Pierre-Luc Dubois

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Panarin sets franchise record in Blue Jackets debut

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One day after his former team put 10 goals on the board versus Pittsburgh, Artemi Panarin had a memorable game of his own in his regular season debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It wasn’t a hat trick of goals like the one Brandon Saad recorded on Thursday. Instead, Panarin had three assists, his first a nifty set up on Cam Atkinson‘s first goal of the season. The Blue Jackets jumped out to a big lead over the New York Islanders and cruised from there to a 5-0 win.

The victory also included Sonny Milano and Pierre-Luc Dubois scoring their first career NHL goals.

The Blue Jackets already had a group of young players that took a step forward last season by contending for the Metropolitan Division against Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals. They set a new standard for the organization, setting franchise records in wins and points. The play of Sergei Bobrovsky in net played a significant role, too.

They added to their group this summer by acquiring Panarin from Chicago in a blockbuster that sent Saad back to the Blackhawks. In acquiring Panarin, Columbus received a 25-year-old forward with two impressive NHL seasons under his belt, as he reached at least 30 goals in each of those years with the Blackhawks.

He did so playing alongside Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, who has been a dangerous offensive player throughout junior and throughout his NHL career. That said, there seems to be suggestions that Panarin’s production was boosted by the fact he played as Kane’s linemate.

It’s a point that he has expressed anger toward. Who can blame him? After all, he scored 102 points combined over two seasons in the KHL before joining the Blackhawks and continued to put up good numbers in the NHL.

His time in Columbus is off to a good start. He showed chemistry with Atkinson, a 35-goal scorer last season, on the second goal. Breaking into the zone with speed, Panarin put a beautiful pass across the ice for Atkinson, who re-directed the puck in off his skate.

We’ve seen four hat tricks through the first two days of the new season, marking NHL history in the process.

No hat trick tonight for Panarin, but his three assists in his debut were enough to make Blue Jackets history. On the third night of the new NHL season, no less.

Oilers’ top pick Puljujarvi scores first NHL goal in debut

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The opening night of the 2016-17 NHL season turned out to be a great night for the 2016 draft class.

After top pick Auston Matthews made NHL history by becoming the first rookie to ever score four goals in his debut game, Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi, the No. 4 overall pick, played a strong game in Edmonton and scored his first career goal in the third period of the Oilers’ 7-4 win.

Here is a look at the play as he beats Flames goalie Brian Elliott for what the Oilers hope will be the first of many goals in the league.

That is a soft goal for Elliott to give up, something that was a pretty big problem for him most of the night.

The Oilers ended up with Puljujarvi, considered for months leading up to the draft to be one of the top-three players in the 2016 class, after the Columbus Blue Jackets passed on him at No. 3 to take Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Now that Matthews and Puljujarvi have already combined for five goals in their debuts, there is going to be some pressure on No. 2 pick Patrik Laine to have a big game for the Winnipeg Jets.

Columbus sends No. 3 overall pick Dubois back to junior

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Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ stint as a NHLer was brief.

On Wednesday, the Jackets did as expected and returned Dubois — the No. 3 overall pick at this year’s draft — to his junior club in QMJHL Cape Breton.

Yesterday, some eyebrows were raised when Dubois was listed on Columbus’ opening-night roster, only for various outlets to report the move was purely salary cap related. Alex Wennberg, who was sent down to AHL Lake Erie on Tuesday, has since been recalled and will be available for selection when the Jackets take on the Boston in their season-opener tomorrow.

Dubois, 18, was always a longshot to make the Blue Jackets this year, even though he liked his chances. Some of that could’ve been posturing, as Kekalainen and the Jackets surprised many by taking Dubois at the draft ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi, the talented Finnish winger who will make his NHL debut tonight for Edmonton.

At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, Dubois has NHL size and should be in line for a monster season with the Screaming Eagles. He had 42 goals and 99 points in just 62 games last year.

Jackets release Stoll, Aulie, Bergeron and Brown from PTOs

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Columbus’ training camp was, at one point, filled with veteran invitees.

But not anymore.

On Wednesday, the club announced the release of four players from their professional tryouts — defenseman Keith Aulie, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, right wing Mike Brown and center Jarret Stoll.

Of the four, Stoll is the most prominent release. The 34-year-old, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, saw an opportunity in Columbus given the club’s relative lack of depth down the middle, and was hopeful to continue his NHL career after splitting last season between the Rangers and Wild.

But it didn’t work out.

Head coach John Tortorella has enough options at center with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson, and there is hope Pierre-Luc Dubois — the No. 3 overall pick at this year’s draft — can crack the opening-night roster.

Stoll did anticipate the possibility of getting released but, earlier this week, told the Columbus Dispatch getting dropped from his PTO wouldn’t mean he’d contemplate retirement.

“I definitely think I have a lot left in the tank and my body feels good,” Stoll said. “I understand the game is getting younger – young, skilled and fast — but I feel like I can still contribute.”

Brown, a journeyman tough guy, didn’t do enough to stand out and earn a contract. Same goes with Aulie and Bergeron, both of whom were always likely to end up getting dropped from their respective offers. Columbus has a fairly deep blueline at the moment, especially with prized rookie Zach Werenski expected to play a significant role this year.

Shocking: Tortorella emphasizes ‘mental toughness’

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Without any clues, if you had to pick one word to describe what John Tortorella might be looking for, what would it be?

There’s a strong chance many would pick “toughness” (or, OK, maybe a variation such as “grit”) and you’d be right.

After a World Cup of Hockey in which Team USA’s pursuit of toughness bordered, at times, on the comical, Tortorella kept the same themes going with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think that’s the fine line of winning and losing,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “How do you handle yourself in those little situations where it’s, ‘Man, what do (I) give? Or, do (I) give in?’

“I’ve said it from day one, our mental toughness needs to be changed and this is part of the process.”

Specifically, Tortorella was talking about the Blue Jackets going through what the Columbus Dispatch describes as an especially “grueling” practice early on in training camp. But, honestly, it feels like it can be Torts’ request for just about anything hockey-related.

(It would be a refreshing bit of trolling if Tortorella decided to talk about finesse for an entire press conference.)

To some extent, talk of toughness can probably be chalked up to “coach-speak.”

Still, it’s tough not to wonder if the 2016-17 season might serve as a litmus test for Torts’ way of thinking and how it may influence the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even when it’s not Torts making the decisions or at least dishing out the soundbytes, the Blue Jackets seem fixated on intangibles. Consider how GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about character while elaborating on the divisive decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over, say, Jesse Puljujärvi.

For all the blue collar talk, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a cheap team, with the 2016-17 version coming in at a cap hit of about $69 million.

In a multitude of ways, Columbus is paying a premium for intangibles and toughness, with Torts carrying that focus to an extreme. It should be fascinating to see how this all shakes out … even if Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play could ultimately be the real make-or-break factor for the Blue Jackets.