Adam Cracknell off the waiver wire from the L.A. Kings. This is a Jarmo Special, an acquisition of a player he knows well from his days with the Blues. I guess we'll get to that in a second, when we talk 4th line.
Since I am an atrocious predictor, AND, most predictions are based on last year's results, I'm going to pass on a prediction. I think we can all reach consensus that I am wrong, and we move on. I am very excited for this season, because we have experienced some stability in our core players that I think was badly needed. For instance, many people are picking the Islanders to finish in the playoffs this year, and as a team, I think they improved a lot. But there is a lot of change there, and it takes awhile for that all to jell. I think the amount of roster change that has taken place has played a role in the slow starts the last two years for the CBJ. We have not seen that amount of change this year. I think that lack of change will help the Jackets get off to a reasonable start. They don't need to tear the league up, but a game or two over .500 by Veterans Day would go a long way.
One of the keys that I will use to try to assess how much the team has improved overall will be the type of success they have against the elite teams; Pittsburgh and Boston in the East, Chicago, L.A., Anaheim and San Jose in the Western Conference. Last year, the team struggled against the elite teams during the regular season. This year I will be looking to see if we start winning a couple of our home games against the elite teams. We are not an elite team at this point, but it would be good progress to win a couple of those big weekend games at home against Boston or Pittsburgh. Some road wins would be icing on the cake.
On the injury front, it has been somewhat horrific during this training camp. The litany of the wounded is an impressive amount of talent: Horton, Murray, Jenner, Dubinsky, Gibbons, Milano. Yoikes!!
This has been counterbalanced by an emergence of young talent, some hoped for, others a pleasant surprise. I have been very pleased by the emergence of Michael Chaput as a workable fourth line center, and I hope he has a great year. He skated in the preseason like he wanted to be another MacKenzie, which we now need. The other pleasant surprise involves the play of two rookies, Alexander Wennberg, and Marko Dano, who both made the team. Our other first rounder, Kerby Rychal was sent down to Springfield, because it made no sense to play him on the fourth line, even though he might be able to swing the role. Honestly I expect to see both Wennberg and Dano down in Springfield at some point during this season. Playing big minutes down there is a needed development step for these guys. But for now, they are on the big squad.
An interesting line of commentary this preseason by the national hockey pundits has been the CBJ's 'loss' of our first line. Having Joey under contract is good, but with Horton and Jenner out, the CBJ allegedly no longer has a 'first line'. Well, for much of last year, we had a top 9 more than first, second and third lines, and I think we start this year in much the same position, where we really have 3 'second' lines. The good news with that is somewhere along the line you get a mismatch, and the top 9 is composed of players who are defensively very responsive. So in spite of all the injuries, we are pretty much in the same position we were in last year, except the team has a whole season of playing together, and they experienced some success in the playoffs. So our top 9 should be able to keep things in check while we get the walking wounded recovered. Wennberg and Dano will need to step up their games, and it should be interesting to see how they do.
Which, by the way, I loved the Wennberg, Atkinson, Calvert line in the preseason. I'd love to see Richie give that a shot against Buffalo. They looked dynamic together.
As far as the fourth line, I'm feeling a lot better about it tonight than I was a few days ago. Last year Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR) rolled his lines relentlessly. The fourth line last year did a great job of establishing and retaining puck possession in the offensive zone, particularly on the road when the team's back was against the wall. Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Jack Skille and Cory Tropp all helped to hold down that role. But with 3 of those 4 players gone (until we re-acquired Skille), I think Jarmo and JD were not impressed in training camp with the people they wanted to do that job. Getting Skille back is a coup, and I see the addition of Cracknell basically replacing Blake Comeau. So it is to be hoped that Chaput can hold down the center when Letestu is playing up in the lineup, and Skille and Cracknell bring speed and possession through solid board work.
The goal tending is one thing that stood out in training camp. Both Bobrovsky and McElhinney looked on top of their game. We are going to need that, and I think it is fair to say that this team will go as far as Bob can take it.
So here we are, the hockey season is finally upon us. DROP THE PUCK!!