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Columbus Blue Jackets Flying Under the Radar, Pose as Dark Horses

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If you’re already picking your postseason favorites out of the eastern conference, it’s easy to see how the Columbus Blue Jackets can be overlooked.

Boston, Florida, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington, the list goes on-and-on for playoff-potent squads out east. Columbus simply doesn’t have the flavor.

And it’s perfectly justified. The Blue Jackets have berthed into a Cup-run opportunity just once in the last seven seasons, and in that one appearance they were ousted by the Penguins in round one.

However, with the health of one Sergei Bobrovsky, the emergence of their multiple top 10 draft selections and quality veteran leadership, Columbus may turn out to be a team that shouldn’t be slept on after all.

Just look throughout the Blue Jackets’ roster and you’ll see nothing but talented young skaters.

Zach Werenski, a No. 8 overall in 2015, is leading the team in points (5); Ryan Murray, No. 2 overall in 2012 looks ready for that next level; Seth Jones, No. 4 overall in 2013 is starting out strong; Brandon Saad, a Cup winner with more comfortability this year; Alexander Wennberg, No. 14 overall in 2013 is coming into his own.

Trying to stop and take a breath is next to impossible when you’re analyzing this roster. And it’s certainly backstopped by a boatload of youthful skill on the blue line.

“I think it’s great things to come,” Jackets’ Seth Jones said. “I think [the] potential is going to be unbelievable. Zach’s (Werenski) played his first couple games here, he looks great. I had a chance to play with him a couple games now. Ryan Murray, obviously, brings a lot to the table offensively and defensively.

Then down through the defensive lineup. We’re still young, so we’re learning a lot every game and the staff’s doing a good job of helping us with that. But, we’re going to be learning a lot and getting better every game here.”

To start the season—albeit they lost their first two games—Columbus defeated a highly-accomplished Chicago Blackhawks squad and then shutout a star-studded Dallas Stars lineup in Dallas. There’s still trials and tribulations to endure moving forward, growing pains that are inevitable, but those wins are a good indication of how hard-nosed this team could wind up being.

Stability from top to bottom is what’s going to aid the Blue Jackets.

This group has oodles of young talent but their 2017 Cup chances are sweetened with guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell. That’s how the Penguins were able to hoist the hardware: a good mix of a youth and age. Of course, they have to compliment one another. That’s prevalent in Columbus, though.

What’s encouraging about these Blue Jackets is their quick transition from one end to the other and their ability overall to make plays with their legs. In a league where speed kills, Columbus has the traction to keep up with many and the stones to grind out those difficult wins.

“I think teams, when you talk about speed the first thing you think about is just the skating of the players,” head coach John Tortorella said. “I think if you’re even a little bit, as far as the foot speed, slower than other teams, if you have a mindset of playing quick, I think you can be a quick team. And we’re certainly trying to play quick.”

And they’re quickly rising, too. Remember, the landscape in which Columbus is constructed is how a lot of other teams got to where they’re stationed now.

“I want us to open up and take some chances. We have the people to do that,” Tortorella said. “We have to be a team that gets up the ice quickly, is creative, and lets its offensive people make plays. We can’t be afraid.”

And looks as though they won’t be.

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