Given the lively discussion that was had regarding our expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the 2016-17 season (and several opinions that I was too negative looking at the future of the team), I wanted to take a brief look at what the team most certainly has to look forward to in the next twelve months.
So, as a result, here are 5 things that will most certainly happen in the next calendar year that Blue Jackets fan can look forward to- with minimal snark!
1. Improvement on the blue line
And, right away, I’m breaking my rule. This one isn’t a certainty, but it’s as close to one as we can get without it actually being a guarantee. A full year of Seth Jones and Ryan Murray together will most certainly lead to better chemistry, better communication, and have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defensive corps. Seth Jones is only 21 years old. Ryan Murray is just 22. These two guys are under team control for the long term, and should make a formidable blue line pair for years to come.
Jack Johnson will return fully healthy and play his more natural position on the second pairing. David Savard cannot possibly play worse than he did this year, and though he may be overpaid, he’ll be serviceable.
All of that, plus Zach Werenski on the way, promises an improvement on the blue line next year, even if the team does re-sign Dalton Prout.
2. The continued development of Alexander Wennberg
Alexander Wennberg is 21 years old. Think about that. 3 of our best building blocks are 22 or younger. 4 years younger than I am. That’s awesome. There is so much room for each and every one of them to grow into mature hockey players over the next few years.
I know many will cite Wennberg’s faceoffs as a mark against him. He only won 43% of them at 5 on 5 this year, which is quite poor. However, Ryan Johansen was only a 45% faceoff man when he entered the league. It is reasonable to expect Wennberg to improve in this area going forward.
Also, Wennberg has been one of the better setup men on the Blue Jackets this season. He may never score 30 goals, but 15-30-45 is not out of the question for Wennberg next year.
3. Jared Boll will be out the door, or on his way
I have nothing against Jared Boll the person. However, in my eyes, he is a relic of a game gone by. Boll is too slow and too offensively challenged to provide any more for this hockey club than a veteran presence in the locker room, and we have that quality in spades right now.
Jared Boll is blocking a roster spot for a guy who could help contribute for the team next year and into the future. By this time next year, that roster spot will be taken by someone who can provide energy and offensive prowess (Sonny Milano perhaps?). This team has one dead weight winger on the roster for the foreseeable future; they cannot afford to have two.
4. The Youth Movement
I’ve touched on a few specifically who have played extended time here, but I expect that several of the prospects will see extended time with the big club next year. Kerby Rychel, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and perhaps even Milano will have a chance to make the club out of training camp next year. I would not be surprised if Bjorkstrand and one of Rychel or Anderson make it.
The prospects pool, right now, is deeper than it has ever been in franchise history. There are young guys waiting in the wings and being given a solid chance to develop into professional hockey players. I believe next year is the first real season that we see the fruits of the Jarmo/ JD drafts and that we begin to see the real youth movement take over for this hockey team.
5. A better start, and a better conditioned team
John Tortorella is going to kick this team’s ass in training camp next season. Make no mistake about it. This team is going to come into the season more prepared and in better shape than they ever have before. And, as a result, expect much better results than 0-8-0 to start the season.
I’m trying to be optimistic here.