Columbus Blue Jackets: With Rick Nash Gone, Who Will Be Face of the Franchise?
When, and if, the 2012-2013 NHL season gets underway, the Columbus Blue Jackets will hit the ice for the first time without former captain and face of the franchise Rick Nash.
Nash was the team's most popular player for close to a decade with the Blue Jackets and after being traded to the New York Rangers in the offseason, Columbus will be forced to find a new face for their franchise.
The Nash trade was just one of the many moves made in the team's reshaping process, bringing in plenty of new faces, including players Mark Letestu, Jack Johnson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Artem Anisimov and Adrian Aucoin.
With an average age of about 25, the Blue Jackets are clearly trying to create a much younger team, with some players who have gained a lot of NHL experience at such a young age.
A lot of those younger players will be forced to step up their games without Nash's presence on the ice, as well as take on what may be an unfamiliar leadership role.
When looking at Columbus' roster for the upcoming season, there are four names that emerge as the leading candidates to be the face of the next chapter in Columbus Blue Jackets' history.
Since coming over from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008, RJ Umberger has become one of the most vocal leaders in the Jackets' locker room.
Although he has been one of the team's biggest leaders, he has never received the media attention he deserved because of the always popular Rick Nash.
Now with Nash gone to New York, Umberger could have an opportunity to take his game to the next level—taking on a bigger load and contributing more.
In his four seasons with the Jackets, the 30-year-old has scored 20-plus goals in every season and put together back-to-back 50-point years in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.
Unfortunately for Umberger, he may not be what Columbus is looking for in its' next face of the franchise.
Like previously mentioned, the Jackets are taking steps to become a younger team, which most likely means they will be looking for a young leader as well.
Although he may not be the next face of the franchise, Umberger is still the team's heart and soul and will continue to help lead these youngsters in the future.
With the Jackets looking for a young leader, one option could be one of the team's latest acqusitions.
Center Brandon Dubinsky was one of the key pieces acquired from the New York Rangers in the Rick Nash trade and is looking to make a name for himself in a smaller market.
Like RJ Umberger in Columbus, Dubinsky never seemed to have his time in the spotlight while in New York, with players like Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan around him on the roster.
Now Dubinsky comes onto a roster where he finds himself as one of the most recognized names in town and finally has an opportunity to put himself in the spotlight in Columbus.
He goes from a second- and third-line center in New York to an almost-guaranteed spot centering the Jackets' first line. If the 26-year-old can take advantage of his new role, he could drastically improve from his 10-goal season a year ago.
However, when it comes to being the next face of the Jackets' franchise, Dubinsky may not be considered to be the leading candidate.
If the Jackets could have a duo to be the next face of the franchise, defenseman James Wisniewski would surely fill one of those spots.
Wisniewski was the second-portion of the Jackets' busiest offseason to date back in the 2011 summer when he signed a six-year deal to be the team's main power play defenseman.
However, an early season suspension, as well as injuries, hindered Wisniewski's progression and fans weren't able to see what the Michigan native could do in a full season.
Although he was unable to play every game, Wisniewski helped the Jackets achieve some late-season success after the acquisition of Jack Johnson.
Together, the two defenseman have helped make the Columbus blue line the deepest it has been in years.
Wisniewski feels that he is one of the missing puzzle pieces to making this franchise a playoff contender and will be one of the key voices in the Jackets turning around their misfortunes from last season.
Unfortunately for the "Wiz," there can only be one player to serve as the team's face and that seems to be a clear choice.
As the three previous mentioned players could all serve as the next face of the Blue Jackets' franchise, the clear favorite is defenseman Jack Johnson.
Johnson, along with a first round draft pick, was acquired by Columbus when the team traded away center Jeff Carter.
As soon as the Michigan-native put on his Jackets' uniform, he began to make an impact—both on and off the ice.
Like mentioned in the previous slide, Johnson was a big part of the team's late season success as he continued to give it his all, even while the team was dead last in the league.
One of the main reasons Johnson is likely to be the next face of the franchise is the fact that he is the most recognized player on the Jackets' roster.
Johnson has spent time representing his country, as part of Team USA, not only during the 2010 and 2012 IIHF World Championships, where he served as captain, but also as a member of the 2010 USA hockey team during the Vancouver Olympics, where he received a silver metal.
Johnson seemed most poised to carry the flag for the Columbus Blue Jackets next season and he will have some big shoes to fill, but it is clear that he is up for the task.