BUFFALO, N.Y. — There is never a good time for injuries during an NHL season, but there are varying degrees of bad timing.
Nobody knows that more than Patrik Laine, now dealing with an apparent wrist injury after returning to top form for the Blue Jackets following a two-month absence with a strained oblique. His availability Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres was in question before the Jackets’ morning skate at KeyBank Center and still hadn’t been declared playing or not — by mid-afternoon.
The high-scoring forward participated fully in the skate, suggesting he’d likely play, but the bigger issue is that he’s again dealing with something significant enough to cause an early departure from practice Wednesday and prompt the Blue Jackets to recall forward Carson Meyer on an emergency basis.
“What do you do?” coach Brad Larsen said. “Nobody wants to be in that position, but that’s where we’re at … so you deal with it.”
A day earlier, after Laine left practice, Larsen labeled the injury an “irritation” and issued a blunt assessment of what it would mean for Laine and the team if it causes him to leave the lineup again.
“That would … that would suck,” Larsen said.
It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, mostly, but accurate.
After Laine’s oblique injury Nov. 3 against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blue Jackets’ season eventually began to spiral downward. They were 6-3-0 when he left, climbed to 12-6-0 in late November and then went 2-7-1 between Nov. 27 and Laine’s return Dec. 30 in a 4-3 shootout win against the Nashville Predators.
It then took Laine most of January to re-calibrate his shot and a dip in his overall play prompted Larsen to answer a question about his slump with a blunt reference to the winger’s career-worst struggles from last year — saying neither the Jackets nor Laine would repeat them.
Laine told a Finnish publication he took offense to those comments, which were issued right before he began a hot streak that continued Tuesday with two more goals against the Capitals. Going into the game against the Sabres, he’d strung together four straight two-point games and three straight two-goal performances.
Having an injury now do anything to hinder Laine now would be, well, less than ideal.
Blue Jackets’ Carson Meyer thrilled with emergency recall
Following the morning skate, it looked like Meyer wouldn’t make his NHL debut against the Sabres.
Laine took line rushes in his usual spot on the first line, participated in all drills and even tipped a few pucks in front of the net. Meyer, who was informed about the recall Wednesday night, skated as an extra and awaited word about his own situation – which was directly tied to Laine’s injury.
Nothing, however, could lessen Meyer’s excitement about his first regular season skate with the team that inspired him to take up hockey as a youngster growing up in Powell.
“I’m just going to try and enjoy every moment, because you go your whole life working for this, but you never know if you’ll ever actually make it or get the chance,” he said. “You believe in it, but you know it’s a long shot. So, just the fact that I’m this close, I’m just really excited. If I get my shot while I’m here, I’ll be ready, and if not, I’ll just keep playing well.”
Meyer’s path to this point is similar to those taken by Blue Jackets forwards Jack Roslovic and Sean Kuraly, who played for the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets development program locally before stints in the United States Hockey League (juniors) and collegiately with Miami University.
Meyer is also an alum of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets, USHL and Miami, although he finished his college eligibility with two seasons for Ohio State. Drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2017 (sixth round), he earned his first NHL contract by excelling last year for the Cleveland Monsters on an American Hockey League deal.
Meyer had nine goals, three assists and 12 points in 33 games for the Monsters this season. He came into it with a new approach as more of a grinding checker than scorer and added both strength and bulk last summer through intense workouts.
Now he’s on the verge of the NHL.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Meyer said. “I’m still not sure it’s quite hit me yet, because … the reason I started playing hockey is because the Jackets joined the NHL. That was the same year I laced up the skates for the first time (2001), so growing up and going to those games is what made me want to be an NHL player … and now I’m pretty close to the opportunity to put that sweater on in a real regular season game.”
Coverage of Thursday’s Blue Jackets-Sabres game, on Dispatch.com
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism