the full attention, not mention the hearts and minds, of the fans. The team decided not to re-sign Vinny Prospal, a definite fan-fave, leaving a huge emotional void with the fans. Somebody will have to step up and be the next Vinny, and that could very well be Brandon Dubinsky this season.

Must-Follow Writers
The Jackets only have one beat writer, Aaron Portzline (@aportzline) of the Columbus Dispatch. Shawn Mitchell (@smitchcd) and Michael Arace (@MichaelArace1), also of the Dispatch, contribute CBJ-related content as well. The Jackets have a handful of excellent blogs as well - Union Blue, The Dark Blue Jacket,Full Mental Jackets, and HastagCBJ, to name just a few.

Must-Follow Fans
The best part of the online CBJ fanbase is that most of the must-follow fans have turned to blogging in addition to their activity on twitter. Here's a handful, no snubs intended!

1) @Skraut_ - huge fan, makes phenomenal highlight videos.
2) The five contributors to Union Blue - @Canadan82, @AlisonL, @TheCoachUB, @OhioHockeyDog, @CBJProspects
3) @DarkBlueJacket - head cheese at The Dark Blue Jacket
4) @RobMixer - Works for the Jackets, but is a must-follow for his content and CBJ-related promotion
5) @RedditCBJ - another great follow
6) @rickgethin - contributing for Fox Sports Ohio
7) @zekebud - it's cool as long as you don't mention Jack Johnson
8) I'd be remiss if I didn't include the guys from The Cannon - @mejmaclean, @DP_Cannon, @andynewman, @bzarcher, @shhshockey

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