Columbus Blue Jackets Season Previewby Carter LaCorte October 9, 2021 0 comments
The 2020-2021 NHL season was a chaotic one for a multitude of reasons. The Columbus Blue Jackets were hit harder by this than most. The year started with star center Pierre-Luc Dubois demanding a trade. He was benched after giving a terrible effort, then was shipped to Winnipeg. Dubois’ replacement, Patrik Laine, had his worst season while running into an incident with an assistant coach. While the coach was not identified, it was suspected to be Brad Larsen. Guess who the Blue Jackets promoted after dismissing the intimidating John Tortorella? That’s right, Larsen.
This rookie head coach will not have a lot to work with. The Blue Jackets have become the black sheep of the Metropolitan Division, and a team that cannot keep any of their good players. They received a bounty for Seth Jones from Chicago. Cam Atkinson is gone, with Jakub Voracek returning to the team that drafted him. Will Laine be the next star to be shipped out of Ohio?
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The actual best performer from the Dubois for Laine trade was the third piece, Jack Roslovic. The local kid was not much more than a bottom-six center with the Jets, but he had 34 points in 48 games after the trade. That was tied with Atkinson for second on the team. Only Oliver Bjorkstrand had more, with 44 points, 18 of which were goals. Some familiar faces will return, with Boone Jenner and Gustav Nyquist back. The hope for the Blue Jackets is that Alexandre Texier can develop into a legitimate top-six forward. The 21-year-old had just 15 points last season. Overall, this forward core is barren, without a ton of talent in it.
While his new cap hit, approximately $9.58 million, is high, Zach Werenski is a Blue Jacket for a long time, and that is what matters. He was already the team’s best player, even when Jones was still there. Werenski still had 20 points from the back end despite being limited to 35 games last season. Two former first-rounders joined the team in Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean, who were in some way both products of the Jones trade. Both have talent but have not been elite in the NHL yet.
Fortunately for the Blue Jackets, they do have defensive depth. Both Vladislav Gavrikov and Dean Kukan are good underrated defensive defenders who are on cheap contracts. Since the team is in a rebuild, it would not be a shock to see at least one of the two shipped out soon.
The goaltending tandem here is by no means elite, but it is solid and well-balanced. Elvis Merzlikins‘ new extension solidifies him as the team’s starter of the future. In 28 games, he had a .917 save percentage. Joonas Korpisalo is entering his seventh season with the team. As his contract expires after the season, it could very well be his last. He was not good in 2020-2021, with an ugly 3.30 GAA.
A native of Dublin, Ohio, Kuraly has been a productive fourth-line player over the past four seasons with the Bruins. However, he did start to fall out of favor last season as he entered free agency. The Blue Jackets rewarded him with an expensive deal that will pay him $10 million over four seasons. Kuraly was nothing special last season, with nine points in 47 games. He is a good defensive forward, but he will need to show that he is worth that contract.
The undersized Swedish defender was drafted eighth overall by Chicago in 2018. He has played a minor role on the Blackhawks for the past two campaigns, and he made a nice impact. Over 76 games, Boqvist has 29 points, 10 of which were on the power play. Now with Columbus, Boqvist will get a great opportunity to shine. He just needs to take advantage of that.
Biggest Question Facing the Blue Jackets
Can they be at least close to the pack? The Metropolitan Division has seven teams in the good-to-decent range, and then there are the Blue Jackets. The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers went big in the offseason. The New York Rangers are primed to take the next step. The Islanders, Hurricanes, Capitals, and Penguins are all looking good. Can Columbus at least beat one of them?
If you are hoping to just stay close to other teams, then that is a pretty bad sign. The Blue Jackets do not have the star power or depth to hold in any division, but especially the Metro. In a rebuilding year, they just have to hope for some sort of positive development. They will not be making the playoffs, although they are not bad enough to be a serious lottery contender.
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