Saturday, August 3, 2019

Old School Blue Jackets Approach is New Again

Alexandre Texier
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be faced with an interesting season this year, and one way to view it is as an old approach made new again.  But there are some stark differences in the approach this time around.  In the early days of the franchise, the CBJ often relied on newly drafted young players coming into the lineup to provide a hope for success.  This was due mainly to the paucity of talent in the organization (a dramatic contrast to the Golden Knights).  Derick Brassard is an example of a player that came into the CBJ lineup without a stop in the AHL.  Our desperation level was high at that time.  Sometimes the players fared well in spite of the complete lack of development, e.g. Rick Nash, Brassard, Jakub Voracek.  Other times they didn't, e.g. Alexander Picard.  Nonetheless, these players were looked to for advancing the team's fortunes.

Fast forward to the upcoming 2019-20 NHL season, and the Blue Jackets will once again be looking for young players to advance the team's fortunes, but with some huge differences.  Whereas in the past many of the young players WERE the talent, in the upcoming season they will be surrounded by relatively proven talent.  There were no players close to Seth Jones or Zach Werenski on the old teams, or forwards such as Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Pierre Luc-Dubois of the newly added Gustav Nyquist.  These players are backed with proven veterans such as Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno, so the supporting cast is orders of magnitude stronger.

Emil Bemstrom
The other major difference is that the young players have not been rushed to the NHL, but their development has been allowed to run its course.  It is entirely possible that Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom are not ready for the NHL.  But their development has not been rushed, and it is the right time in their development curve to attempt to take that step.  They will get a chance to prove in training camp that they are ready.

Of course, the biggest story of looking for young players to step up is in the net.  Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikens will man the net for the Blue Jackets this year.  I have always liked Elvis' game, and way back in early development camps I thought he showed he was a great prospect.  Personally though, I am very bullish on Joonas Korpisalo.  Several years ago a read a lengthy article about goal tender development in Finland.  It was in part VI of that article where I learned that Finnish goal tenders tend to have a later development curve.  In other words, they just seem to mature later in contrast to Canadian players.  The takeaway lesson was to be patient in developing your Finnish goal tenders. 

To me, Joonas Korpisalo is at the sweet spot of his development curve, and this is a nearly perfect time for him to ascend to a number 1 net minder.  Keep in mind that while Joonas' stats are not sparkling (2.95 GAA; .897 SV%), his record was 10-7-3.  Keep in mind that if the Blue Jackets back up goal tender doesn't have a winning record, they don't make the playoffs in the tumultuous 2018-19 season.  This is the best record ever for a CBJ backup (McElhinney's 2015-16 record of 12-14-2 is closest) as it is a winning record.  Joonas is going to be ready, and I think he will surprise some people.  And I think he is ready for this.  He has learned all he can ever learn from Bobrovsky.  Now its time to put it to use.

The late Jeff Little used to like to say, "hope is not a strategy".  Unfortunately, hope is all the Blue Jackets had available in the early years.  This time around though, the CBJ have done their due diligence on the development side of the ledger, and have several young players that are ready to take the step to the NHL as a natural progression in their development.  Their level of success can only be gauged in the crucible of play in the best hockey league in the world.  Likely some will succeed, and some will need more time.  However, I hope they all succeed beyond our wildest dreams!


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