On paper, the 2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets may be the best roster the young franchise has ever put on the ice.
With all the key components of the team returning, and season ticket sales up, pressure will be felt in the Jackets locker room to succeed—a feeling that does not usually resonate there.
Here are five Blue Jackets under the most pressure to succeed in a season that has the club competing with nine returning playoff teams in the new Eastern Conference.
There were rumors Sergei Bobrovsky could bolt for the KHL after winning the Vezina Trophy last season, but luckily for the Blue Jackets, they ironed out a deal that keeps Bob in Columbus the next two seasons.
While there's no denying how spectacular Bobrovsky was last season, he will have to once again display his dominance between the pipes to prove that his 2013 season was not just a fluke.
He showed flashes of success in Philadelphia. His first season there in 2010-11 was pretty good, with a 28-13-8 record, 2.59 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. It was not enough to keep the Flyers from signing free agent Ilya Bryzgalov, and Bob fluttered as a backup. His save percentage dropped below .900, and his GAA rose to 3.02.
The Jackets' ability to succeed will hinge on Bobrovsky following up last year with an excellent encore performance, and it's in his best interest to get them to the next level given he has two years to try and earn a long-term payday.
The Marian Gaborik trade appears to have worked for both parties involved thus far.
Gaborik, Derick Brassard and John Moore were all good candidates for a change of scenery to spark their performance.
After only managing nine goals and 10 assists in 35 contests with the Rangers in 2013, Gaborik scored three goals and five assists in just 12 games for the Blue Jackets, playing a big part in their playoff push that fell a tiebreaker short of succeeding.
With one more year on his contract, if he can put up numbers closer to his 2011-12 season, it'll go a long way in making the Blue Jackets a team that could qualify for the playoffs and make some noise once they arrive there.
The Jackets will be counting on him for first-line type production.
Jack Johnson will have a major leadership role on this team whether or not head coach Todd Richards decides to put a "C" on his sweater this season.
The veteran from Indianapolis, Ind. will resume his role as No. 1 defenseman with the team this season. And now that most consider the Blue Jackets a threat to make the playoffs, that leadership role is more important than ever.
And if he can manage the pressure the way he has in past playoff games—12 points in 12 games—and Olympic competition, this season could pay great dividends for both Johnson and the Jackets.
If Nathan Horton can play as well as he did in Boston, he could be one of the most valuable players on the team.
The nine-year veteran has been a member of two Eastern Conference championship teams since he was traded from the Panthers to the Bruins, and with the six-year, $24 million contract the Blue Jackets handed him, it'll eventually be expected that he helps the Blue Jackets at least compete for the same type of result.
Horton is another great playoff performer. He has 15 goals and 21 assists in 43 games. If the Blue Jackets get to the playoffs, they'll need him to perform this way if they want to go anywhere.
James Wisniewski has had a plethora of injury issues since 2010.
When he's healthy, there's no arguing that this is an all-around defenseman that is a great asset for a team to have among its top four blueliners.
However, with a clean slate of health being a rarity for the 29-year-old, this season may be his last to prove himself useful for the Blue Jackets.
With 2012 No. 2 overall pick Ryan Murray signed and ready to join an already solid defensive core with or without Wisniewski, the veteran could see his role diminished and his time in Columbus coming to an end if he can't stay on the ice and perform at the level that earned him a big contract back in the summer of 2011.