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The Blue Jackets catch a break with small group of RFA forwards

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What to do about Sonny Milano, though?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

In previous summers, the Columbus Blue Jackets faced some difficult decisions when it came to negotiating with their restricted free agent forwards. Memorably, the club played hardball with Josh Anderson in 2017, so much so that Anderson waited until October before agreeing to his current three-year deal. This year, the Blue Jackets only have one RFA forward in Eric Robinson after the re-signing of Markus Hännikäinen and the departure of Lukas Sedlak to the KHL—and Robinson, fine as he may be, will not command a substantial raise like Zach Werenski or Pierre-Luc Dubois next season. A quartet of Cleveland Monsters—Sonny Milano, Justin Scott, Sam Vigneault and Ryan MacInnis—may complicate matters a little more.

Eric Robinson (LW, 24 years old, $925K AAV)

Eric Robinson, in his first real season (but not contract year) with the organization, played in 13 games with the big club, scoring no points with an average ice time of 11:50. All of those games came after the start of January, and the 24-year-old Princeton product stayed with Blue Jackets but didn’t see the ice in either playoff series against Tampa Bay or Boston.

Robinson impressed in his stints in Cleveland, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists in 45 games. You can read a thorough review of Robinson from someone who saw him regularly in Elaine Shircliff’s 2018-19 review.

From that piece:

Robinson is a restricted free agent this summer. The Jackets would benefit from singing him to a one or two year, two-way contract. However, in my opinion, Robinson should spend substantial time in the AHL to hone his skills. It was clear he wasn’t quite ready for the big club this season.

Columbus clearly believes in Robinson and won’t have to spend much to retain in. He’ll face competition for whatever forward spots open up—Sedlak may be on the other side of the world, but the team signed Markus Hännikäinen on Monday and Swedish left wing Jakob Lilja over the weekend. The forward group is getting more crowded, not less.

Sonny Milano (LW, 23 years old, $1.2 million AAV)

“What are the Blue Jackets going to do with Sonny Milano?” has been an open question for years now. Milano played the first eight games of the season with Columbus before getting shipped to Cleveland, where he played 27 games in a campaign plagued by injury. He scored 11 goals and 13 assists in those 27 games and led the Monsters in playoff scoring, with a team-high 10 points (two goals) in eight Calder Cup games, five points more than second-place Dan DeSalvo and Mark Letestu. He’s clearly got the skill and showed marked growth last season, but he hasn’t seemed to mesh with CBJ head coach John Tortorella or management. It’s hard to imagine either party is thrilled with how the situation has developed, and he’s the most likely prospect to be traded ahead of or at the draft.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan MacInnis (C, 23 years old, $894,167 AAV)

MacInnis turned in an inconsistent year in Cleveland, posting four goals and 20 assists in 71 games. His three points (one goal) in eight playoff games was close to the team average, and the Blue Jackets management is reportedly high on him, despite his penchant for turning the puck over. He’ll be back, says our Monsters guru Elaine Shircliff.

Sam Vigneault (23 years old, $925K AAV)

Vigneault captained the CBJ to a tournament win at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City in September 2018 but had a quiet year offensively in Cleveland, posting 20 points (four goals) in 61 games for the Monsters and even earning himself a quick trip to ECHL Jacksonville. They’ve invested quite a bit in Vigneault, and as a 6’ 5” center who turns 24 in September, he’ll likely get the opportunity to grow some more in the AHL.

Justin Scott (23 years old, $925K AAV)

Scott, like every other player on this list besides Vigneault, scored 24 points last season in Cleveland. His total came on 13 goals and 11 assists in 67 games, though, along with two goals and an assist in eight playoff games. Scott loved to shoot, ranking second on the team with 179 shots. He’s one of the more responsible Monsters forwards on defense, says Elaine, but his spot’s not guaranteed going forward.