Successful teams that make runs in the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup every year have many common denominators. One of those commonalities is the ability to roll four lines throughout the season and into a playoff run.
These bottom-six forwards might not get much of the attention, but they are an integral part of the makeup of the team. They know what their job is when they come over the boards and are determined to make the most of every shift when they’re on the ice.
Last season, the Blue Jackets had a potent fourth line that brought energy, grit and a bit of skill to each and every game. Head coach Todd Richards showed that he had faith in those players to be a factor by not shortening his bench in tight games.
Right winger Corey Tropp was a part of that fourth line that Richards believed could help make a difference down the stretch. He’s an energy player who plays the game in a tailor-made checking line role. He brings a straightforward, no nonsense approach to his time on ice and gives 100 percent at all times.
Tropp, who turns 25 on Friday, recently signed a two-year contract extension with Columbus.
"It’s definitely awesome and feels rewarding," he said. "To be able to stay in Columbus with this group of guys and be a part of this moving forward is awesome.
"We have a great team and it’s exciting to see how far we can go together."
On Nov. 28, 2013, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen claimed Tropp off waivers from the Buffalo Sabres. He’s earned every bit of ice time he gets and gained the trust of the coaches in the process. He understands what the team is trying to build in Columbus, in spite of their youth, with very little roster turnover.
"When I got here," Tropp continued, "I quickly learned that this is definitely a team that’s on the rise. It’s something that I want to be a part of. Once you start progressing as a team, sometimes you don’t want to change too much (organizationally). Obviously, we’re a young team and I think there’s room to grow. It’s an exciting time to be in Columbus."
His line-mates last year were Mark Letestu and Derek MacKenzie (who has since moved on to the Florida Panthers). The chemistry they developed between them directly led to them being a line for which other teams had to account.
"You have to earn your ice time and whoever you’re playing with, that’s Richies’ (Todd Richards) decision. As a fourth line, we found some success last year. Especially with a guy like Mark (Letestu) down the middle, he’s so smart and was definitely a help for me last season.
"The more you played with someone, the more you’re going to learn each others’ tendencies. For the most part last year, our lines (as a team) were not juggled too much. That’s how chemistry is built."
In 44 games last year with Columbus, Tropp had two goals, eight assists and finished the season at +11, a team-high plus/minus rating. His time on ice averaged 8:37, proof that he had earned the trust of the coaching staff. He likes the fact that the coaches had their contracts extended with the organization.
"Obviously, his (Richards) body of work here in Columbus speaks for itself," said Tropp. "As a player, all you can ask for is a coach that’s fair and honest. When I first got here, he showed that he’s fair. If our line was playing well, he always seemed to find us another shift or two."
Playing in Columbus as a Blue Jacket, Tropp is not far from home. Just a bit less than a four-hour drive north puts him back in his hometown of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. Even with the proximity to home, he made the decision to stay in Columbus this summer.
"I’m staying here and doing our strength program. My focus is to get stronger. Coming off the injury (Sept. 2013), I don’t think I was where I wanted to be at physically. I’m also working on other parts of my game to be ready when training camp opens."
Tropp reiterated the collective philosophy of the players in that the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. He knows that last year was a step in the right direction, but that there are still many steps to take as a team. He’s excited to be a part of this young team.
"We have to worry about the first task at hand, and that’s making the playoffs. Once we get to the playoffs, we have to have that mindset to find a way to win."