Columbus defensively may be the biggest question this year. With a decent showing last year, and young players like Methot and Russell showing their capacity to function at the NHL level, Columbus certainly has the cornerstone of what could be a very strong defensive core.
Obviously the biggest off-season effort was put into the Rick Nash signing, but I do believe finding a puck moving defensemen was second on their list all the way. While Rusty Klesla has shown signs of being a great player, his inability to stay healthy has cost the Blue Jackets much needed depth on the blueline. If they hope to acquire a quality defender, it is no doubt they will try and package Rusty with a forward (hopefully one of Chimera or Modin). Here are my preferred lines heading into the pre-season;
1 - Commodore – Hejda
2 - Russell – Tyutin
3 - Methot – Klesla
While I do think these combinations show a great deal of depth in their current state, I think it will be necessary for a couple of these guys to step it up and really force their play into the first pairing. I do not think any one of these players deserve the top spot more than another, although I do think their style of play may become a factor.
Commodore and Hejda became the ‘go-to’ pairing for Hitchcock last year. Both were able to prove their critics (including me) wrong and play a strong defensive game. They will have to up their game if they want to avoid losing their spot to one of the young guys still working on developing into their career style and ability.
Russell and Tyutin are a pairing we have seen before. Russell has a tremendous ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and draw pinching forward away from Tyutin. This will allow hopefully for a lot of open point shots from Fedor. While I think both can achieve top line status, I think the most opportunity lies with Russell and the level he can achieve this year.
Finally, we consider Methot and Klesla. Both seem to continuously have something to prove to the coaching staff. There will be no free rife for Methot, although with the release of Backman, it will give him the opportunity to truly own an NHL position. In Klesla’s case, everything rides on his summer development and how he can avoid injuries this year.
As I had previously mentioned, a lot of room for modification to the defensive lines may really force these six palyers to amp up their game. One thing I will personally anticipate is that these lines will look completely different after the first month of the season.
Carry the Flag!