The Metropolitan Division is looking mighty as usual this year. There are seven teams who can vie for a playoff spot… and then there are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus is not an awful team, but man that division is tough. Once again, the Blue Jackets have watched their stars leave town as another rebuild continues. At the very least, they picked up some young talent.
Offseason additions: F Jakub Voracek, D Adam Boqvist, D Jake Bean, F Sean Kuraly, F Zac Rinaldo.
Offseason subtractions: D Seth Jones, F Cam Atkinson, D Michael Del Zotto, F Mikhail Grigorenko, F Stefan Matteau.
The Blue Jackets moved on from longtime winger Cam Atkinson this offseason when they dealt him one-for-one to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek. A 2007 first-rounder by the Jackets, Voracek made his NHL debut for Columbus and now returns. For the first time since that rookie season, he did not reach double-digit goals. However, the pass-first player did have 34 assists, and in total had 43 points in 53 games. We will see how long Patrik Laine lasts in Columbus. The elite shooter was traded after one game to Columbus, then stopped scoring. In 45 games, he lit up the lamp just ten times. It was not a matter of shooting luck, either. Laine just did not shoot the puck enough to put up a high goal total. When he is not doing that, then his awful 5v5 play is a lot more noticeable. On the other hand, his teammate with the Jets and Jackets, Jack Roslovic, thrived. Roslovic tied his career high in goals with 12 and set a career high in points with 34, all in just 48 games. That is a 58-point pace, something Columbus would gladly take from the Ohio kid. Thanks to the Kraken passes on Max Domi for Gavin Bayreuther (who ended up back with the Blue Jackets), the center remains in Columbus. He had a disappointing 24 points last year. However, a torn labrum will cost Domi at least the first month of the season. Another shooter, Oliver Bjorkstrand, had a career high 44 points in just 56 games last year. His 18 goals may have been his least since 2017-18, but he did have 26 assists. Veteran winger Gustav Nyquist missed all of 2020-21, the second year of his contract with the team. The four-time 20+ goal scorer netted 15 with 42 points in 70 games back in 2019-20. He should be fully healthy this season. With Domi out, Alex Texier could move up. The 22-year-old has the talent but has never had great production. He scored just four goals with 11 assists in 49 games last year. The same could be said for 2018 first-rounder Liam Foudy. He has just five assists in 26 regular season games in his career, 24 of those coming last year. He does have an NHL goal, coming in the 2019-20 postseason. Veteran Boone Jenner signed an extension with the team this offseason. The team gave him four extra years, which feels like a mistake. Jenner had a career low eight goals in 41 games with 17 points. For the first time in his career, he did not reach the 100 hit mark. Speedy winger Eric Robinson also got an extension this offseason, but much shorter and for much less money. He is a very solid bottom-six winger, and he had eight goals with 10 assists while playing in every game last season. The Blue Jackets gave a four-year deal to Dublin, Ohio native Sean Kuraly. He was a physical penalty killer who did not bring much offensive talent in his five seasons in Boston. For the second consecutive season, Kevin Stenlund got into exactly 32 games, and for the second consecutive season, he scored exactly ten points. Stenlund can give the team center depth while playing on the wing. Emil Bemstrom scored 10 goals with 10 assists as a 20-year-old in 2019-20, leading to some optimism around him. However, he got into just 20 games last year, with five points. Coming over this year is Gregory Hofmann, a 4th rounder by Carolina alllll the way back in 2011. Since then, Hofmann has dominated in Switzerland. He scored 18 goals with 41 points in 36 games for Zug EV last year.
While Seth Jones is out the door, the good news is that Zach Werenski will stay. He was locked up until the end of 2027-28 for a cap hit of $9.583 million (!!). Werenski is arguably the better player on both ends of the ice, and scored seven goals in 35 games last year with 13 assists. This was off the back of a 20 goal season. Acquired for Jones, Adam Boqvist can easily reach the potential of his predecessor. In his 76 career NHL games, Boqvist has shown his offensive potential, scoring six goals with 23 assists. 16 of his 29 points came in 35 games last year. For now, Vladislav Gavrikov is still a Blue Jacket. He is a very underrated defensive defenseman who has a bargain of a $2.8 million cap hit. Gavrikov had 77 blocked shots with 12 points in 55 games last season. After Domi, Dean Kukan should have been Seattle’s next choice from this team, but he wasn’t. Kukan is a left-handed defensive defender who plays on the right side. He only got into 35 games last year, but it was a career high. 2016 second-round pick Andrew Peeke has only played in 33 NHL games, 11 of which came in 2020-21. He had three assists, plus four more in seven AHL contests. There is hope that he can jump into a top-four role by at least the end of the year. The Blue Jackets flipped a second-round pick acquired for Jones to Carolina for Jake Bean, who was the 13th pick in 2016. He has a lot of potential but was blocked with the Hurricanes. He got into 42 games last year, with 12 points. Back for his sixth season in Columbus is Scott Harrington. He only played in 12 games last year, but did have three points. He also had 20 blocked shots. Another former Maple Leaf, Mikko Lehtonen, had three assists in 17 games after coming over via trade. He showed early in 2020-21 that he has a ton of talent, scoring eight goals with 17 points in 17 games for the KHL’s Jokerit Helsinki. Ex-first-round pick Gabriel Carlsson remains an option. He had three assists in 14 NHL games last year.
Of the goalies on the trade block as the offseason began, it seems like only Columbus’ two stayed with their teams. There is a good reason for the team to trade at least one of them, as they could easily tank this year, and both Elvis Merzlikins and Jones Korpisalo are pending unrestricted free agents. Merzlikins finished fifth in Vezina voting in his rookie season of 2019-20, but did take a bit of a step back last year. His .916 save percentage was still impressive. Korpisalo has always been a wild card. Last year was the bad side of that. He had a 3.30 GAA with a save percentage of .894. It should also be noted that the Blue Jackets suffered in this department with the tragic death of third goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, who passed away in a Fourth of July-related accident.
Patrik Laine – Jack Roslovic – Jakub Voracek
Gustav Nyquist – Alex Texier – Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson – Boone Jenner – Liam Foudy
Sean Kuraly – Kevin Stenlund – Emil Bemstrom
Extras: Gregory Hofmann.
Zach Werenski – Adam Boqvist
Vladislav Gavrikov – Dean Kukan
Jake Bean – Andrew Peeke
Extras: Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson, Mikko Lehtonen.
If they played in the Pacific Division, maybe the Blue Jackets would be playoff dark horses. But they have really been dealt a tough hand. It is easy to feel for them; everyone leaves, and now they have seven potential playoff teams to compete against. So no, the Blue Jackets will not be playing deep into April.