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Early Season Grades: Forwards

How have these players done so far?

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

We are between a quarter and a third of the way done with the 2022-23 season, so it’s time to assess the individual performances of the Columbus Blue Jackets roster. Who has excelled? Who has disappointed? Who has work to do?

I will grade on a little bit of a curve, given that different players are playing different roles. That being said, a fourth line player excelling in a checking role still won’t be graded as high as a successful top line player, for example.

Today we are looking at the forwards. We’ll cover the defense and goalies later. To ensure sufficient sample size, we are only grading the 13 forwards to have played at least 100 minutes at 5v5. They are sorted here in descending order of minutes played.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference

Boone Jenner

TOI/GP: 20:09
GP: 23
G: 9
A: 9
P: 18
PIM: 12
5v5 CF%: 48.10
5v5 FF%: 48.55
5v5 GF%: 48.72
5v5 xGF%: 53.12

Coming off of a season-ending back injury, Jenner got off to a slow start. Also slow? His pace of play, where he seemed a step behind linemates Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine. Unfortunately the other center options haven’t stepped up so Jenner remains the 1C for now. His production picked up in Finland, and since then has points in 10 of the last 13 games. His scoring rate per game is on pace to match last year’s totals (2.2 points/60 at all strengths)

Teacher comment: Boone isn’t the best student in class, but he completes his assignments and plays well with others.

Grade: B+

Johnny Gaudreau

TOI/GP: 19:51
GP: 23
G: 8
A: 18
P: 26
PIM: 8
5v5 CF%: 48.39
5v5 FF%: 48.23
5v5 GF%: 56.41
5v5 xGF%: 53.38

Gaudreau was the biggest signing of the off-season, not only for Columbus but across the entire league. He’s not on pace to match his 115 points from last season, but he is nevertheless scoring at the fourth highest pace of his nine seasons (3.4 points/60 at all strengths).

Teacher comment: John excels in all areas and is a pleasure to have in class.

Grade: A+

Gus Nyquist

TOI/GP: 17:30
GP: 23
G: 4
A: 7
P: 11
PIM: 12
5v5 CF%: 45.78
5v5 FF%: 45.34
5v5 GF%: 45.71
5v5 xGF%: 47.78

Nyquist has been a steady presence as one of just four forwards to play in every game so far. He has been moved around to help lines whenever the coaches feel it is needed. His production is not quite where it was in his first two seasons in Columbus, however. He is in the final year of his contract, so look for trade talk to intensify after the all star break.

Teacher comment: The other students all look up to Gustav.

Grade: B-

Cole Sillinger

TOI/GP: 13:06
GP: 23
G: 2
A: 3
P: 5
PIM: 10
5v5 CF%: 44.74
5v5 FF%: 44.92
5v5 GF%: 37.04
5v5 xGF%: 43.73

After spending a full season in the NHL as an 18 year old, Sillinger is in the midst of a sophomore slump. He’s barely scoring and his minutes have dipped slightly as a result. He hasn’t been helped by a revolving door of linemates, some of whom aren’t a fit to maximize his scoring opportunities.

Teacher comment: I expect better from Cole. He should make time for extra tutoring and practice.

Grade: C-

Los Angeles Kings v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

Yegor Chinakhov

TOI/GP: 13:26
GP: 22
G: 4
A: 7
P: 11
PIM: 10
5v5 CF%: 41.02
5v5 FF%: 43.37
5v5 GF%: 33.33
5v5 xGF%: 40.87

Chinakhov turned heads with his three goal performance in the preseason, and a bigger, stronger physique. He has improved at battling for the puck and his shot is still impossibly fast and accurate, but he can get lost at times. Like Sillinger, his linemates can drag him down and he gets limited minutes as a result.

Teacher comment: Yegor clearly worked on self-improvement during summer school.

Grade: B+

Eric Robinson

TOI/GP: 14:10
GP: 22
G: 2
A: 5
P: 7
PIM: 4
5v5 CF%: 41.96
5v5 FF%: 42.00
5v5 GF%: 40.00
5v5 xGF%: 40.26

Robinson is what he has always been: a big fourth liner with great speed and stone hands. He’s 27 years old now and in the first year of a two year extension that has a $1.6 million AAV. Will he be replaced by Liam Foudy?

Teacher comment: Eric has difficulty finishing his work.

Grade: C

Sean Kuraly

TOI/GP: 14:07
GP: 21
G: 6
A: 3
P: 9
PIM: 6
5v5 CF%: 42.20
5v5 FF%: 42.54
5v5 GF%: 36.00
5v5 xGF%: 40.44

Kuraly had a great homecoming last season, as he set career highs in goals and points at the age of 29. He also shot a career high 11.6%, so it seemed likely he would regress to his career averages. Instead, he is shooting 20% so far, and has earned so much trust from the coaches that the “fourth line” has sometimes been the second most used line.

Teacher comment: Sean exceeds expectations.

Grade: A-

Columbus Blue Jackets v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Jack Roslovic

TOI/GP: 15:57
GP: 20
G: 1
A: 7
P: 8
PIM: 2
5v5 CF%: 40.70
5v5 FF%: 40.75
5v5 GF%: 42.86
5v5 xGF%: 39.43

The other Columbus native center has not had as much success. Roslovic is scoring at the lowest rate of his career, though his 3.3% shooting is so far below his 12.8% career average that luck could be a factor. He’s a solid penalty killer, but one of the worst forwards defensively at 5v5. It’s really baffling. He played poorly at this time last season as well, but woke up late in the season when he filled in on the top line. Can he rebound again this season?

Teacher comment: Jack needs to see me after class.

Grade: D-

Kent Johnson

TOI/GP: 12:43
GP: 20
G: 6
A: 7
P: 13
PIM: 2
5v5 CF%: 46.82
5v5 FF%: 45.65
5v5 GF%: 47.83
5v5 xGF%: 42.89

Johnson is fourth among NHL rookies in goals, and tied for seventh in points. This is despite playing fewer games than those ahead of him, and from two-four minutes fewer per game. Brad Larsen says we need to be “patient” with Johnson, but when he trails just Gaudreau and Jenner in points, and allows the fewest unblocked shot attempts of all Columbus forwards, what more does he have to do?

Teacher comment: Kent is ready for more challenging material.

Grade: A

Mathieu Olivier

TOI/GP: 11:11
GP: 18
G: 2
A: 2
P: 4
PIM: 37
5v5 CF%: 42.90
5v5 FF%: 44,17
5v5 GF%: 38.89
5v5 xGF%: 45.58

When Olivier was acquired over the summer for a fourth round draft pick, the biggest questions it raised were “who?” and “why?” He was meant to add physicality and a, um...fighting spirit to the fourth line. He has certainly been the go-to enforcer on the team, and honestly the two goals is way more than I expected.

I was upset by him making the season-opening roster over other candidates, but the Kuraly line has been a legitimate energy line with Olivier on it. He’s not helping us win, but he’s never the reason we’re losing.

Teacher comment: Mathieu tries really hard.

Grade: C

Patrik Laine

TOI/GP: 19:59
GP: 10
G: 4
A: 2
P: 6
PIM: 6
5v5 CF%: 51.71
5v5 FF%: 50.88
5v5 GF%: 53.85
5v5 xGF%: 51.61

Laine picked up where he left off last season...when he’s able to play. He has missed more than half of the games so far due to an elbow injury suffered in the opening game, and then an ankle injury in mid-November. When he plays, though, he has clicked with Gaudreau and is the only forward in this list with possession numbers over 50%.

Teacher comment: Patrik has missed too much class.

Grade: A-

2022 NHL Global Series - Finland - Columbus Blue Jackets v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Jari Pestelacci/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Liam Foudy

TOI/GP: 10:49
GP: 14
G: 0
A: 3
P: 3
PIM: 4
5v5 CF%: 41.77
5v5 FF%: 41.67
5v5 GF%: 18.75
5v5 xGF%: 40.11

The former first round pick has become a lineup regular for the first time in his career. When drafted, he was seen as a great athlete whose hockey skills needed development. COVID-related scheduling changes and ill-timed injuries have unfortunately hindered his development, and losing his waiver-exempt status meant the Jackets were forced to keep him on the active roster. His hockey skills still aren’t there, and he needs to work on the defensive side of his game too. But he has the size and speed to be effective someday. Just not yet. That goal for percentage is not a typo. Oof. A PDO of .882 (by far the lowest on this list) doesn’t help.

Teacher comment: Liam may need to consider repeating this level.

Grade: D+

2022 NHL Global Series - Finland - Practice Sessions Photo by André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Jakub Voracek

TOI/GP: 15:58
GP: 11
G: 1
A: 5
P: 6
PIM: 0
5v5 CF%: 38.41
5v5 FF%: 37.80
5v5 GF%: 33.33
5v5 xGF%: 32.42

This one hurts to write. First, Voracek had a rough start to the season. He and Roslovic were in rough shape at even strength. Being away from Laine and off of the first power play unit meant Voracek’s point production (and even just the opportunity for points) dipped. Then, in the first game in Finland, Voracek suffered a concussion that has him out indefinitely. He is still experiencing symptoms and doctors have advised caution, and it sounds as though this may be a career-threatening condition. We should learn more today when Voracek meets with the media.

Teacher comment: Jakub’s presence is missed terribly. We wish him nothing but the best going forward, whether he returns or not.

Grade: D

What grades would you give to these forwards?