Filed under: Blue Jackets, NHL GeneralWelcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.
Who's In: Nikita Filatov, LW (draft pick), RJ Umberger, C (trade, Phi), Kristian Huselius, LW (UFA, Cal), Raffi Torres, LW (trade, Edm), Fedor Tyutin, D (trade, NYR), Christian Backman, D (trade, NYR), Mike Commodore, D (UFA, Ott)
Who's Out: Nikolai Zherdev, RW (trade, NYR), Dan Fritsche, C (trade, NYR), Gilbert Brule, C (trade, Edm), Ron Hainsey, D (UFA, Atl), Dick Tarnstrom, D (UFA, SEL), and Duvie Westcott, D (buy-out, KHL), Joakim Lindstrom (trade, Ana)
What's Changed: The most obvious different between this year's Blue Jackets and last year's is personnel. As you can see above, there have been a number of changes to the Columbus roster. The question, of course, is what effect those changes will have on their place in the standings.
Of the acquistions, RJ Umberger and Kristian Huselius are the highest-profile. The Jackets are evidently counting on Umberger to take the #1 center spot for them between Huselius and Rick Nash. Umberger has not carried that kind of load as an NHL player, but it's possible a linemate like Nash could put him over the hump on that one. Huselius has good offensive skills, but how he will fit in with Ken Hitchcock's system remains to be seen. With the trade to New York of Nikolai Zherdev, the Jackets got rid of their resident petulent European, but in Huselius, they may have acquired another.
Also up front, new faces in Columbus could include two #6 picks: Nikita Filatov (2008) and Derick Brassard (2006). Filatov will miss rookie camp with an apparent hairline fracture in his fibula and will have to prove himself in North American play. Brassard isn't a stict newcomer, having played 17 games for the Jackets last season, but the team is looking for him to become a regular as a possible second line center.
The personnel changes continued on the blueline, but aren't worth going over. James Mirtle put it well at the time of the Zherdev trade:
For Columbus, they pick up two second-pairing blueliners to go with all of the others they have.
In other words, the Jackets remain uninspiring on defense.
In goal, nothing has changed. Pascal Leclaire remains the guy,
Who's On The Hook: In this the franchise's ninth season, entire squad need to step up their play if they want to post their first above-.500 year. At this point, it's difficult to pinpoint one or two players, but a lot of pressure is on RJ Umberger going in.
Where They'll Finish: The Jackets have a fair amount of talent and a good coach, but it's difficult seeing them finishing higher than third in the Central. The playoff drought seems likely to continue.