We’re in the home stretch of the NHL season, with the Columbus Blue Jackets having just nine games remaining on the schedule. What is worth watching here?
First, the bad news. This week we will most likely see the Jackets officially eliminated from postseason contention. They are 16 points back of the Washington Capitals for the eighth seed, and can only earn a maximum of 18 more points. A Capitals win or Jackets loss would seal the deal.
There’s still a chance to play spoiler: we visit the Kings and host the Oilers, and those teams are jockeying for seeding in the Pacific, and trying to hold off the Golden Knights. Then there is a home-and-home against the Lightning, who are just one point ahead of Boston for the third seed in the Atlantic, and four points behind Toronto for the second seed. Finally, the season finale against Pittsburgh could determine whether the Penguins have home ice against the Rangers or not.
Can the Jackets get a 30 goal scorer? Boone Jenner was on pace, but needs seven goals to hit it and there is still no word on whether he’ll return from his back injury this season. Patrik Laine sits at 25 and Oliver BJORKSTRAND at 24. It would require a hot streak from each, but that’s something each is more than capable of.
The 20 goal club could get a few more members: Gus Nyquist is three away, and even after a slow start Jack Roslovic is just five away.
Laine, BJORKSTRAND, and Jake Voracek have hit 50 points, with Zach Werenski (47), Jenner (44), Nyquist (44) in range.
We’ve already seen some players hit career marks. BJORKSTRAND has set new highs for goals and points, and is three assists from tying his personal best. Hometown buddies Sean Kuraly and Jack Roslovic need just two assists to set a new high, and each have already had their best goal and point seasons. In his third full-time season, Eric Robinson has played the most games, and made remarkably consistent improvement from year to year:
2019-20: 50 GP, 7 G, 5 A, 12 P
2020-21: 56 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 P
2021-22: 58 GP, 9 G, 16 A, 25 P
Let the kids play
Now is the time to give younger players a chance to play, and give the coaches and front office a chance to see where they may fit in the long term plans. First up, on Monday, Jake Christiansen was recalled from Cleveland, which left three veterans in the press box: Gabriel Carlsson, Gavin Bayreuther, and Dean Kukan. Joining Christiansen on the drive down I-71 was Carson Meyer. Meyer, of course, is a Powell product, a former Ohio State star, and — like Kuraly and Roslovic — a product of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program. He barely saw the ice in his debut, but made up for it on Tuesday with an assist and a goal in the first period against the Flyers.
On Friday, a day after Michigan were eliminated in a heartbreaking overtime loss to Denver in the national semifinal, the Jackets signed their top pick from the 2021 draft, forward Kent Johnson. MrSwift anticipated that signing on Friday, and it was a worthy reason to celebrate. Tony Ferrari from The Hockey Writers went into detail as well about what Johnson brings to the table. I’m excited about Johnson being a “hockey nerd” according to Jack Han, who I had on the Cannon Cast earlier this season, and who told me that day that Johnson was a subscriber to his newsletter and a coaching client of his. Han wrote a piece in the fall about how Johnson can play all five positions on the power play. The CBJ PP has not been the same since Jenner left the lineup, so I say it’s worth injecting Johnson and seeing if his skill can get it going again.
While the Johnson signing was expected, a surprise on Friday was the signing of Johnson’s teammate, defenseman and team captain Nick Blankenburg. Blankenburg was an undrafted free agent. He was likely overlooked in the draft due to his small stature (he’s listed at 5’9”) and the fact that he was relatively new to the position. Nevertheless, he scored 29 points in 38 games in his senior season. No harm in bringing in another intriguing defensive prospect, right? If more work out than we have room for, they can be flipped to fill a different position of need (coughcentercough).
Bailey Johnson, who covers the Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch, wrote about Blankenburg several times while she wrote for the student paper at UM:
For #CBJ fans looking to learn more about Nick Blankenburg, here's a thread with some of the stories I wrote about him at Michigan. High-level overview: could be Torey Krug-esque, as a smaller D with offensive upside and a nasty streak.— Bailey Johnson (@BaileyAJohnson_) April 8, 2022
It was neat to see Johnson and Blankenburg getting to meet the team before the game in Detroit on Saturday, including this shot of Blankenburg with fellow Wolverine defenseman and Michigan native Werenski:
Kent Johnson and Nick Blankenburg have joined the Jackets and are in the building with the #CBJ pic.twitter.com/8ByfmnrDQ6— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 9, 2022
I expect Kent Johnson to make his debut on Wednesday against Montreal, after a couple of days of practice.
The Jackets can make two more call-ups from Cleveland before the end of the season. Could Trey Fix-Wolansky return? Could Tyler Angle make his debut? I don’t expect to see big roles for the later round picks; their ceiling is as depth role players. Johnson, on the other hand, should be given ample opportunities early, in line with his draft position and skill set.
Ohio Sports Update
After a slight delay due to an idiot lockout, Major League Baseball is back! Both Ohio teams got their first win of the season on Sunday, with the Cincinnati Reds defeating the defending champion Atlanta Braves, and the newly rebranded Cleveland Guardians exploding for 17 runs against the Kansas City Royals. I’m fully on the Steven Kwan bandwagon, as the diminutive outfielder became just the 6th major league rookie since 1901 to have a five-hit performance in one of his first three games. More from Covering the Corner:
Not only did he not strike out in his five at-bats, but he didn’t even swing and miss in the game. The only four strikes against him were called, and one was borderline at worst. He swung six times and put five balls in play. He seemingly tracked every pitch the moment it left the pitchers’ hands, and he made contact all over the field. In short, his afternoon was incredible.
I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing on Saturday of former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. He only started one season in Columbus, but shattered school passing records and led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship. I thought this tribute from a fan was particularly beautiful:
Ohio State student Adam Whitman plays a rendition of ‘Carmen Ohio’ in front of the Dwayne Haskins memorial at Ohio Stadium. pic.twitter.com/yrIeWFrUrF— Jack Emerson (@jackemers) April 9, 2022
Play me out
Another RIP to Taylor Hawkins, the longtime Foo Fighters drummer who passed away in his hotel while on tour with the band in Colombia. There is perhaps no better compliment to his abilities than the fact that a great drummer like Dave Grohl picked him to be in his band, and felt the drum kit was in good — if not better — hands. Hawkins could also sing, such as in “Sunday Rain,” a track from 2017’s Concrete and Gold which is on the short list for my favorite Foo tracks. Over the last couple weeks I’ve listened to Hawkins’ solo albums, and they’re great, fun rock albums as well.