Mark Letestu joined the Blue Jackets last season at a frenetic time when nothing seemed to be going right.
Needing help at center ice and in the scoring department, Columbus dealt a fourth-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins and brought Letestu in for some added depth at forward. He jumped right into the mix and played his first game a few days later, and as the season unfolded, he became a useful cog in the lineup.
Letestu’s face-off acumen meant he was on the ice for a lot of defensive zone draws, and at times, he played the left point on the power play unit. The Blue Jackets were able to build some good vibes down the stretch, he said, but at the end of the day everyone knows there’s a clean slate when training camp begins and the past is history.
“Especially when you consider the way we ended last season, there’s a lot to be excited about here,” Letestu told BlueJackets.com. “We set some goals for ourselves down the stretch and we were able to achieve them. There’s definitely a sense of optimism in our room, and a much different atmosphere than when I arrived here last November.
“I think our guys are excited to get this thing going.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ryan Murray's road to recovery begins today.
Almost two months after suffering a serious shoulder injury in a game against the Victoria Royals, the Blue Jackets prospect and Everett Silvertips captain underwent successful surgery today to repair his shoulder. John Davidson told BlueJackets.com earlier this week that Murray's surgery was scheduled for one the next two Thursdays, and in fact, it took place this morning.
Murray is expected to make a full recovery after a rehabilitation period of approximately six months, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson confirmed.
The 19-year-old defenseman was selected in the first round (second overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, and appeared at the Blue Jackets' annual development camp in July. He represented Canada in the Canada-Russia Challenge in August, and also captained Team WHL in the CHL Subway Super Series in Vancouver.
He was expected to be part of Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia, but the shoulder injury guaranteed he would miss the remainder of this season.
While many people were peacefully sleeping on the east coast when the news of a new CBA between the NHL and NHLPA was announced, Vinny Prospal was on a bus in the Czech Republic en route to play a hockey game in the Czech town of Zlin.
He had spent the past three months playing for his hometown team, Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Elite League, but upon hearing the news, he immediately set out to return to Columbus and to the people who matter most to him – his family.
“I’m glad to be playing, but I’m more excited when the news first came out, I was excited that I get to be with my family,” said Prospal after joining some of his teammates at the OhioHealth Ice Haus for a morning skate.
Players have been skating for roughly an hour and 15 minutes for the past four mornings, and more players have joined the skates as they trickle back to Columbus to get ready for the start of the new season. Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu also suited up for today’s skate in addition to Prospal, who traveled for 22 hours straight in order to get back to Columbus.
The decision to sign with Ceske Budejovice wasn’t easy for Prospal and his family, who stayed behind in Columbus. Prospal praised his wife for being supportive of his decision to continue playing in Europe, but admitted it was hard to be away from his kids for such a long time.
Within a matter of days, he had everything packed up from his place in New York and set the GPS for central Ohio eager to start the next chapter of his career. The informal player practices began at the OhioHealth Ice Haus not long after, and he started laying the foundation for a fresh start with the Blue Jackets.
Though the official start of his career in Columbus has been delayed a few months, it has done nothing to dilute Dubinsky’s anticipation for the NHL season.
“Now that it’s finally solved and we’re ready to go, it’s been really nice to get back here with the boys and skate and play,” Dubinsky told BlueJackets.com. “I’m excited in the same way I was this summer, but I’m a little more anxious now that we’ve gone through half a season and haven’t played yet.
“It’s a fresh start here. I’ve had an opportunity to spend some time here in Columbus (since the summer), and I really love the city and the people have been great.”
Because he was able to get into town early and develop relationships with his new teammates, taking part in his first informal skate today wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable. It was as if nothing had changed, Dubinsky said, other than the calendar turning a few more pages.
During the early part of the 2011-12 season, the now 25-year-old center struggled to find his way into the lineup on a consistent basis and often found himself on the club's fourth line. The team had trouble scoring goals and winning games in what concluded as a trying season on multiple fronts, but among the highlights down the stretch was Brassard's emergence as the potential top-six center they think he can be.
In the 41 games played under Richards last season, Brassard put up nine goals and 20 assists -- a healthy portion of his 41-point total in 74 games. Playing most of his minutes on the Blue Jackets' No. 1 line, he showed flashes of the playmaking and goal-scoring ability that made him a high first-round pick in 2006.
Fast forward seven years later, and Brassard knows the upcoming 2013 season is his most important one to date. With Richards retained as the full-time coach in May, Brassard figures to carry a similar role this year on a team with several talented young players.
“It’s really exciting for me," Brassard told BlueJackets.com today. "I like the way I finished the season last year, and that’s the level I want to be at. I know I can be a big part of this team, making plays and putting up some points for the boys and helping the team win."
Ryan Murray's most prevalent emotion after suffering a season-ending shoulder surgery wasn't anger or bitterness, but disappointment.
There were significant events coming up in his junior hockey career, and months after being selected second overall by the Blue Jackets, he was looking forward to playing on big stages and possibly cracking the NHL roster during training camp.
But those things had to wait in order to do what's best for his career. Murray will have surgery to repair his injured shoulder sometime in the next two weeks, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said yesterday.
And despite the disappointment of missing the World Junior Hockey Championship -- where he was Sharpie-d on to Team Canada's star-studded blueline -- Murray has managed to keep his spirits up and look forward to the challenge of getting back to 100 percent.
John Davidson is as fired up as anyone to get the season started, but he preached patience this morning when discussing plans for the upcoming training camp.
While the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement awaits ratification from both the Board of Governors and the Players Association (expected to be completed by the end of the week), Davidson and the Blue Jackets hockey operations staff have jumped into full-fledged planning mode for what is likely to be a short training camp.
Depending upon the official start of camps -- NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press that the plan is currently for a Sunday start -- teams will have between five days and a week to get into motion for a 48-game regular season.
And though no plans have been finalized by the Blue Jackets, Davidson said the process for making those decisions is well under way.
"We're going to have some meetings (Tuesday) on all that stuff," Davidson said. "Some teams, I'm sure, are going to bring in 30 players and some are going to want their roster at 23 and that's it. That's all going to be discussed."
The sound of skates digging into the ice and pucks clanging off the boards filled the OhioHealth Ice Haus once again today as a few players participated in a morning skate.
Steve Mason has been among nine players to skate the past two days, and for him, the start of the season brings a lot to look forward to, including a battle with Sergei Bobrovsky for the starting goaltender position.
The Blue Jackets acquired Bobrovsky during the offseason in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2012 draft pick and two fourth-round picks in the 2013 draft. The move by GM Scott Howson has set the stage this season for a battle for the No. 1 spot in goal.
Yet, after a summer of hardcore training, Mason is confident he can be the go-to guy in net for the Blue Jackets.
“I’m ready for it. It’s obviously a position I put myself in, but it’s also exciting for me because it’s something to work towards and get back,” Mason said after the skate today.
“I had a really good summer of training to get into really good shape,” said Mason, who played with 20 or so NHL players in the Toronto area to stay in shape during the CBA negotiations.
Mason said that in addition to losing some weight and maintaining a really good training regimen, he has also developed his mental game.
He hasn't been in town for long, but one of the first things Johnson wanted to do was get back together with his teammates -- some of whom he hasn't seen in months nor played a game with since April. The palpable sense of excitement that came with yesterday's maiden skate carried over to this morning, and like the previous session, R.J. Umberger took the informal lead and kept things organized.
Not much changed from yesterday's skate, but there were more "battle" drills and competitive reps that weren't present on Monday. As the number of players on the ice increases (and we expect that to be the case in the next 48 hours), the nature of the practices should change accordingly.
But this morning, Johnson said the highlight was being back where he wants to be.
"It's great...I haven't seen these guys in a while and we've been keeping in touch over the phone," Johnson said. "It kind of makes it more of a reality now that I'm back here skating with the guys and being around the locker room, and moving back into our places."