Every season when training camp comes around, there’s usually a major focus on the players who may make a surprising impact and jump into the opening night roster. For that to happen, however, someone needs to be beaten for a roster spot. While there are many that are almost certainly safe, the further down the lineup you look, the less secure a player’s spot is. There are also quite a few looking to fight for a role such as Nick Blankenburg, Kirill Marchenko, and even 2022 sixth overall pick David Jiricek. Let’s take a look at a few of the players who may have difficulty keeping a roster spot following this season’s training camp.
Fringe defenseman Gavin Bayreuther became an unlikely fan favorite last season following his departure from the Blue Jackets during the Seattle Expansion Draft and subsequent return to Columbus just a few weeks later. The 28-year-old had a major increase in his playing time last season, as he had spent a majority of his previous seasons bouncing between the NHL and American Hockey League since his debut with the Dallas Stars during the 2018-19 season.
Over the course of the 2021-22 season, Bayreuther saw his ice time fluctuate regularly. There were times he would be a healthy scratch for weeks at a time, especially early in the season. Toward the end of the season, however, he was in the lineup fairly regularly. The Blue Jackets currently have eight defensemen who were on the roster to end the season and added free agent Erik Gudbranson in the offseason. Factor in a few others who are pushing for a spot and Bayreuther is going to have a difficult month ahead of him. If he’s the eighth defenseman by the end of camp, it’s likely he’ll get the Scott Harrington treatment and spend the remainder of his contract with the Cleveland Monsters if he clears waivers.
Mathieu Olivier was acquired in the offseason from the Nashville Predators and many saw him as a safe bet for the opening night roster to add a bit of grit to the lineup. He has never been an NHL regular to this point in his career and with the aforementioned acquisition of Gudbranson adding some of the same qualities, there’s really no reason for Brad Larsen to have Olivier playing regularly.
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Olivier will certainly get some playing time during the season, especially in games against divisional rivals which have the potential to become very physical. With a young, skilled set of players making up a majority of the lineup, there will be some need for someone to protect them occasionally. Unlike Bayreuther, I don’t see Olivier being sent down to start the season as he’s the type of player who is a perfect extra forward. He can fill in when necessary without causing any strain on a younger player who would otherwise constantly be called up and sent down. If there’s a long-term injury as well, the team can reserve the option of calling someone else up and keeping Olivier in the press box.
Justin Danforth had a strong rookie season which culminated in a nomination for the Masterton Trophy, however, his age and low potential for growth will make it difficult for him to maintain a roster spot long-term. He is already spending the majority of his playing time in the bottom half of the lineup. With prospects like Trey Fix-Wolansky playing a similar style, it’s likely he’ll be given the spot sooner rather than later. Making a strong NHL debut at the age of 28 years old is a very impressive feat and he certainly proved that he is deserving of a spot in the league. With that being said, no matter how much adversity a player has overcome in their career; a team always has to give an opportunity to the younger, higher potential option eventually.
Players like Bayreuther and Danforth would typically be on the opening night roster simply because there aren’t many other options, however, this has quickly changed over the last couple of seasons. Players like Dean Kukan, Harrington, and Riley Nash are recent examples of players who stuck around much longer than they should have simply due to a lack of competition. The organizational depth has created more competition for roster spots than we’ve seen in recent years. While it causes a more stressful training camp for the players, this is a step in the right direction for the organization as they push to re-establish themselves as playoff contenders.
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.