This is also a good spot to make some observations. Here’s the good, the great, the bad and the ugly at the midway point of the Jackets’ preseason:
Columbus Blue Jackets preseason mid-point: The Good
Other than another hot preseason from enigmatic forward Emil Bemstrom, a resounding “good” development for the Blue Jackets is Patrik Laine’s overall effort in camp. The 6-foot-5 forward acquitted himself nicely Saturday while playing center for the first time this preseason, but that’s only a small part of why he’s stood out.
Laine, 25, has also shown a lot of leadership, from an effort to show star rookie Adam Fantilli the ropes to pushing himself in conditioning skates. Playing center is Laine’s idea and he’s shown a dedication to experimenting with it this preseason.
Should work, it could dramatically alter the Blue Jackets’ depth of quality centers. Imagine a lineup with Laine centering the top line, Fantilli anchoring the second, Boone Jenner as the third center and Sean Kuraly grinding away with the fourth group. The Blue Jackets also have Cole Sillinger, Justin Danforth and Alexandre Texier who’ve logged time as centers.
“I think he was pretty good,” Vincent said. “He was moving right. His defensive assignments were good. He was tracking right. Scored two goals. We’re going to work on his faceoffs, but he certainly made a case for himself today.”
Columbus Blue Jackets preseason mid-point: The Great
The Blue Jackets’ depth of NHL forwards and defensemen makes it unlikely that Denton Mateychuk or Jordan Dumais will make the opening roster.
Neither is old enough to play in the American Hockey League, according to a long-standing agreement on junior players between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League, but both have accomplished a big goal. They’re making it tough on the Blue Jackets’ coaches and management group to send them back to their junior teams.
Mateychuk has played in three of the first four games, Dumais has logged two and neither looks out of place against NHL competition.
Dumais scored in OT against the Pittsburgh Penguins for the lone Columbus win thus far, while Mateychuk has played like an NHL defenseman in almost every way. He’s shown off a hard shot, has smoothly walked the blue line, takes and delivers big hits, has established good defensive gaps, blocks shots and sends crisp passes to his teammates’ sticks.
Mateychuk has one assist, but Natural Stat Trick’s advanced stats show elite numbers.
Mateychuk’s 5-on-5 shifts have resulted in the Blue Jackets having a large advantage in shot attempts (54-28), unblocked shot attempts (37-15), shots on goal (24-11), scoring chances (21-10), high-danger scoring chances (6-2) and goals (3-1). He’s played with Erik Gudbranson and Andrew Peeke as partners.
The problem is the Blue Jackets have no fewer than 10 NHL-caliber defensemen on their depth chart plus a group of highly regarded prospects behind them that includes Mateychuk. They’ll need to complete trades and/or risk waivers losses to carve out a spot for Mateychuk in Columbus.
That’s why he and Dumais are likely bound for another spin in juniors.
“Mateychuk has had an amazing camp,” Vincent said. “He’s been really good.”
Columbus Blue Jackets preseason mid-point: The Bad
Adam Boqvist made strides after returning from a broken foot last season, but now he’s off to another slow start in the preseason. Boqvist has played two games (Pittsburgh, Buffalo) and is the lone defenseman who’s logged more than one game and has a shot-attempts percentage (41.1%) and unblocked shots percentage (40.5%) less than 50%.
The Blue Jackets have also been outshot (16-11), allowed more scoring chances (13-10) and yielded more high-danger scoring chances (10-7) during his 5-on-5 shifts. The Jackets have broken even in goals with Boqvist on the ice (0-0), but a slow start isn’t how he or the Blue Jackets wanted things to unfold to this point.
Boqvist’s biggest strength remains on the power play, where he excels, but the Jackets also need him to hold his own at even-strength.
Columbus Blue Jackets preseason mid-point: The Ugly
Like Boqvist, goalie Elvis Merzlikins deserves some slack while shaking off summer rust in his first two preseason performances. What’s difficult to overlook are numbers that are eerily similar to those that vexed him all last season.
Merzlikins went 7-18-2 with a 4.23 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in 30 appearances. That was the first year of a five-year contract carrying a $5.4 million charge against the salary cap and Merzlikins heard about it all season from fans.
Through two preseason games, he’s stopped 53 of 60 shots for a 4.33 GAA and .883 save percentage.
Two preseason games aren’t nearly enough to make long-term assessments, especially with goalies, but it is mildly concerning to see Merzlikins struggle starting out. He’s allowed a few goals that probably should’ve been stopped, but also made some fantastic stops in big moments.
The key is finding a consistent middle ground.
Merzlikins worked all summer on improving and the Blue Jackets changed goaltending coaches by promoting former NHL goalie Niklas Backstrom to the role formerly handled by Manny Legace. It’s far too early to have major concerns about Merzlikins, but it can’t be overstated how important he is for the Blue Jackets.
They don’t have a 1-A candidate waiting in the wings like in the past with Joonas Korpisalo, and the projected backup, Daniil Tarasov, is out with a knee injury and unknown timetable for recovery. The Jackets’ goaltending situation isn’t a crisis this soon, but it demands closer observation the next four games.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 4 takes midway into Columbus Blue Jackets’ preseason
Source: Yahoo Sports