COLUMBUS (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets will open the new season on Friday night with a new superstar, some impressive rookies and a familiar player — captain Nick Foligno — in a new position.
The Blue Jackets hope winger Artemi Panarin, acquired in a trade with Chicago for Brandon Saad, will be the elite sniper needed to reach the next level and get deeper into the playoffs this time around. Columbus made the postseason with a franchise record season last year but was eliminated in five games by eventual champion Pittsburgh.
Panarin will skate on the top line with center Alexander Wennberg, newly signed to a six-year contract, and winger Cam Atkinson, who was the team’s leading scorer last season.
“He’s a dangerous guy,” coach John Tortorella said of Panarin, who skated on Chicago’s top line with Patrick Kane, tallying 31 goals and 43 assists last year. “There are so many things that he can do.”
The versatile Foligno has been moved to center to help solidify a lineup missing Boone Jenner because of an injury and, until the last preseason game, Brandon Dubinsky, who had surgery on his hand in the offseason.
“With Nick it doesn’t matter,” Tortorella said. “He can play all the positions.”
Pierre-Luc Dubois, the 19-year-old forward who was the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, looks ready to start fulfilling the lofty expectations he’s been carrying. Forward Sonny Milano, a first-round pick in 2014, also will start the season with the Blue Jackets after appearing in four games last year. He’ll likely skate on the second line alongside Foligno and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
“I had a pretty decent year last year in the American (Hockey) League,” the 21-year-old Milano said. “So I feel confident. It’s my fourth camp coming in, so definitely I think it’s my time to show myself here.”
Tortorella said Milano’s progress is evident.
“He looks very comfortable to me,” Tortorella said. “His most encouraging part to me is that he’s beginning to listen and understand some of the things he has to do away from the puck.”
Center Zac Dalpe, a former Ohio State hockey All-American, also made the roster after being picked up off waivers from Minnesota.
Forward Josh Anderson ended his contract standoff this week and signed a three-year, $5.5 million pact. The 23-year-old Anderson, big and fast, had 17 goals and 12 assists in his first full season in the league in 2016-17, and he figures in the team’s future plans. However, he won’t be ready to play in the opener, and Tortorella said he has “no idea” when Anderson could be ready.
Tortorella’s frustration with Anderson’s holdout was evident, though.
“Listen, we had Josh penciled in,” he said. “He’s a really good player. But when a guy doesn’t show it gives other guys opportunities, and it opens your eyes. Some other guys have kind of kicked in the door….It’s been good for the organization to go through this and see what some other kids can do.”
Another rookie, 20-year-old defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, will start the season paired on a line with Ryan Murray.