Who has the Best Shot to make it in Columbus?
With the well documented exodus of UFAs from Columbus there will be opportunities for young players to make their mark this season or the Jackets. But where on the ice will we see new names and faces?
This is the most obvious and well documented position that the CBJ will have to fill. It seems that it is Korpi's job to lose, however he will be challenged by Elvis. This goalie tandem could be a complete bust or the talk of the NHL by seasons end. But, don't write off Vehvilainen too quickly. VV played just as well as Merzlikins did under similar circumstances in the Prospects tournament in Traverse City. The issue is that Merzlikins has a one-way contract that is likely to keep him in Columbus and it seems unlikely that the Jackets carry 3 goaltenders.
On the Wing
This is the easiest place on any prospect to find a home on an NHL roster. Bemstrom, Fix-Wolansky and Lilja are excellent candidates to see some time with the big club at some point during the season. You may have noted that I left off Texier, more on that below.
Bemstrom will get the best look. He was held out of the Prospects game because of an injury and possibility to allow him time to focus on training camp. Everyone seem high on him this season and it is likely that he will have the opportunity to prove himself.
I think Lilja ends up with the upper hand on Fix-Wolansky for two reasons. My belief is that the Jackets are tagging TFW for a role in a top 6 forward position which just isn't yet available on this team. Second reason is because of the business side of hockey. Lilja is on a one-year deal while TFW is under contract for the next 3 seasons. Columbus has to make a decision on Lilja much sooner than they will on TFW. The 'business decision' side of it goes out the window if TFW has a remarkable camp and pre-season. But bank on it being Lilja getting the first opportunity out of the two.
Robinson wasn't mentioned above because we saw him at the end of last season. To me he is already 'on the team' as a 4th line winger. He provides speed and size and fills a bottom line role.
Defense prospects include Gavrikov, Peeke and Carlsson. Peeke looked good during the Traverse City trip and Gavrikov logged some time during the playoffs. But there is a log jam of very talented defensemen on the CBJ blue line. Barring an injury or two (Murray is going to stay healthy this year, fingers crossed) none of the aforementioned may get a look this season. Gavrikov and Carlsson are both in the last year of their contracts, but it would surprise me if either get regular time in Columbus this season.
I purposefully saved this for the end for one reason: Texier. For most Jackets fans it is a forgone conclusion that Tex will be on the CBJ roster when the season opens. He performed well at the end of last season and throughout the playoff campaign. He was playing wing in those games and in Traverse City he was skating as the top-line center and performing well. My belief is that he battles for the #2 center position with Wennberg. This does one of two things. It jumpstarts Wennberg's play by providing him competition for the role or it displaces Wennberg completely.
I could see the scenario of Texier starting the season as the #2 center as a wake-up call to Wenn. He may then be moved to a wing as Wenn's game improves. But it would be a surprise if Texier isn't in Columbus most of the season.
Foudy and Dalpe could get a look at the pivot, but I don't think they will see time unless there is an injury. Foudy is probably the next candidate at the position, but there are other NHL C/W players on this team that may fill that role ahead of either of them.
One final note, it was interesting to see how the RFA d-man marked fell like dominoes once Zach signed. Zack's signing was less of a who-blinks-first situation and more of a how-do-we-both-win situation for the two sides. Short term the Jackets get a contract they like and long term Zach gets the bargaining power he wanted (as long as he continues his consistent performance).
Thank you for reading.