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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - The 2005-06 NHL season was one of strides for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They shrugged off a poor start to finish the regular season strong, ending up with a club-record 35 wins and 74 points.

The goal now is to build on that mild success and take the next step.

This offseason saw general manager Doug MacLean take a pushy approach. He acquired winger Fredrik Modin from Tampa in a trade that cost the expendable Marc Denis and he also signed Anson Carter.

Modin gives the Jackets another weapon to compliment Rick Nash, who, despite having tied for the league goal-scoring title a few years back, is still developing.

Denis' departure, meanwhile, means that former first-rounder Pascal Leclaire has the starting job all to himself.

Hockey has made strides in the Columbus market since the team entered the NHL in 2000, but building on last year's strong finish and earning a playoff berth would really turn the town on its side.

FORWARDS - Nash is only 22-years-old, and he hopes to bounce back from an injury-plagued 05-06 season. He finished with a team-high 31 goals in only 54 games, as he was limited by ankle and knee injuries. The young power forward hopes to get back to the stats he was at in 2003-04, when he bagged 41 markers -- 19 of which were on the power play.

David Vyborny finished as the Jackets' leading scorer a season ago, finishing with 43 assists and 65 points. He'll again line up on the opposite side of Nash, and at least the start of the year the duo will likely be centered by youngster Gilbert Brule. Brule was picked sixth overall in 2005 and began last campaign with the big club. However, he was slammed by a pair of injuries and eventually was sent back to Juniors. Brule plays like a bowling ball despite his small size (175 pounds), but when healthy he is a sizzling playmaker.

Modin will likely provide second-line support, and he comes to town after spending six seasons with the Lightning. He has a deadly slap shot, and should be good for in the neighborhood of 30 goals if healthy. Last season he finished with 31 tallies and 23 assists in 77 games for Tampa.

Sergei Fedorov was acquired from Anaheim early last season and finished with 12 goals and 32 assists in 62 games with the team. Fedorov is going to miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury, and when he comes back will either center the first or second line. Which one he skates on depends a lot on how Brule fares early.

Carter enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career with the Canucks in 05-06, as he netted a personal-best 33 goals. He joins his seventh NHL team, but the movement isn't due to his failures. Carter is consistent with his production year after year.

One negative coming in is the Nikolai Zherdev situation. The young Russian broke out with 27 goals and 27 assists last season, but he remains unsigned and is threatening to play in his homeland. Talks have resumed between the two parties, but at press time he is out of the fold.

DEFENSE - Adam Foote was signed before last season to stabilize the Columbus defense, and that's exactly what he did. The 35-year-old is a pure stay-at- home guy, but his leadership and championship experience are exactly what this developing team needs.

Rotislav Klesla was the franchise's first-ever draft pick, and he provides two-way stability, while Bryan Berard injects some offensive spark. Last season Berard finished with 12 goals and 32 points -- both club highs among blueliners. Berard netted 11 of his markers on the power play.

Duvie Westcott and Ron Hainsey aren't big names but both are capable of playing key minutes. Hainsey is a solid offensive weapon, and led the club with a plus-13 rating in 05-06.

GOALTENDING - Leclaire, a first-rounder in 2001, logged his first real NHL season in 05-06 and appeared in 33 games. He went 11-15-3 with a 3.23 goals- against average and .911 save percentage. The team's brass is obviously pleased with his development and feels he is ready to assume the top spot. If they weren't they would not have dealt away a guy in Denis who could start 70+ games.

The Jackets did sign former Oiler Ty Conklin as a backup/insurance policy, and Fredrik Norrena, who came over in the Modin deal, will also compete for a job.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/adn4042363.htm
 
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