For Blue Jackets youth, it’s time to shine
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The pain of losing was evident on the faces of the Blue Jackets Tuesday night. The truth that there is almost no way they will make the playoffs this season is slowly sinking in. And yet their pride will not allow them to treat losing as a trivial matter.
"I think we were disappointed in ourselves," said defenseman Dalton Prout," that we didn’t come out the way we wanted to. We know that it’s not mathematically in stone yet, but it’s a very steep hill to make the playoffs. What we said was we need to keep pride and character in this room."
On Monday, after it was announced that James Wisniewski had been traded to the Anaheim Ducks, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen indicated that it was time for the youth on the team to step up and assume a larger role on the team.
He indicated that kids like Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano, among others, were impressing the powers that be and that it was time to continue their development in order to help the team move from being a mid-to-bottom tier team to one that can be a perennial playoff club that contends eventually for the Stanley Cup.
"We can’t wait for motivation," Prout said. "I think part of being a pro and part of growing up as a team is being ready to play. It’s bringing that intensity without it being initiated by a coach or a two-goal deficit. That’s something that we need to learn and continue to work on."
Kekalainen also singled out some of the youth on the blue line as being ready to take the next step and move up on the depth chart. David Savard and Kevin Connauton have all begun to take strides and move forward with their development.
Connauton, a waiver-wire pickup from Dallas, has been one of the most pleasant surprises in this lackluster season. He’s earned the opportunity to show what he’s got and he has taken the ball and run with it. What on earth were the Stars thinking sending this kid through waivers?
Many wondered just a few short years ago if Savard would be able to stick in the NHL. He’s taken it upon himself to become a better player. This has been evidenced this season with him earning time on the power play and being paired on a nightly basis with Jack Johnson on the top-pairing.
Savard has been effusive in his praise this season of Johnson and learning from a guy that exudes pride. It’s a lesson that many of the younger guys are learning from Johnson, not just his defensive partner.
"We don’t like to lose," said Johnson. "Hockey is an emotional sport and that is in our identity. It was easy for us to go out there and do it emotionally because we’re upset with where we are in the standings and where we were in the game."
Despite being on the losing end of the score, there were numerous things that did work for the team. Foremost was the play of the two rookies, Wennberg and Dano.
"I liked our young guys again tonight," said bench boss Todd Richards. "Up front, I’m talking about Wennberg and Dano, I thought they were very good. I see them pushing."
Wennberg went 0-1-1 in 20:51 of ice-time. He saw time on both special teams units against the Capitals, but only won one of eight face-offs. Dano, although held of the score sheet, was on the ice for 17:49 and tied Scott Hartnell for the team lead with six shots on goal. He saw some time on the power play and won 60 percent of his face-offs.
With 19 games remaining, the youth will be expected to step up for each and every game. That does not exonerate the veterans. They know and understand that it is incumbent on them to lead by example to bring all the disparate parts together and mold themselves into a well-oiled machine. They are not there yet.
But there are glimpses of what is to come as the team and organization are being built the right way. And that is how it should be.