UmbergerThis past season, the Blue Jackets missed the playoffs by a mere five points but management feels that the club will be playing in the postseason this year.  If they just could add a few more goals to an already solid young roster...

When word came out that Blackhawks scorer R.J. Umberger was available, the Jackets jumped on the opportunity and paid a heavy price, giving away next year's first rounder. 

How will the move affect the Blue Jackets offensive lines and race to playoffs?  Read further for Part 1 of a 3 part series being put together by new assistant GM Bobby Fuhrman...
Line 1
LW Ryan Malone, C Olli Jokinen, RF T.J. Oshie

The top line of the Blue Jackets will once again be anchored by veteran Finnish center Olli Jokinen who notched at least 1 point per game for the 3rd consecutive season (34 G, 51 A).  Jokinen’s offensive skills have been on the decline over the past few seasons but with four years left on his deal, the Jackets are hoping that Jokinen can continue to be a productive top line center.  On the left, he’ll have Ryan Malone who netted 32 goals to go along with a +18 rating last season.  Malone is a strong and durable player who can crash the net and score the garbage but he also brings a lot of skill to the table and has been working on his scoring touch a little more this offseason.  On the other wing, twenty-three year old T.J. Oshie isn’t going to score goals the way you’d like a top-line guy to, but along with Malone, it gives the Blue Jackets two forwards that will back check and be responsible on the defensive end.  Defensive play is always important when you’re playing with Olli Jokinen as he’s been known to be a subpar back checker and defender.  Finally, it’s important to note that T.J. Oshie has been really seeing the ice well and finding teammates for open looks at the net.  It is his much improved passing that is the primary reason he will see time on the top line.  The Jackets hope that Oshie will give Malone and Jokinen a extra looks each game that they haven’t been getting in the past.   

Line 2
LW R.J. Umberger, C Dave Bolland, RW Erik Christensen                

This offseason, the Blue Jackets acquired scoring winger R.J. Umberger from the Chicago Blackhawks for a 2010 1st round selection.  In an effort to spread out the scoring, Umberger will likely start off playing alongside Dave Bolland and Erik Christensen on the second line.  Last season, Umberger racked up 21 goals but the Jackets have to be expecting him to improve upon that this season as his finishing ability has really improved (57 to 71).  On the other wing, Erik Christensen will return and try for a 4th consecutive 40-point season.  Christensen is not a spectacular player but like first-line RW T.J. Oshie, he’s an above average defender and will look for his teammates on the offensive end of the ice.  Center Dave Bolland is another young player with some upside and it looks like he’s finally starting to realize it after a shaky 2008-09 showing.  While Bolland put up 47 points, his 6% shooting percentage left a lot to be desired.  The word out of Jackets camp has been that Bolland is getting a lot more pucks past goalies when he gets the chance and he’s turning into a terror on the back check.  The big question will be whether the Blue Jackets can get consistent scoring out of this line that they didn’t get out of their 2nd line last year.  With the addition of R.J. Umberger and the improvements to Dave Bolland’s game, the outlook isn’t as bad as some outsiders might think.    

Line 3
LW Jay McClement, C Frans Nielsen, RW Alexander Steen

Third-line center Frans Nielsen is possibly the most improved of all of the Blue Jackets forwards and he should see consistent ice-time, something that hasn’t happened for him so far playing in just 18 career NEFHL games.  The biggest reason for the improvement is that Frans has finally realized that he’s never going to net 20 goals and he needs to do other things if he wants to stick in the NEFHL.  In effect, he went through his most intense offseason conditioning program of his career and has come back with a ton of energy and enthusiasm and is seeing the ice very well.  He’s not a strong guy but will motor around the ice and try to throw his weight around when can.  Another improvement to his game is his passing, but the question is how much wingers Jay McClement and Alexander Steen will benefit as neither are expected to score many goals.  Steen and McClement have a very similar style of play and the lone difference is McClement looks to score a little more while Steen looks to pass.  The Jackets probably aren’t going to get more than 25 goals from this line so its going to be important for them to play good defense and stay out of the penalty box.  

Line 4
LW Jerred Smithson, C Craig Adams, RW Byron Bitz

Well, this is the fourth line folks, you aren’t going to see much scoring from most teams when you get this far down in the ranks and the Blue Jackets will be no different.  All three have well below scoring abilities, including Byron Bitz whose scoring has really tailed off as of late (64 SC to 51 SC).  However, when Bitz tryed to feature himself as a scorer he spent all of his time buried in the minors as other areas of his game were lacking.  That is no longer the case, as he has transformed himself into an NHL quality player by getting stronger, working harder, stopping with the bad penalties and playing plus defense.  Despite the improvements, he’s still not a great defender but Craig Adams and Jerred Smithson are and will pick up the slack if Bitz needs them too.  Adams makes a lot of money for a 4th liner and while there is no way he’s going to play up to his 1.5 million salary, he should help keep other teams off the scoreboard when he’s on the ice.