The Blue Jackets kick off training camp in just a few weeks with a new coach, new look lines, and a new philosophy focused on building for the future. With this in mind, here are some story lines to follow as the team heads toward its training camp this fall:
Which goaltender will the Columbus Blue Jackets commit to for the future?
The Columbus Blue Jackets have a decision to make in the next year - both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo are unrestricted free agents next summer. The Blue Jackets have long viewed both as potential starting goaltenders in the NHL, but with Daniil Tarasov on the way, the team will have to make a decision of which to commit to long term, if either of them.
Elvis has made no bones about his love for the city and the organization, while Korpisalo is the long-term mainstay on the roster. The Blue Jackets have a tough choice on their hands but one they must make sooner rather than later. Look for both goaltenders to push each other hard at the start of the season.
Will any of the prospects earn a roster spot?
Cole Sillinger seems to be the most likely (excluding the Liam Foudys and Emil Bemstroms of the world) who could earn a spot.
Sillinger, who recently signed his entry level deal, could use a loophole in the draft this year to earn time in the AHL if he does not stick with the NHL.
Per the CHL’s agreement with the NHL, its players are not allowed to play in the American Hockey League until they’re 20 years old. The USHL has no such age restriction with the AHL, mostly because it’s a feeder program for U.S. colleges.
Put another way: If the Blue Jackets think Sillinger is not quite ready for the NHL, but he wouldn’t be challenged enough playing for Medicine Hat, they have the option of sending him to AHL Cleveland.
Yegor Chinakhov, recently over from Russia and having signed his entry-level contract as well. Chinakhov will have chances to earn a roster spot, starting with the Traverse City tournament. Whether he sticks in Columbus or ends up in AHL Cleveland for further development depends on his performance in September.
Who is going to play center for the team this season?
The Blue Jackets have Jack Roslovic on the roster, who had a career season in his first year in Columbus. After being spared by the Seattle Kraken, the Blue Jackets will also have Kevin Stenlund on the roster.
After that? It’s pretty thin!
Max Domi, who did not stick at center last season, is out until at least December following shoulder surgery. Boone Jenner can play center, but he’s more ideally suited to a wing role and taking faceoffs. Alexandre Texier hasn’t shown an ability to shoulder a center ice burden in the NHL yet. Gregory Hofmann might be able to play fourth line center.
Likely and barring a trade or acquisition, the Blue Jackets will ice a center lineup of Roslovic-Jenner-Stenlund-Hofmann. It’s not great, but there’s at least a couple centers on there who can play offense and set up other guys. It’s going to be dire in the center of the ice this season.
Who will play with Patrik Laine?
Last season, after being traded here from the Winnipeg Jets, put in his worst season as a professional. Laine, once donning the Union Blue, managed just 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in Columbus, getting benched multiple times (once for mouthing off to new head coach Brad Larsen), and generally underperforming all expectations. Laine’s first season in Columbus cannot be called anything other than disappointing. With Laine looking to prove himself and the Blue Jackets unsure of how long to commit to the young Finn, Laine signed a one year qualifying offer this season.
With Cam Atkinson traded for Jakub Voracek this off-season, the Blue Jackets will have a playmaker to set Patrik Laine up this season. As the Q&A with Broad Street Hockey expressed, Voracek is an ideal player to pair with Laine.
VERY EXCITED about the possibility of watching Jake Voracek play with Laine. It’s a match made in heaven if it works well: the play driver setting things up, the sniper putting things home.
If the Blue Jackets can find a 200 foot center, they might have a viable first line, even on a rebuilding roster.
How does Adam Boqvist fit into the lineup?
Boqvist, the prize roster player acquired in return for Seth Jones from Chicago this summer, will absolutely play for the Blue Jackets this season. The only question, it seems, is where in the lineup? To that end, fellow writer JKinCLE took a stab at projecting the Blue Jackets’ defensive pairings this season:
Zach will need continue to develop his all-around game, in addition to being an elite offensive defenseman. It was this reason that I slotted the newly acquired, Adam Boqvist, on the top pairing.
It is quite the promotion for Boqvist who is still just 20 years old. He is entering his third season in the league and has averaged just a shade under 17 minutes per game in his short career. However, most of that time was spent playing alongside a potential future Hall of Fame player, Duncan Keith. His situation is similar to Seth Jones — the player he is replacing — when he was traded to Columbus in 2016. Obviously, there will be some growing pains along the way, but I do think Boqvist has top pair potential and he may just get the chance to prove it sooner rather than later.
I tend to agree with this line of thinking. Boqvist would fit nicely next to Zach Werenski, developing next to the best defenseman on the roster while earning big minutes and (likely) playing large minutes on special teams. Nothing like a trial by fire for the youngster. Might as well let him earn his lumps and play through mistakes during a likely developmental season.
What storylines will you be watching for in training camp? What are your eyes peeled for?