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2015-16 season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

After being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brandon Saad conceded he didn't know much about the team. He played in the West, and they're in the East -- their paths didn't cross often.

This much he knew: They were banged up beyond belief last season. They have lots of young talent. And once the shock of being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks subsided, he was excited to be a part of it all in Columbus.

"I'm looking forward to getting to know them," Saad said of his teammates. "They had a lot of good players and last year injuries hurt them. It's a young, exciting team that is looking forward and has that hunger to win. I'm really looking forward to it."

BEST NEW FACES

This begins and ends with Saad because the Blue Jackets pulled off one of the offseason's biggest stunners in trading for him. Teams hoard their young talent, so being able to pry away a burgeoning 22-year-old power forward with two Stanley Cups and 67 games of postseason experience was a fantastic move by Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

Now Saad goes from the quiet kid in the Blackhawks dressing room to one of the more experienced postseason producers with the Blue Jackets.

"I'm just trying to bring my experiences and be myself," Saad said. "They still have a lot of good leaders there, and I'm just there to help out and be who I am."

Saad isn't going to walk in and light things up offensively for the Blue Jackets. As good as he is, he scored 23 goals last season, so expectations need to be kept in check. This isn't a 50-goal guy the Blue Jackets picked up.

That said, his role with Columbus will expand. The expectation is that he'll get plenty of time with Ryan Johansen on the top line, and his power play time should expand from the 2:11 he saw last season in Chicago. A 30-goal season is certainly a reasonable expectation for a guy who had a goals-per-60-minutes ratio of 1.05 last season -- second behind only Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks.

BIGGEST UNKNOWNS

The biggest area of question for the Blue Jackets is the defense, with Ryan Murray at the center of that unknown. The consensus among those in hockey is that Murray remains capable of developing into a top-pair defenseman if he can stay on the ice. We just haven't witnessed it over a prolonged stretch because of his injuries. The 21-year-old played in just 12 games last season and has played in 78 games since the Blue Jackets took him second overall in 2012.

He's a strong skater with poise that goes beyond his NHL experience, and this could be the season he fulfills expectations. That the Blue Jackets still haven't added veteran help on defense suggests they believe it will happen.

SURE THINGS

The sure thing comes in goal for the Blue Jackets, where Sergei Bobrovsky gives them a chance to win every single night he's in net. He has established himself as an above-average starter, with a save percentage of .923 in three seasons with the Blue Jackets. We're still not sure how good a playoff goaltender he is yet, with just a .890 save percentage in 13 games in the postseason, but we'll chalk those numbers up to inexperience and a small sample size.

The other sure thing is that this team will embrace its blue-collar identity instilled by coach Todd Richards and enforced by captain Nick Foligno. The Blue Jackets are a team with a worker-bee mentality with high-character guys Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, David Clarkson, Gregory Campbell and Scott Hartnell in place to guide the next generation of young Blue Jackets. That's very much by design.

WORLD CUP CANDIDATES

Ryan Johansen just misses the age cutoff for Team North America and will have his work cut out to make a Team Canada group loaded down the middle. But he has the talent to do it.

Saad is going to be one of the leaders of the North American under-24 team, a role he's embracing.

"It's pretty neat that it's a bunch of young, talented kids. You want to prove yourself to the older guys," Saad said. "We have a lot of good young players too."

Murray is another player who will get a long look for that North American roster. It's loaded with right-shooting defensemen, so Murray has the advantage of being a lefty who would balance out the roster.

Jack Johnson has long been an important part of USA Hockey but was left off the team that went to Sochi, Russia, in 2014. If time has mended some of the wounds that come with being spurned, he's a candidate to play for Team USA on defense.

Bobrovsky would be the early favorite to start in goal for Team Russia.

PENDING FREE AGENTS

The Blue Jackets didn't waste any time getting Saad under contract, signing him to a six-year contract extension worth $6 million per season after trading for him in June. If the team is smart, the next long-term deal comes for Murray. Teams around the league have been locking up their young defensemen to long-term contracts, even those as inexperienced as Murray, a restricted free agent after this season.

If Murray has the breakout season many expect, his price is only going to go up.

Forward Boone Jenner is another restricted free agent who is going to need a new deal before July 1.

PREDICTION

The Blue Jackets had enough bad luck last season injurywise to span a few seasons, assuming the hockey gods aren't overly cruel. Improved health, the maturation of young players and the addition of Saad will put this team back in the playoffs. Third in the Metro Division.