COLUMBUS, Ohio — By the time the puck drops Monday night at Nationwide Arena, the NHL trade deadline will have come and gone. The Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets will know by then whether they were any changes to their rosters.
The Blue Jackets made one significant move on Sunday in an attempt to bolster their lineup for a playoff push in the final 20 games of the regular season. They reacquired center Mark Letestu in a deal that involved the Edmonton Oilers and the Nashville Predators.
The 33-year-old veteran was sent from the Oilers to the Nashville Predators and then was traded to the Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
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“I know they’re in the fight (for the playoffs),” Letestu said. “It’s a tight division and I’m excited to be a part of what they’ve been building. I’m just excited to be a part of the playoff push again. That seems to be the time of the season when the best parts of my game come out, and I’m excited to wear that blue again.”
The Blue Jackets likely will plug Letestu, who played in Columbus from 2011-15, into the fourth line at center with the hope that his presence will give them an offensive boost. The fourth line had seen diminishing ice time, but that might change now.
“I need to play four lines,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “Maybe getting Letestu solidifies things and maybe I feel more comfortable. I certainly have to work in my mind to play four lines more. I want it to be more of a flow, offensively, for us.”
An unrestricted free agent after this season, Letestu had eight goals and 11 assists in 60 games with the Oilers this season. A year ago, he posted career highs with 16 goals and 19 assists for Edmonton.
In 528 career games with the Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and Oilers, Letestu has 92 goals and 114 assists.
“I think he’ll help in a lot of areas,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He’s a good specialty-teams player, he’s a good penalty killer, he can play on the power play, he’s a solid defensive player. He’s also good on faceoffs (53.5 percent success rate) … gives us a right-handed center that we don’t have.”
Letestu, who owns a home in Columbus, is hoping to play Monday night against the Capitals.
“If you could pick a spot where I knew I was going to be comfortable — and that’s just knowing the staff, the people around the team, the city — there’s no more perfect town for me than this one,” Letestu said.
The Blue Jackets (31-26-5) are two points ahead of the New York Islanders in the hotly-contested chase for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after their 3-2 win at home on Saturday night over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Columbus, which has won just four of 12 games in Feburary, trails first-place Washington by 10 points in the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals (35-20-7), coming off a 5-1 victory on Saturday over the Buffalo Sabres after losing two in a row, are just one point ahead of the Philadephia Flyers and the Penguins in the division.
Washington made several minor moves a few days before the trade deadline, acquiring defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek. The club waived defenseman Taylor Chorney, who was claimed by the Blue Jackets.
“I think our guys are pretty settled in,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We like our group, and we’ve already made a couple deals.”
“We did a lot of good things,” Trotz said. “We can still clean up our game.”
Ovechkin leads the NHL this season with 38 goals. His 596 career goals put him within striking distance of becoming just the fourth NHL player in history (Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull) to reach 600 before his 1,000th career regular-season game.
“I think it was very important for us to bounce back,” Ovechkin said after the win over the Sabres. “We have to continue to play like that and collect the points.”
The Capitals and Blue Jackets are meeting for the third time this month. Washington won the first two by 3-2 and 4-2 scores.