MIXOLOGY: Springfield Roster Spots Are No Given, Especially On Defense
NOTE: This is the weekly column of BlueJackets.com writer Rob Mixer. Follow Rob on Twitter by clicking here, and check for his regular updates on the CBJ Today blog.
The old adage is that "you can never have too much depth."
The Blue Jackets and Springfield Falcons are putting it to use when training camp opens on September 28.
GM Scott Howson and his staff set out to re-make the club's defense corps over the past year or so, making a big trade in February and continuing on their path during the recent offseason. The next step was the NHL draft, when they selected a poised and mature Ryan Murray with the No. 2 overall selection in Pittsburgh.
As part of a mega-deal with the New York Rangers later in the summer, one of the coveted pieces was a 21-year-old defenseman by the name of Tim Erixon, who was originally a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2009.
Add to that mix a solid group of defensemen already in place, and you can see why Blue Jackets management and coaches light up with excitement when they talk about their blueline.
It's deep, skilled and has a ton of potential. But there is a long way to go.
First step: sorting out the logjam that will be the Springfield Falcons' defense come opening night. One look at the potential roster gives you a glimpse at some of the prominent names coming up through the Blue Jackets system, and those who have made significant progress since becoming part of the organization.
Will Weber, Austin Madaisky, Cody Goloubef, Dalton Prout, David Savard, Theo Ruth, Nick Holden. The list begins there, with guys who have extensive junior hockey (Madaisky) and AHL experience under their belts, and some of them have even logged time at the NHL level in recent seasons. They are the leaders on the back end, and each has the ability to be regular NHL players -- but the competition has really yet to begin.
The Blue Jackets assigned John Moore and Erixon to the Falcons last week, bulking up the talent level and adding an intriguing storyline to roster battles in training camp.
Erixon was a workhorse for the Connecticut Whale last year. He's considered among the top defense prospects in hockey, and he took a big development step in the Rangers' system. He saw time on the power play, penalty kill, and top pairing matchups at even strength.
One would figure he's got the inside track to a top-four role in Springfield, but it won't be easy.
Moore has also been a Falcons regular since being drafted into the Blue Jackets family, and his prolonged recent stretch at the NHL level is going to be an asset for the other guys in the group. Moore knows what they're going through and knows where they want to go -- and he's got the firsthand experience to help them along.
Then, it gets interesting. That leaves four openings on defense, and no fewer than seven guys vying for them. Falcons head coach Brad Larsen and assistant coach Nolan Pratt (who was a longtime NHL defenseman himself) won't need to supply the players with any additional motivation during camp; all the guys need to do is take a look around and see who's looking to take their spot.
Sometimes, that's all a coach can ask for -- let the players decide it for themselves.