I was debating how I was going to arrange the forwards for this post, whether to sort by "good, bad and ugly", alphabetical, or maybe just by how they finished in scoring.
I decided to group them in my own sub groups, which may seem a bit random. Nonetheless, here we go:
The Future is Bright
Boone Jenner: The season began with the 22 year-old Boone earning an "A" on his sweater, which is indicative of his natural leadership ability. We were always told that Boone was future captain material, but I don't think any of us expected him to score 30 goals this year. He finished with a line of 30-19-49, with 14 of his points coming on the powerplay. He spent time on the wing and at center, and earned himself a bridge contract.
Brandon Saad: Though he only increased his point total by one over last season with the Blackhawks, Saad hit the 30 goal mark for the first time, playing with a revolving door of linemates. Like any sniper, Saad scored in bunches, but was almost always the Jackets' top offensive threat in any game. Saad led the team in game winners with 7. With more consistent linemates his numbers should take a jump. Saad and Jenner scoring 31 and 30 goals respectively is the first time the CBJ have had two 30-goal scorers.
Cam Atkinson: In the two previous seasons, Cam was very consistent, scoring 40 points in both years. His numbers spiked this year to 27 goals and 53 points, tieing him with Saad for the team scoring lead. Cam is on his way to a 30-goal season next year, which should be easily attained if he sees regular time with a pass-first center.
Alexander Wennberg: Wennberg doubled his point totals in essentially the same number of games played the previous season, and has become a fixture on the powerplay. Once he fully gains confidence in shooting the puck, look out. Is a jump to the 55-60 point range next year out of the question? A full year of Saad-Wennberg-Bjorkstrand is a tantalizing thought.
Oliver Bjorkstrand: One of three forwards to make their NHL debut this year, Bjorkstrand was excellent in his 12-game stint at the end of the season. He scored 8 points, shooting at a rate of 16%. His offensive skill was often on display and he should be a fixture on the team next year, barring any issues in camp.
Sonny Milano: Milano only suited up in three games at the end of the season, but he didn't look out of place at all on a scoring line in the NHL. He may need more polish at the AHL level, but you can't help but be excited about next year. He's a player to keep a close eye on this offseason and in camp.
Brandon Dubinsky: Dubi was right where he always is, finishing with 17-31-48 in 75 games played. He brought his usual intensity and grit, and was refreshing in his critiques of the team's performances. There's no reason to not expect more of the same from Dubi next season, though hopefully not as the team's top center.
Matt Calvert: Matty Hustle has been super-consistent over the past three seasons. Since '13/'14, he's finished with 24, 23 and 24 points. He remains the team's top penalty killer and his energy and tenacity is infectious. He's the definition of glue guy. I can't wait to see him in the playoffs again.
Nick Foligno: I bet you thought I'd have him in some kind of negative category, eh? Not going to do it. Two seasons ago, Foligno put up 39 points in 70 games, before having a career year last season with 73 points. His shooting percentage alone was unsustainable last year, so a regression to the 40-ish point range from the year before was expected for this season, and he did just that, finishing with 37 points. Granted, he did leave offense on the table this season. He could have done more on the powerplay, and his overall game felt distracted by the captaincy. With this year behind him, I expect next year he'll be right around the 40 point mark again, which is just fine.
William Karlsson: For a rookie in his first full NHL season, it may seem strange to include Karlsson among other forwards known for being consistent from one season to another, but over the course of his first season, Wild Bill has become a dependable bottom-six pivot, who's excelled on the PK with Calvert. His 20 points were a nice bonus. There's still some untapped offense in his game, but it'll be just fine if he remains a trustworthy checking forward/special team guy.
Gregory Campbell: You'll have to reevaluate things if you expected anything more out of Campbell than what he provided this season. He's a fourth line player who brings grit and kills penalties. He had trouble in the faceoff circle this year, but he was as-advertised. His willingness to drop the mitts, even with fighting almost dead, was welcome.
Scott Hartnell: Alone in this category, Hartnell is a big question mark going into next season. This past year was a roller coaster, with trade rumors, healthy scratches and up-and-down play highlighting his season. Prior to the trade deadline, Hartnell was putting up very good numbers, but post-deadline he struggled to get on the scoresheet. He did score his 300th career goal last night, as part of a four-point effort to cap his season. If his play since the beginning of March is a glimpse of what next season will be like however, the Jackets are in trouble if his cap hit remains on the books. Or, while there's some tread left on the tires and other GMs have more flexibility, he may be moved at the draft. As much as I'd personally hate to see a player with his character and playing style moved, the business side of the situation screams for him to be dealt, if for nothing more than cap relief.
Kerby Rychel: Rychel failed to make an impact in 32 games this past season. The former first rounder was mostly on the fourth line, but did have some chances higher in the lineup. Couple this underwhelming season with the rumor of a trade request, and Rychel's days in the organization could be numbered. He's still got plenty of value in a trade, either as a 'sweetener" in a deal involving veterans, or as part of a prospect-for-prospect trade.
Josh Anderson: He's not going to be a player that brings you out of your seat, but it's getting to the point where Anderson needs to cement his place in the NHL lineup thanks to a handful of other younger guys breathing down his neck. He's not out of place in the bottom-six, which could help his chances next year. If we're talking a fourth line wing spot, Anderson would make more sense than a Milano, for example. Still, he needs to nail down a spot.
Michael Chaput: He's been hanging around for a while now, filling in when injuries come calling, but Chaput is quickly cementing himself as a 'tweener. He won't hurt you if he's in an NHL lineup, but he's not a lock. This upcoming season is a big one for him.
Markus Hannikainen: It's a bit unfair to include him in this list, but a player in his situation needs to make a swift impact. He had bad luck with an injury this season, but if he's going to be an NHL player he needs to show more. He was one of the three forwards (Bjorkstrand, Milano) to make their NHL debuts this season.
Jared Boll: He's got one more year on his deal, but it's hard to imagine Boll making an impact next season. This past year he only suited up in 30 games due to healthy scratches and suspension, and when he was on the ice he wasn't able to bring much to the table. His enforcer role is irrelevant, and by next season fighting may just be fully extinct.
Rene Bourque: I feel for Bourque. He's got talent, but can never fully bring it all together. He showed brief glimpses this past season, but as a UFA he'll be gone. Hopefully he catches on somewhere, likely as a camp invite.
David Clarkson: I don't need to go into too much detail here. He had a write-off of a season, putting up just four points in 23 games. Injuries (we think) derailed his year, but when he was active he just didn't bring anything to the game. It's a real shame. Unless a miracle happens, he'll be in the organization next year in some respect.
There's a good chance a handful of these players won't be on the roster next season. There were some bright spots giving hope for the future, but there are some warts that need to be removed...somehow. The team may add an impact forward at the draft, and trades and free agency remain options, however unlikely.
We'll have a review of the defense tomorrow.