Going into the season, we knew that this would be a year of change. Among others, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and David Savard didn’t return to wear the union blue. In their place, Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov, with Kent Johnson and others on the horizon. But I doubt anyone had projected seeing a whopping 10 players make their NHL debuts. Many where hopeful. Some were skeptical. But how did they do? Let’s check it out:
F Tier - Gregory Hofmann
Wait, was that really this year? Gregory Hofmann, acquired from Carolina for a 7th round pick, was brought in as insurance for the center position, popping in and out of the lineup for 24 games to start the season. He posted 2 goals, both game-winners, and 5 assists in that span. Then he returned to Switzerland for the birth of his child, and decided to just stay there. His contract was terminated on January 14, 11 months and a day after he was acquired. I don’t blame the guy for choosing to play closer to home with a newborn in the middle of a pandemic, but he did quit on the team.
D Tier - Carson Meyer, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Jake Christansen
While, contribution-wise, these guys combined have done less than Hofmann, they are still active players. Carson Meyer was drafted in the 6th round in 2017, before playing for the Buckeyes in the NCAA, making him the most notable Meyer ever associated with Ohio State athletics. after posting 16 goals in 27 games with the Cleveland Monsters, he was called up amidst several injuries to the Blue Jackets’ forward group. He got a goal and an assist in his second game, but hasn’t done much noteworthy in his other four.
After being picked up 204th overall in 2018, TFW was called up for the Jackets’ five-game road trip out of the All Star break. He got a goal in his first game, an assist in his second, and -4 in his next three before being sent back up I-71. He got into one more game, March 13th against Vegas, but hasn’t appeared since.
Jake Christanen was signed to an AHL deal at the start of last season, and promoted for four stints this year. He scored a net one goal, March 1st against New Jersey, and averaged 9:48 in eight games, as a defenseman. With Blankenburg, Ceulemans, and Svozil on the way, it’s likely the last NHL ice he’ll see with the Blue Jackets.
C Tier - Kent Johnson, Yegor Chinakhov
Jarmo Kekalainen left analysists scrambling when he took Chinakhov 21st overall in the 2020 NHL Draft? Who the hell was this kid? Well, he showed us in Avangard Omsk the following season, earning 10 goals in 32 regular season games, KHL’s September rookie of the month, 12 points in 21 Gagarin Cup playoff games, and a Championship for his hometown club. However, he’s underwhelmed in his first NHL season, scoring almost as many offsides goals (like, four) as real goals (seven) in 58 games, getting scratched in several games, and not appearing since April 2nd. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but still needs a bit more time to marinate.
Kent Johnson made a similar impression, except with significantly less sample size and paper shuffling on draft day. Taken fifth overall in the most recent draft, Johnson made his NHL debut just yesterday against the Habs. He made a few nifty passes in 11:05 of ice time, but otherwise only recorded a pair of hits and a tripping penalty. Definitely too early to call, however.
B Tier - Nick Blankenburg, Justin Danforth, Daniil Tarasov
Johnson’s captain at TTUN, Nick Blankenburg, also made his debut on Wednesday, but, in my opinion, was much more impressive. He earned an assist on Emil Bemstrom’s goal, blocked five shots, and made several other small plays that stood tall above his small stature. I think I must’ve said “I like this kid” at least eight times. It’s a bit early, but considering he was an undrafted free agent signing, this may become one of Jarmo’s greatest heists by the end of the day.
Justin Danforth has fought tooth and nail to get the the NHL, but he’s looked good since getting here. After graduating from Sacred Heart, he signed an ECHL tryout deal, an AHL tryout deal, and another AHL tryout with a different team. All in one season. The next season he bounced between AHL Rochester and ECHL Cincinnati, before playing in Finland for two years, followed by a season in the KHL, before joining the Blue Jackets this year. After a middling 13 game stretch in November and December, he was recalled in late February, before going on a tear with four goals in his last seven games. This may be some recency bias, but is his recent play becomes to norm, he should challenge for a roster spot next season.
Daniil Tarasov looked good in his limited ice time, putting some reality behind the hype for the Russian netminder. Across four games, including two relief appearances, he’s made 111 saves for a .937 save percentage. He’ll likely back up Elvis next season after recovering from hip surgery.
A Tier - Cole Sillinger
I was wrong about Cole Sillinger. In 71 games, the young center has 13 goals, as many assists, and had played pretty well defensively. Nothing too extaordinary, but for the youngest player in the league, it’s something I’ll gladly take. He drew draft day comparisons to Mark Scheifele and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; in their first full season, Scheifele scored 13-21-24 in 63 games, while RNH put up 18-34-52 in 62. Scheifele was three years older than Cole, and RNH was a first overall pick. The future is bright for the young center.