COLUMBUS, Ohio — As they begin the on-ice portion of training camp, the Blue Jackets are without a pair of top-line forwards in Ryan Johansen (contract dispute) and Nathan Horton (non-surgical lingering back problem). But as head coach Todd Richards said on Wednesday, this is a story, but not the story.
While this is an issue, the team is looking for guys in the lineup and in camp to seize this opportunity to step up. The depth of the organization is such that there are players who have a viable chance of making the roster out of training camp.
The lack of roster turnover shows that the organization believes in the team and what they can accomplish by taking the next step. As they move through this season and beyond, at that time pieces might be brought to help them make that deep run all are hoping for.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen sees battles for spots beginning Friday.
"Brian Gibbons, (Simon) Hjalmarsson, Jerry D’Amigo and (Alex) Wennberg are probably going to be in that picture," he said. "Who knows what Oliver Bjorkstrand is going to do here? I told those guys that there are some spots on this team that can be earned.
"When you look at our depth chart," he continued, "especially with Ryan Johansen missing and Nathan Horton not ready to go right now, those guys are going to get great chances to show what they have."
With seemingly so few spots available and most players already on the roster having one-way contracts, will it be difficult for them to supplant a roster player?
"Absolutely not," said Kekalainen. "Obviously, there’s always the business side of it and a 23-man roster, but if somebody comes in and plays so well that he’s going to make our team better, we will make room for him."
It’s already becoming a factor with the depth this organization has in that players will not be rushed into the NHL until they are ready. This depth also gives the Blue Jackets options as they continue to improve and make strides toward their ultimate goal of being a contender for the Stanley Cup.
"We are going to keep adding to that (depth) in the upcoming years," Kekalainen said. "We have a good scouting staff in place and that, to me, is what building a good hockey team is all about.
"You add to your depth chart and when you get too many good players, hopefully, at some point, you see that we’re good but now, by trading some of these assets we have we can get some immediate help now and go for it. That, to me, is the right way to build a team. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
"We’re trying to draft well, we’re trying to develop well and we’re trying to make our talent pool so deep that, at some point, we can just take a little bit of that future and invest into now, without mortgaging our future, and go for the Stanley Cup."
The Blue Jackets are backstopped by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy. He has the trust of his teammates, and likewise he has the trust in them. With the lack of roster turnover, he has a better feel for what the guys in front of him will do each night.
"We do all of this together," said Bobrovsky. "It’s a really good thing. We work for each other, we compete for each other and we know what to expect from each other. We have a really good atmosphere in the locker room. It’s a friendly atmosphere, you know? We laugh and push each other. It’s really good."
This is a contract year for the 25-year-old net-minder. He signed a bridge contract at the end of the lockout-shortened 2013 season and will be a restricted free agent in July 2015. And yet, he’s not worried about that.
"I’m focused more on what I need to do and be ready for the season," he said. "I’m focused on that and then we’ll see what happens."