Taste of playoffs not enough for young Blue Jackets

Published 12:28 am Thursday, September 28, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The resurgence of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season was every bit as surprising as the previous year’s collapse. Climbing out of the Metropolitan Division basement, the young team put together a captivating winning streak on the way to the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets compiled a franchise-record 50 wins and 108 points, helped along by that 16-game streak  that was the second-longest in NHL history. They advanced to the playoffs from the rugged Metropolitan Division but were promptly eliminated in five games by eventual champion Pittsburgh.
John Tortorella doesn’t want his players to get much satisfaction from the regular-season success. In his world, that’s what they should be doing without question every year. Last year’s Jack Adams Trophy winner as the league’s best coach said moving the team forward includes an expectation that it will win and advance to the playoffs every season from now on.
“I think as an organization we’re always trying to have a definition of who we are,” Tortorella said. “I thought last year put us on a road toward trying to define us….(This year) is really a huge step for us because I do think some things are going to go a little haywire on us, and we’re going to have to dig ourselves out of some tough spots as we go through it. It’s just the nature of our league.”
No one is more eager to get a new season started than the Blue Jackets’ Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. “Bob” is an elite stopper and the man behind many of the Blue Jackets’ victories last season. He inexplicably fell apart in the playoffs.  Columbus can only hope he’s got his confidence back.
“I don’t have a worry in the world about Bob,” Tortorella said. “It wasn’t to the standard that we all know Bob can play. Pittsburgh did that to a number of goalies during their run.”
Blue Jackets bosses thought they were one first-line goal-scorer away from the next level last season. They think they’ve got that sniper now in Artemi Panarin.
The winger was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad in the offseason. The 25-year-old Panarin, who won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie 2015-16, was second on the Blackhawks in goals (31) and points (74) last season behind linemate Patrick Kane. He’s got 17 power-play goals in the past two years and likely will play a major role when the Blue Jackets have the man advantage.
“We felt that we needed a game-breaking type of player with individual skills who will create offense and also a guy who fits in perfectly (with the power play),” general manager Jarmo Kekdldinen said. “Not only a right-hand (shot), but a tremendous one-timer shot.”
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno is happy to have Panarin on his side now.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Foligno said. “I’ve played against him, and he can make things happen. He has the ability to break games open, and we’re excited to bring that into our club.”
The Blue Jackets are hot on a couple of their up-and-comers, and one is likely to crack the opening-day roster. Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, may be ready to fill the third-line center position that opened up when William Karlsson was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft. Winger Vitaly Abramov, a third-round pick in 2016, was impressive playing alongside Dubois in the recent NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. Surprisingly, though, after four preseason games the team assigned the 19-year-old to his junior hockey club for more development.

LAST SEASON: 50-24-8, third in Metropolitan Division. Eliminated by Pittsburgh in first round of playoffs.
COACH: John Tortorella, third year, 84-57-16.
ADDED: LW Artemi Panarin.
LOST: C William Karlsson, C Sam Gagner, LW Scott Hartnell, LW Brandon Saad.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Zach Werenski. The 20-year-old rewrote the team’s record book last year, setting rookie marks for points, assists, power-play points and shots. He and 22-year-old Seth Jones make up one of the best defensive first lines in the NHL. Werenski, who finished last season with 11 goals and 36 points, the second-most points in a season by a Blue Jackets defenseman, also runs the power play.
OUTLOOK: The young Blue Jackets tasted playoff success last year and are determined to get back there. They have the talent to do it, too. Another 16-game winning streak might not be in the cards, but Columbus has the juice to compete in the rugged Metropolitan Division with heavyweights Pittsburgh and Washington. The acquisition of Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks gives them another much-needed sniper. And it all starts with Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is itching to get back to work after his miscues led to the Blue Jackets being eliminated from the playoffs by Pittsburgh in the opening round.

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