August means NFL pre-season and the final stretch in the pennant races. It means golf's final major, sending kids back to school and getting those last few days in at the pool to drown away the scorching heat.
What it doesn't mean, however, is hockey.
That means it's up to people like me to lend my insight (or my two cents as some put it) into the upcoming season. Each week, I'll preview a different part of the season for the Blue Jackets. Topics will include (but aren't limited to): training camp, coaching, prospects, forwards, defense and a look at the CBJ goaltending.
For today, we'll look at training camp - something most of these players have never really experienced, especially if they've been in Columbus long enough.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock promised season-ticket holders an entirely different version of the training camp than the players have ever seen. It is known to many that previous camps held under the last coaching staff were less than productive. Many days, players skated a few laps, shot the breeze with each other and occasionally took part in 5-on-5 scrimmages.
"We won't be having any of that nonsense," Hitchcock told the Columbus media this summer. "From day one, the pedal is to the floor. We will work on special teams immediately."
Those words lift a weight off the shoulders of many Jacket fans, myself included. For the first time in seven years, players will be required to adhere to an all-inclusive team workout program. Those who think about coming to camp in anything but top shape might as well ask the skate sharpeners if they have room for one more on the staff.
An interesting mix of talent will arrive in Columbus mid-September. Veterans David Vyborny, Sergei Fedorov and Fredrik Modin will look to lend support and experience to youngsters Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Adam Pineault to name a few. This year, there are approximately 40 players with a legitimate chance to make the team.
Let's look at the prospects who may just turn some heads at camp:
1. Derick Brassard, C: An amazingly sound playmaker; it wouldn't shock many if he made the team out of camp. However, given GM Scott Howson's recent remarks about giving young players the necessary time to develop, he may need another year.
Projection: Final cut
2. Jakub Voracek, LW/RW: Touted as the most "NHL-ready" prospect to come out of the 2007 Entry Draft, Voracek may be young (only 17) but has shown the poise in Halifix that he can contribute in more ways than one offensively. If Nikolai Zherdev is traded before camp, this kid takes his spot.
Projection: Final cut
3. Geoff Platt, C: Platt was up and down from Syracuse most of 2005-2006 and earned a regular spot in the second half of last year. As an undrafted player, he carries the chip on his shoulder and plays his tail off every night. He showed signs of developing chemistry between Rick Nash and David Vyborny, and I think he'll slip into the lineup on opening night.
Projection: Roster player
4. Kris Russell, D: The most coveted of all prospects in the Columbus system, Russell is known to most as the next great offensive defenseman. He carries the smoothness and poise of a Scott Neidermayer and the heart of Nick Lidstrom. Given his frame (5'10, 170 pounds), he may need a year or two before he's an NHL regular.
Projection: Final cut, occasional call-up
This does also bode well for the Syracuse Crunch, who will likely bring in their most talented group in years.
The head coach has vowed that his team will be ready to battle from the get-go. And as far as the schedule goes, they better be. The Jackets open the 2007-08 campaign at home against the defending champion Anaheim Ducks.
Next week, we'll look at the coaching staff, and the tweaks made by Hitchcock this summer.
Until next time,