Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets progress continued last season, with the franchise making their second post season appearance since joining the league in 2000.
The roster may lack the star power former Captain Rick Nash provided; but under Director of Hockey Operations John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus have assembled a roster capable of moving the club from also rans to play-off challengers.
With a legitimate #1 between the pipes, some smart veteran signings and a bevy of good prospects, there’s plenty to be positive about in Ohio these days.
Kekalainen continues to work on a new deal with RFA Ryan Johansen. The former Portland Winterhawk centre led the Blue Jackets in goals (33) and points (63) last season, and added a further 2 goals and 6 points in the first round loss to Pittsburgh.
Seeking a significant pay rise, the 22-year old is seen as a key part of the franchise’s future, but management is understandably reluctant to put too much on the table off the back of one season – leading to a stalemate between the two parties at present.
Brandon Dubinsky was signed to a six year contract extension in July following a 50 point campaign, and point per game effort in the play-offs. The former New York Rangers forward two way game was a key part of Columbus success last season, and he will almost certainly be matched up against opposing sides top players again this year. Along side another former Ranger, Artem Anisimov, it gives Columbus an effective 1-2-3 down the middle.
The addition of Scott Hartnell this summer gives the franchise greater depth along the boards. The gritty former Nashville winger passed 20 goals for the seventh time last year, but was surprisingly jettisoned by Philadelphia during the offseason.
Providing both a physical presence in the top 6, and an additional option on the powerplay, the 32-year old is an extremely useful pick up for a club whose ‘winger of choice’, Nathan Horton, continues to struggles with injuries.
Horton missed 46 games last season with shoulder and abdominal problems, having signed a seven year deal as an unrestricted free agent last summer. If he can put health issues behind him, Horton remains a physical force capable of contributing at least 20 goals and 50 points.
Nick Foligno and Mark Letestu help provide further depth out wide, but Columbus’ hopes of continued progress lies on the shoulders of youngsters like Johansen, Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner.
Speedy winger Atkinson broke the 20 goal barrier for the first time last year, and whilst Jenner occasionally found the going tough during his first NHL season, he has all of the tools to become a star in the league.
At The Back
Led by James Wisniewski, who notched 51 points last season, and Jack Johnson, the Blue Jackets have a quietly effective group along the blue line.
Johnson’s omission from the Team USA Olympic roster was well publicised, but he led the team in average time of ice – logging more than 24 minutes per night – whilst Fedor Tyutin remains a solid defenceman for the team.
Ryan Murray, the 2nd overall pick in 2012, made the jump to the big club last year and Columbus will be hoping he can develop in to an elite defenceman, whilst David Savard helps round out the likely top 6 in Ohio this season.
Between The Pipes
Sergei Bobrovsky impressed again after a slow start to the season. Entering the final year of his current contract, the 25-year old has developed in to one of the leagues best netminders after being acquired from Philadelphia in 2012.
Winner of the Vezina Trophy in 2013, Bobrovsky has worked with goaltending coach Ian Clark with great success – posting a combined .926 save percentage in two seasons in Ohio, giving the Blue Jackets a chance every single night.
Curtis McElhinney will play backup again this season, but in the final year of his deal there is a good chance Columbus will give Oscar Dansk some playing time this season, with a view to taking on a bigger role next year.
Behind The Bench
Todd Richards moved from Assistant Coach to interim Head Coach in 2012, before getting the post full time. As the Jackets bench boss, he’s assembled a respectable 85-70-16 record and led Columbus to their best single season record ever last season.
Biggest Addition – Scott Hartnell
On a team that scores by committee, another 20+ goal scorer will always be a welcome addition. The veteran’s fiery style also helps to increase the steely edge Columbus has developed over the past 12 months and will likely become a fixture on one of the clubs powerplay units
Biggest Loss – None?
Columbus are in a somewhat unique situation where they haven’t really lost anyone Nick Schultz had a brief stint in Ohio, Blake Comeau was unimpressive and Scott Hartnell feels like an upgrade on RJ Umberger.
Naturally if someone like Bobrovsky goes down, then the Jackets will be in trouble – but as it stands the only dark cloud the franchise has to worry about is getting a deal done with Ryan Johansen
Key Man – Sergei Bobrovsky
Little explanation needed – when ‘Bob’ is rolling, the Jackets are tough to beat. And with the Metropolitan Division likely to be a tougher prospect this year, the Russian is more important to the franchise than ever if they are to become a perennial play-off team.
This Seasons Chances…
Assuming all goes well for the Jackets, consecutive post season appearances look likely.
They are better for acquiring Hartnell and getting Horton back, and finished just a point shy of an automatic play-off berth last year. With Philadelphia arguably worse this year, a top 3 finish in the Division is a possibility – despite some other clubs making gains as well this summer.
Posted on September 7, 2014, in Columbus Blue Jackets, Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL, Scott Hartnell, Season Preview, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.