- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Since retirement, former NHL player and Stanley Cup champion Fredrik Modin has put down roots in Columbus, Ohio, where he played for the Blue Jackets for four seasons.
What he witnessed with his former club’s surprising run to the playoffs last spring was a reinvigorated fan base, encouraged by the team’s success and optimistic about the team’s future.
“I think the fans got a taste of it the first time around,” Modin said of the team’s short-lived appearance in 2009 when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. ”But this year was great, as loud of a building as I have ever played in, just the buzz around town is a great measuring stick to how the fans here enjoy their team.”
The Blue Jackets earned their first postseason berth in five years this past season and pushed the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in a thrilling six-game series that gained the Jackets some newfound respect across the league.
Modin, who won a Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, said he thinks that experience will be invaluable for the team moving forward, especially for the young players who got a taste of what playoff action is truly like.
“[I was] impressed with how the team came together and seemed to find their identity during the run last year,” Modin told ESPN.com when reached via email from Sweden. “[I] think the coaches and the players were looking to play that type of game all season but didn't really get the consistency early on. The team has lots of young talented players with limited experience that played big roles during the Pittsburgh series. Going through that will make them stronger both as individuals and as a team.”
Speaking of young players who will be influential in the team’s future, Modin thinks getting dynamic, young center Ryan Johansen is a top priority for the club. Johansen, a 22-year-old restricted free agent, remains in a contract stalemate with Columbus as negotiations have grown contentious at times this summer.
“I hope they can agree on a contract before camp,” Modin told ESPN.com. “I think Ryan is and will be a big part of this team’s success. [He’s] a very talented player that can develop into something special.”
Modin thinks the offseason acquisition of Scott Hartnell, who came to Columbus in a trade with Philadelphia, was a shrewd one. Modin also thinks the return of Nathan Horton, who was sidelined for much of last season due to injury, will make a significant impact as well. Both players should play key roles as veterans as the Blue Jackets prepare for the 2014-15 season.
“Scott Hartnell is a great addition to this team, [he's a] veteran player that knows what is needed to be successful,” Modin said. “And a healthy Nathan Horton will also be a big boost to the team this season.”
Modin, who spends time watching his 10-year-old daughter play local soccer and lacrosse and coaching his 13-year-old son’s hockey team, tries to watch as many Blue Jackets games as he can.
The 39-year-old Sundsvall, Sweden, native marvels at the way the game has steadily improved since his retirement in 2011.
“It seems every year the game gets faster,” Modin said. “Players are bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled.”
And the way the Blue Jackets developed a hard-working, strong-skating, blue-collar mentality should suit them well again this year against some of the elite teams. After all, they proved they can hang with those teams this spring.
“As a fan, you get the sense this team is moving in the right direction,” Modin said. “Again, young talent that has a year or two under their belt now and some playoff experience. I think we'll see the Jackets in another playoffs this year. This is a team that is tough to play against, hard forechecking, lots of speed. You need to play well to beat them.”