Alexander Wennberg

Blue Jackets look to Swedish players for scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to Sweden to help fill the scoring void left by departed star forward Artemi Panarin.

More specifically, the Blue Jackets are relying on a quartet of Swedes – two of them rookies who haven’t played in North America before – for some scoring punch as they open the season Friday night against Toronto at Nationwide Arena.

Twenty-year-old Emil Bemstrom and 26-year-old Jakob Lilja played together on the same Swedish elite league team last year, and both made the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster out of coach John Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp.

Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2017 draft, was a scoring machine in Sweden. Lilja was signed as a free agent and impressed the Blue Jackets in the prospects tournament in Michigan. Both could end up skating together on the fourth line on either side of veteran Riley Nash.

”It’s a really different game,” Lilja said. ”Smaller ice, so like if you lose the puck in the wrong places it’s creating scoring chances right away. The players are really skilled, so you don’t want to lose the puck to them. Overall, it’s like a high-speed game. Even at the pro level in Sweden it’s really defensive. So just better players and smaller ice, so everything goes a little bit faster.”

The other two members of the Swedish coalition will be expected to bear more of the burden as the Blue Jackets try to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Center Alexander Wennberg, 25, will try to fulfill the great promise he showed three seasons ago when he put up 59 points for Columbus and seemed poised to break out. Veteran Gustav Nyquist is a solid top-six forward who was signed as a free agent after registering 60 points last season with Detroit and San Jose. The two are slated to skate together on the second line.

Rookie Alexandre Texier is expected to take Panarin’s place on the top line with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and winger Cam Atkinson . Team veterans including captain Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson all will have to step it up to compensate for the loss of Panarin’s team-leading 87 points a season ago.

No worries about the blue line, though.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones continue to make up one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and there is some good depth behind them.

Joonas Korpisalo will be given a chance to be the everyday goalie after the free-agent departure of Vezina Trophy-winning stopper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with Florida. Rookie Elvis Merlikins also will see time in the net.

Last season was filled with drama surrounding the pending departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. Tortorella said none of that is hanging in the air anymore.

”I think as the season begins here and all the questions start coming our way, I think there’s an inner camaraderie about the definition of guys wanting to be here,” he said. ”I think that’s really important, to have a team that’s going to try to be competitive in this league and stay competitive, is people wanting to be here. We have that. I think they’re rallying around that. This will grow as the season goes on.”

Blue Jackets’ Alexander Wennberg forced from game after hit to head (Video)

17 Comments

The bad hits keep coming on the second night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

First, Josh Anderson was ejected from the Columbus Blue Jackets game against the Washington Capitals after a boarding major on Michal Kempny. Then, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was sent for an early shower for a dirty hit on Tommy Wingels of the Boston Bruins.

Now, Capitals forward Tom Wilson drilled Alexander Wennberg with a hit to the head, forcing the later from the game.

With Anderson’s ejection and Wennberg’s injury, the Blue Jackets are down to 10 forwards. Still, they managed to tie the game 3-3 late in the third period off the stick of Seth Jones.

George Parros at the NHL Department of Player Safety is going to have himself a busy day on Friday.

UPDATE:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets extend PTOs to Sheppard, Pihlstrom

4 Comments

With a rather large pool of unsigned veteran players to choose from, the Blue Jackets have opted to increase the competition in their training camp. To that end, Columbus announced that forwards James Sheppard and Antti Pihlstrom have been extended professional tryout offers.

Sheppard is coming off of a one-year, $1.3 million deal for the 2014-15 campaign. He started the season with San Jose, but was dealt to the Rangers on March 1 in exchange for a 2016 fourth round pick. He finished the season with seven goals and 18 points in 71 contests.

The 27-year-old is a veteran of 394 games and has recorded 91 points and 192 penalty minutes over that span.

Pihlstrom is a different case as the 30-year-old hasn’t played in the NHL since 2008-09. Instead he’s spent parts of the last four campaigns in the KHL. He had 16 goals and 28 points in 60 contests with Ufa Salavat Yulayev last season.

Columbus only has 11 forwards inked to one-way contracts, but that doesn’t include Alexander Wennberg or Boone Jenner. When those two are factored in, it’s hard to see Sheppard or Pihlstrom making Columbus’ opening game roster unless there’s an injury.

Dano ‘an exciting player’ for Blackhawks

10 Comments

Assuming Artem Anisimov can stay healthy, the 27-year-old should make a fine replacement for Brad Richards at the second-line center spot in Chicago.

It’s the other player that came to the Blackhawks in yesterday’s surprising Brandon Saad trade that’s a bit of a wildcard.

Forward Marko Dano is only 20 years old. The 27th overall pick in 2013, he has just 35 NHL games, with eight goals, to his name.

“He’s an exciting player,” Chicago GM Stan Bowman said, per NHL.com. “He came on to the scene with Columbus last year with maybe not a lot of fanfare, but I think he impressed people. He certainly impressed our scouts with his all-around game. I think when you look at the potential for [Anisimov and Dano] for years to come, we’re very excited to have a [center] and a winger. Those are the main points of the trade.”

Dano, playing on a line with Alexander Wennberg and Scott Hartnell, finished 2014-15 with 15 points in the Jackets’ final 18 games.

“He’s playing big, playing strong, physical in the corners and physical in the battles,” coach Todd Richards said in March, per FOX Sports Ohio. “There’s a lot of skill and ability in him.”

Sure, the Blackhawks would’ve preferred to keep Saad “for years to come.” But the salary cap forced Bowman to make a tough decision, in the pursuit of flexibility.

“We’ve got a lot of options we can pursue now,” the GM said. “It’s too early to tell what we’re going to do, but I would say everything is a possibility going forward.”

Related: Brandon Saad is ‘just out for a Sunday stroll,’ scoring big goal after big goal

Jackets’ Wennberg remains in Vancouver as Columbus visits Calgary

The Columbus Blue Jackets will have forwards Boone Jenner and Jeremy Morin in the lineup tonight when they visit the Calgary Flames this afternoon.

The news isn’t as good for center Alexander Wennberg.

Wennberg arrived at the team’s practice in Vancouver on Friday with a swollen, infected hand and was told to remain in Vancouver as the team travelled to Calgary.

The 20-year-old has three goals and 16 points in 61 games this season with the Jackets.

According Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, Jackets’ coach Todd Richards said Wennberg suffered a cut recently that required stitches, and the wound has become infected.

Jenner, who has six goals and six assists in 20 games this season, has missed 40 games due to a stress fracture in his back.

Morin, 23, missed 25 games due to an upper body injury. He has a goal and three points in 17 games with Columbus this season.

In a separate transaction the club reassigned Ryan Craig to the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons.

Columbus won its only other meeting with Calgary 3-2 on Oct. 17.

The Flames enter Saturday’s action with a one-point lead on the L.A. Kings for the third seed in the Pacific Division.