CBJ Season Preview: Defensemen
It has been said numerous times that the Blue Jackets' true strength is on the blue line.
And such an argument would be hard to disagree with. Aside from Sergei Bobrovsky and the magical season he turned in last year, the Blue Jackets were a very good defending team and it started with how the group of six defensemen stuck together on a nightly basis. There were not many "wow" moments from the Columbus defense, but they had a structure and system that worked and they stuck to it.
Over the past two years, the Blue Jackets have made some solid additions to the group that have paid dividends. Picking up Nikita Nikitin from the St. Louis Blues mid-season in 2011 really helped stabilize a defense that was in disarray and ravaged by injury, and a few months later, the Jack Johnson acquisition seemed to set things in motion. The Blue Jackets have truly been building the right way and putting together a strong group of defensemen has them on the upward trajectory many believe them to be on.
James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, rookie Ryan Murray (who had a terrific training camp), Nikitin and second-year rear guard Dalton Prout. The Blue Jackets' top six looks - at least on paper - to be one of its strongest defense corps in years and it's the balance among the six players that has people excited. There are puck-movers and guys who can bring noise from the point, physical presences that make the corners and front of the net unwelcoming places, and cerebral defenders who use their hockey sense and positioning to stay on the right side of the puck. It's not a flashy group by any means, but the Blue Jackets' defense has a lot of the elements coaches look for (and covet).
And there's even more to like when you get beyond the first six.
The Rick Nash trade in July 2012 brought two key forwards back to Columbus, but Tim Erixon has been an unheralded pickup in the deal. He really grew into his own last year with the Springfield Falcons during the NHL lockout, and when he was recalled to Columbus once the season began, he fit right in with the Blue Jackets and found himself playing a key role on defense as the team pushed for a playoff spot. Erixon might be on the outside looking in as the No. 7 defenseman to open the season, but a number of factors could get him into the lineup sooner rather than later.
David Savard, a Blue Jackets property who has paid his dues and worked his way up the system, is getting a shot to start the year with Columbus after getting himself into terrific shape over the summer. He has proven himself to be a top-four defenseman in the AHL and was very good for the Springfield Falcons last season, leaving one thing for the 22-year-old: solidify a spot at the highest level and take that next step that the Blue Jackets have been waiting for.
This defense is so deep that the Blue Jackets had to waive Cody Goloubef, an emerging defending defenseman who has NCAA experience at the University of Wisconsin and a plateful of AHL experience in Springfield. Both Goloubef and Savard filled in for Columbus at the tail end of 2012-13 and looked to be fairly close during this year's camp, but the final edge went to Savard.
Perhaps most encouraging is that the Blue Jackets aren't hoping for a young defenseman to grow into his own on a trial-by-fire basis. They have no fewer than eight defensemen who have shown they can play in the NHL and play meaningful minutes - giving them options and depth that they've never had before.