Blue Jackets' transition to new style will require patience

ricknash1.jpgTransition years can be a bear to go through. They can bring about a lot of hope, but they’re almost meant to be difficult by nature. One such team looking at a change of pace transitioning from one style of play to another are the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Aaron Portzline of Puck Rakers took a look at the Blue Jackets roster and the anxiety that could run rampant through Ohio this season as the team switches from Ken Hitchcock’s bland, boring style of hockey to what new head coach Scott Arniel hopes to do to make things a bit more exciting.

Arniel plans to play a puck-possession, high-tempo style that most players prefer, a style that is in stark contrast to the retreat-and-react style drummed home the previous three-plus seasons in Columbus. But there are no guarantees this will work, especially with regard to the Blue Jackets’ defensemen.

The message has been sent (or will be soon) to Blue Jackets’ blue-liners that Arniel wants them to be aggressive getting the puck up ice, whether that means carrying the puck or passing it. He also wants to see the Blue Jackets’ defensemen join the rush when the opportunity is there. The new message: taking risks will be tolerated.

This looks good on paper, and any hockey fan with a soul will cheer the advent of exciting, offensive-minded hockey in Nationwide Arena. Let’s face it: not only were the wins in short supply last season, but some of the wins were downright snoozy.

But this change may not be easily executed with the same players. It could very well require more than a mental shift. You can scream at your Hummer all day, but it’s going to have a hard time keeping up on the Autobahn.

There’s a lot to like in Columbus. Obviously Rick Nash is the focus of everything there and with good reason, but young players like Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov could provide the spark needed to jump-start things in Columbus. That said, any high expectations have to be tempered with reality.

The defense will be suspect and flipping the switch from the careful, plodding style Hitchcock employed to what Arniel hopes to do takes time. Blue Jackets fans might not like this comparison, but if you want to see what a team looks like when going through a whirlwind change of pace, looking at last year’s Minnesota Wild is a good place to go.

The Wild changed from Jacques Lemaire’s traditional defense-first brand of hockey to Todd Richards more aggressive style. The Wild were inconsistent last year, but started to find their way around the ice eventually after a couple of months. While the Wild do have some talent, given the youthful build up of players they’ve got in Columbus, change and improvement will take time. After all, it’s not as if success can’t come out of nowhere, last year’s Colorado Avalanche are a good example of that. Still, patience will be required in Columbus but there is hope.

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    After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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    One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

    Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

    Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

    Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

    With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

    Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

    Report: Dwight King could be KHL-bound

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    Dwight King, the burly forward that won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, may be on his way to Russia.

    Per News 1130 in Vancouver, King is set to sign in the KHL after failing to land a contract this summer. The 28-year-old finished last season in Montreal after spending the first seven years of his NHL career in Los Angeles.

    For a time, King was an effective skater for L.A. He posted a career-high 15 goals and 30 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and followed that up with a 13-goal, 26-point effort the year following. He also had a nice showing during the Kings’ 2014 Cup run, finishing with 11 points in 26 games.

    King’s biggest issue is his skating ability. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he was never the fleetest of foot, but had been working on his speed this offseason.

    More, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

    King is still looking for work after finishing the season in Montreal. There are a few Western Conference teams poking around.

    “I’m just looking for an opportunity at this point. I’m going to be on the ice more this year, doing a little more skills and skating. Any bit of improvement I can find.”

    King is going to try a couple new teachers, then decide which route to take. One also works with former teammate (and new Golden Knight) Brayden McNabb. King is quite the physical specimen, but will take a new approach. He regularly played at 230–231 pounds, but is going to go to 225–226. And he believes the Western Conference is better for him.

    News 1130 reported that Vancouver had shown “mild interest” in King, who just wrapped a three-year $5.85 million deal with a $1.95M cap hit.

    King appeared in 17 games for the Habs after being picked up at the deadline last season, scoring once. He went pointless in six playoff games.

    McLellan excited about addition of ‘utility player’ Strome

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    To hear Todd McLellan explain it, Ryan Strome could be wearing many hats next season.

    That’s what the Oilers head coach said on Wednesday of the former Isles forward, acquired earlier this summer in the Jordan Eberle trade. McLellan expressed excitement over Strome’s ability to play both center and wing.

    “He (Strome) is a utility player,” McLellan said, per the Sun. “He has the ability to play center and has in the past. He’s been able to win faceoffs and he’s comfortable on the wing. We have the luxury of moving players around, and as the fans here know, we like to do that.”

    That last sentence is clearly a reference to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl has flipped back and forth between playing as Edmonton’s No. 2 center and as a winger on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. The talented German’s had success at both, which is why Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is still unsure if Draisaitl is a center or a winger.

    More: Strome pumped at prospect of playing with Draisaitl, McDavid

    As for Strome, he certainly gives Edmonton some flexibility — on the ice, and on the books.

    With a $2.5 million cap hit (compared to Eberle’s $6M), he’s provided Chiarelli with more cap space to get the Draisaitl contract done. And there’s also the potential for him to be a real bargain. Remember, Strome is only two years removed from a sophomore campaign in which he scored 17 goals and 50 points in 81 contests. His subsequent two years with the Isles were a disappointment, but the talent is still there.

    The wildcard in all this is the fact that Strome’s heading into a contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent next July, so the ’17-18 campaign will go a long way in determining his value… and, potentially, his future in Edmonton.

    McDavid disappointed at NHL decision to skip Olympics

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    TORONTO (AP) Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said he’s disappointed the NHL won’t be sending players to the Winter Olympic in South Korea.

    “It would have been a special group, and you’re just hopeful to be a part of it,” McDavid told reporters at a charity event Wednesday. “It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible.”

    McDavid’s comments came a day after Hockey Canada announced it was looking for non-NHL talent for Canada’s roster in Pyeongchang.

    Sean Burke, the team’s GM, said Tuesday the bulk of Canada’s team will come from players based in Europe.

    The NHL’s reasons not to participate in the upcoming Games include disagreements over costs as well as problems accommodating the Games during its regular season.

    When asked whether there was the possibility of getting permission from the Oilers to attend the Olympics, McDavid was non-committal.

    “I’m not too involved in all that stuff,” he said.

    The NHL Players Association has said the league’s decision is “short-sighted.”

    The NHL allowed its players to compete in every Olympics since 1998 Nagano Games, and Canada was won three of the last four gold medals.