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Kole Sherwood has caught John Tortorella’s eye, and an NHL job is within reach

September 16th, 2019 by Aaron Portzline - The Athletic

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Soon enough, it’ll happen. Kole Sherwood, a Blue Jackets prospect, and Kiefer Sherwood, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, will play against each other in an NHL game, a storybook scene for the New Albany brothers and another milestone moment for the central Ohio hockey community.

For now, though, Kole Sherwood has arrived at his fifth training camp with the Blue Jackets with a much simpler goal — carving out a spot on the NHL roster.

“You’re always figuring things out at this level, I don’t care who you are,” Sherwood said. “But my confidence is really good. I feel like I belong here. I know I belong here, it’s not just a thought anymore.

“I’m ready to go. I feel like the stars are aligning and I’m ready to go.”

Sherwood still faces a steep climb to make the Blue Jackets out of training camp, but he’s made remarkable progress on the organization’s depth chart over the last 12 months.

At this point a year ago, Sherwood could only be called a “prospect” in the loosest sense of the word. He was under contract, sure, but his game was under major construction, too.

An early-season demotion to ECHL Jacksonville was explained by the Blue Jackets organization as the result of a glut of forwards on the AHL Cleveland roster. But it served as a wake-up call, too.

Sherwood began working extensively after minor-league practices with AHL Cleveland coach Trent Vogelhuber — also a Columbus hockey product — to improve his play away from the puck. Once it began to click, Sherwood’s game became more consistent, and then it elevated.

“A little bit of adversity early on (in my pro career), but I thought I bounced back and I handled it,” Sherwood said. “I grew a lot as a player, and I ended up moving up the lineup, getting rewarded and eventually I ended up here in Columbus.”

Sherwood had 16-9-25 with a plus-1 rating and 71 penalty minutes in 56 games with Cleveland. In mid-February, he was called up to play two games with the Blue Jackets.

Now Sherwood finds himself among the Blue Jackets’ “depth” forwards, a cluster of players who have an outside shot to make the roster out of training camp, but, failing that, will be on a shortlist for a recall as the 2019-20 season moves along.

The Blue Jackets have 1o players on one-way contracts, one surefire roster player on his entry-level deal (Pierre-Luc Dubois) and a rookie who is almost certain to make the grade (Alexandre Texier).

That likely leaves one roster spotfor an extra forward, putting Sherwood in heavy competition with players like Emil Bemstrom, Marko Dano, Eric Robinson and Sonny Milano to earn the final spot.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella has taken notice. He’s “watching the kids” closely in the early camp scrimmages, he said.

“I don’t know a lot about him,” Tortorella said. “I love his skating. You know how fast the league is. It certainly gives him an opportunity to get looked at because of his skating.

“I saw him before camp started. He looks to be in great shape. He’s looked great in the testing. You’ve got him and Robinson and all these guys who can skate. It’s going to be interesting.”

Sherwood’s most noticeable moment in camp came Saturday when he crashed into Blue Jackets stay-at-home defenseman David Savard while in pursuit of the puck. It was Savard who ended up on his backside, which rarely happens.

Always a physical specimen, Sherwood is now up to 214 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame. He gained 13 pounds and allowed his body fat to creep from 6 percent to 9 percent

“I like feeling a little heavier,” he said. “I feel like I’m more powerful.”

Sherwood said he spoke with one of his best friends, Toronto’s Mitch Marner, on Saturday, congratulating the Maple Leafs star forward on his new six-year contract. The two met in 2015-16 when they played for the OHL’s London Knights.

At the end of the conversation, they looked forward to a face-to-face meeting Oct. 4, when the Blue Jackets open the season by hosting Toronto in Nationwide Arena.

Wishful thinking on Sherwood’s part, perhaps. But no longer out of the question.

“I don’t say I’m comfortable,” Sherwood said. “I say confident. I know what it takes now.”

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