Monday, July 30, 2012

Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon part of Columbus rebuild

There are always two sides to a deal. Even if everyone believes the Rangers stole Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets still received two solid NHLers who can contribute right away to their rebuild.

Brandon Dubinsky is an established two-way forward who can play almost anywhere. Whether at center or on the left side, he will bring experience and leadership to the league's worst team. Having gone deep last postseason, he'll be determined to turn a laughingstock around. The trade might serve as motivation to prove his former club wrong. He's due for a bounce back season. Now, he'll get to play more consistent minutes under Todd Richards, which should benefit a player entering his prime.

Artem Anisimov is a couple of years younger with potentially a higher ceiling. The lanky Russian has more skill. Despite his skating, he's capable of evolving into a 20-25 goal, 60-point scorer. What he becomes depends on consistency and strength. . If he can improve in these facets, the 24-year old could combine with Dubinsky to turn what looks like a bad trade into a good one. It's not like they're garbage with both second liners who were at instances misused by John Tortorella. With a new team that doesn't boast as much talent up front, each will be looked upon to elevate their level. A challenge that makes following Columbus intriguing. You want to see each do well. Both were well liked here and deserve a fresh start.

Tim Erixon remains a prospect at this stage, having only played in 18 games last year. Hardly given ideal ice-time, he could have a chance to crack the Jackets out of camp. At 21, the former Calgary first round pick who came to New York for Roman Horak spent most of last season with the Connecticut Whale. Over 52 games, he tallied 33 points (3-30-33) with 42 penalty minutes while registering four assists during the postseason. Once the Whale were eliminated in the second round, Erixon spent the rest of the season with the Rangers during their run to the Conference Finals. Even though he didn't play, it's still a good experience that could prove beneficial. He practiced with the team and probably learned a great deal under John Tortorella. He's still considered to have a bright future but now is on his third NHL club before he's scratched the surface. If he is to stick with Columbus, he'll have to surpass players ahead of him on a revamped blueline that features Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin. He'll be competing with John Moore and David Savard.

For Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon, it'll be a new challenge. They'll have to adjust to life in a new city while also probably having to deal with adversity. Especially in one of the league's strongest divisions. Right now, the Blue Jackets rank last in the Central behind St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville and Chicago. All of which went to the postseason. Those are established teams who should all be competitive once again. Especially with the Predators keeping cornerstone Shea Weber. Despite Nick Lidstrom's retirement, the Red Wings still boast plenty of arsenal in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard. Don't expect a slip up. The Blues and Hawks both are loaded. Neither lost much this summer. It'll be tough climbing for Columbus. Just the divisional games alone could put them in a hole.

When looking at the roster GM Scott Howson's putting together, much depends on how quickly the team meshes. It's never easy when you bring new players in. There won't be any pressure. Expectations are low. Howson acquired Sergei Bobrovsky from the Flyers to upgrade in net. He'll likely split time with Steve Mason before Richards chooses a starter. Gone is former captain Rick Nash, who leads by a mile in most offensive categories. Ironically, ex-Flyer R.J. Umberger ranks in the top five in goals and points. He's been a good player. If you toss out a contract that sees him earn an average cap hit of $4.6 million per year, he's solid overall. He won't blow you away but is usually good for 20+ goals and 50 points. No doubt he must improve on the 20-20-40 from '11-12. Along with ex-Blueshirt Vinny Prospal, Johnson, Wisniewski, Tyutin and Dubinsky, they'll be looked towards for leadership.

It will take time. The West is a very difficult conference that also boasts defending champ Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose. I still expect Phoenix to surprise even if Shane Doan departs. They have one of the game's best coaches in Dave Tippett who has a strong system. With Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Edmonton all on the rise along with free spending Calgary, it should be a struggle for Columbus. Sometimes, when you're written off you can sneak up on teams. Without the Nash distraction, they should be able to focus more on hockey. That could only be positive moving forward.


West Summer Rankings

1.Los Angeles
3.St. Louis
6.San Jose

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