As everyone reading this blog knows, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded for Mark Letestu shortly before the 2017-18 trade deadline. The move marked Letestu’s return to Columbus, making him the sixth player to play for the CBJ twice in his career.
Do you know the others? It’s an illustrious list, according to the official Blue Jackets game notes: Jamie Pushor, Derrick Walser, Geoff Sanderson, Anders Erikkson, Aaron Johnson and Mark Letestu.
In the interest of science and sport, let’s take a look and how those return trips in Union Blue have gone for those six particular men.
The Blue Jackets drafted Pushor with their seventh pick in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft, 14th overall. The big enforcing defenseman had played his share of games before 2000, breaking into the league in 1995 with Detroit. Pushor earned the first fighting major in CBJ history and enjoyed a career year in that first season, setting highs in assists (10), points (13) and plus-minus (7). He played 61 games the following season before a trade sent him to Pittsburgh for a fourth-round pick that turned out to be Kevin Jarman.
Pushor returned to Columbus in December of 2003, playing for Syracuse the month prior to signing with the Blue Jackets. He lasted all of seven games before the Jackets traded him again, this time to the New York Rangers for an 8th-round pick (Matt Greer). After his time in New York, Pushor captained the Crunch for a few years and logged four final games with Columbus in 2005-06, scoring a goal and picking up two assists. He played one more year in Syracuse, his final campaign as a pro.
Pushor played for six NHL teams total and saw the bulk of his time with Columbus, though his Cup win and three seasons with dynastic Detroit probably bubbles up first in his mind. Not a bad career and old-school CBJ fans probably have a memory to two share from his time as a Jacket.
Though signed by Calgary as an undrafted free agent, all of Derrick Walser’s 91 games came with the Blue Jackets. The defenseman signed with Columbus six days after 9/11 and yo-yo’ed between the NHL and Syracuse, tallying 23 goals and 61 points for the Crunch in his first season with the organization. He could never quite stick with the big club, though, despite a career best 2002-03 season of four goals and 13 points.
Walser played in Germany during the lockout and stayed there another year. While he was in Germany, Columbus traded his rights to Carolina. The deal packaged Walser and a 2006 fourth-round choice (that the Hurricanes flipped to Toronto and became James Reimer) for Carolina’s fourth-road choice in 2005. The Blue Jackets used that pick to take...Jared Boll.
Walser’s journey continued, getting traded back to Columbus by Carolina for Mark Flood in 2006. He played nine games in Columbus that final season, seeing most of his time in Syracuse.
He never again cracked an NHL roster, but the well-traveled Walser occupies a neat piece of history for Columbus. Always as a Jacket and helped bring Jared Boll to the franchise (sorta.)
Probably the most celebrated player on this list, Sanderson went 24th overall to the Blue Jackets in the 2000 Expansion draft with Columbus’s 12th pick. The left winger scored the first hat trick in Blue Jackets history, first overtime goal in Blue Jackets history and played a key veteran role (he had been playing in the league for 10 years by that point) for the new club. Sanderson scored 30 goals that first season and 34 two years later.
Columbus traded Sanderson at the 2004 trade deadline to Vancouver on the condition that the Jackets would claim him back on waivers in the summer (the pick Columbus received in the deal became Dan Lacosta). After Sanderson spent the lockout year playing in Switzerland, the winger played two games for the Blue Jackets before getting traded to Phoenix with Tim Jackman for Cale Hulse, Mike Rupp and Jason Chimera.
Sanderson remembers Columbus fondly and will always hold a special place in CBJ fans’ hearts for those first couple of seasons. His return stint to the franchise may have lasted all of 22 minutes, but he did plenty in the Union Blue (and getting fan favorites Chimera and Rupp to Columbus in the return is no small thing either).
Eriksson played for four different NHL teams before signing with Columbus after the first game of the 2004 season. The Swedish defenseman (known as “Bubba”) played in 66 games and enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career before signing with Calgary (and eventually going to Sweden for the lockout, never actually playing for the Flames) the next summer. After the lockout year and another splitting time in Russia and Springfield, Eriksson signed one more free agent deal with the Blue Jackets in 2006. He turned in two solid seasons and cashed in with Calgary again following those.
Probably the most straightforward one of these six, the numbers tell most of the story. No trades, not a standout, just a dedicated guy who joined in the second half of his career and gave the Blue Jackets a steady play from a solid defenseman. He also had better production in his second Columbus go-round, which hasn’t often been the case on this list.
The Blue Jackets picked Aaron Johnson 85th overall in the 2001 NHL Draft (third round), making his NHL debut in 2003-04. He bounced between Syracuse and Columbus for two years before playing 61 games with the big club, then signing as a free agent with the Islanders once his entry deal expired.
After stops in Chicago, Calgary and Edmonton (and an entire year in Milwaukee), the 28-year-old Johnson signed with Columbus in 2011 on a one-year deal. Johnson set career-highs in assists (13) and points (16) that season, but apparently felt that was enough Columbus for a career and departed for greener pastures. Like Eriksson, Johnson’s return trip paid off with increased production and a better deal elsewhere.
The final and only active CBJ player on this list, you probably saw the quotes from Mark Letestu about how much he and his family loves Columbus when he was traded a few weeks ago. He “cut his teeth” with the Blue Jackets after several seasons in Pittsburgh, providing a heart-and-soul bottom six presence before taking the money (no shade) with Edmonton in 2015.
Now Letestu is back in blue, scoring in his first game for Columbus against Washington on February 26. He hasn’t registered a point since, but that’s because John Tortorella is leaning on him heavily in a defensive role (he’s seen an extremely high amount of defensive zone starts). That’s what he was brought here to do. He’s provided another strong checking line center that’s beefed up the bottom six and made the Blue Jackets an all-around tougher team to play against. What happens to Letestu after this season remains to be seen, but hopefully he’ll get to put his experience to use in a playoff series or two this year.