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Cullen: Expectations going up for Blue Jackets

Scott Cullen
9/9/2011 1:54:30 PM
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An aggressive offseason has elevated expectations in Columbus, which makes them a much more interesting team than they've been in recent years. Fantasy owners will be able to go for more than just Rick Nash.

Nash has topped 30 goals for six of the last seven seasons, twice going for 40, and should be one of the game's most productive wingers now that he has Jeff Carter joining him on the Blue Jackets' top line. There may end up being a time when they can be separated to provide a more balanced attack, but right now the Blue Jackets are expected to load up their top line with Nash and Carter providing a rare combination of size and skill.

Like Nash, Carter has been durable and has three straight seasons with at least 30 goals, topping out at 46 in 2008-2009. With more responsibility in Columbus, Carter could see additional ice time that wasn't available in Philadelphia, but with that ice time will come more risk, the chance that his plus-minus could head south if things don't go well for the team as a whole. In any case, Nash and Carter should be one of the more fascinating and productive duos to watch this season, provided they can find a balance between shooting and playmaking, as both have tended towards counting more goals than assists.

Whoever ends up skating with Nash and Carter will be in a great position to put up points, and R.J. Umberger might be the one given that opportunity. Umberger is coming off a career-high 57-point season and has played with Carter before, in Philadelphia.

The summer's big free agent signing, defenceman James Wisniewski, should finally be able to put down some roots after bouncing around to four teams in the last three seasons. Wisniewski enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, putting up 51 points, including 29 on the power play. If he can give the Blue Jackets a competent power play quarterbck -- something that's been missing for years -- then production could go up for many throughout the lineup.

Even if the Blue Jackets have a more potent attack this year, the story of their season may rest with goaltending. Steve Mason has struggled since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008-2009 and he simply has to be better if Columbus is going to end up with significantly improved results. Given Mason's struggles, consider that backup Mark Dekanich, who has put up great numbers in the AHL, could end up playing quite a bit in his first NHL season.

With the focus on the Blue Jackets' top line, there could be value to find from secondary scorers like Antoine Vermette, Vaclav Prospal (brought in to replace an injured Kristian Huselius) or Derick Brassard. In Brassard's case, he may be better served avoiding matchups that come with being the top line centre and that could allow him to regain a decent level of production.

Columbus also has some other young players worthy of attention. Perhaps the most intriguing is centre Ryan Johansen, who is expected to make the team after dominating the WHL last season. The Blue Jackets are going to ease Johansen in, but his value has been skyrocketing over the last couple years and if he can keep ascending this year, he might be a sleeper candidate for the Calder Trophy.

Winger Matt Calvert opened his NHL career last season with 11 goals in 25 games, but didn't score any goals in his next 17 games, so expectations will be modest going into his sophomore campaign.

The addition of Wisniewski might reduce the role for blueliner Grant Clitsome, but Clitsome impressed last season, putting up 19 points in 31 games, while playing more than 21 minutes per game. He's worth consideration in deep leagues, just in the hopes that he might be able to build on last year's numbers.

For leagues that incorporate penalty minutes, wingers Jared Boll and Derek Dorsett can provide value because they can wreak some havoc -- they combined for 366 PIM last season.

Expectations are going up in Columbus this season and that means more attention will be paid to the Blue Jackets on draft day, but the attention is deserved so there could be some value available.

Depth Chart - Columbus Blue Jackets

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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