While we wait out the rest of summer, watching anxiously to see what the next move will be for the Columbus Blue Jackets, we at the Cannon figured it’d be a great time to examine the team’s depth chart.
We start with the position of greatest depth: Wingers. There is a decent chance this list will look significantly different before the puck drops in October. There is quite the logjam of forwards on the wings, with many of them deserving of NHL ice-time.
For wingers, it is somewhat of a fluid position considering many of these guys listed below will line up on both the left and the right side at some point this year. I recommend not taking their designations as a lock to play on that side however the lines happen to take shape come October. For example, both Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine are often listed as left wings, but they will most likely be on the same line come regular season.
Players are also listed in order of how important I have deemed them within the organization based on position. It’s completely subjective, so feel free to call me out in the comment section if you disagree.
Johnny Gaudreau - One of the new faces of the franchise. Top line winger on every team in the league. He probably won’t put up 115 points again, but I fully expect to see his name replacing Artemi Panarin in the CBJ record books in multiple categories.
Patrik Laine - If/When re-signed, another face of the franchise. Laine and Gaudreau should be terrorizing opposing defenses for the forseeable future. The other top line wing who should also see his name etched into the record books, dethroning Cam Atkinson and Rick Nash as the leader in goals scored in a season.
Kent Johnson - Johnson could potentially see some time in the middle this year, but will most likely play on the wing. Hopefully he comes into this season feeling a bit more comfortable at the NHL level. His skill alone should most likely put him in the top six, and at the very least top nine. If he struggles, it is not out of the question for him to see a little time in the press box or in Cleveland to get him a break.
Kirill Marchenko - Marchenko should see top nine minutes in his first season in North America if everything goes according to plan. Having played against men for years now, he will hopefully be ready for a full-time gig in the NHL. However, as it is his first time in North America, I can’t rule out some time to acclimate with the Cleveland Monsters. The Jackets can use his size and skill to round out their forward corps.
Gus Nyquist - Nyquist is the player least likely to be on this roster once the regular season rolls around. Gus was a great soldier, and it’s a tough pill to swallow, but his contract (one year left at $5.5M AAV) makes him the prime candidate to be moved to make the Jackets cap-compliant. Nyquist is a bit of a swiss-army knife and can play anywhere in the lineup, but at the same time, I don’t really see a spot for him with all of the young talent that needs to play. If he’s still around, I’d expect him in a stabilizing, third line role with some of the young guys
Eric Robinson - He is what he is. A fast, fourth-line winger with little finishing skills. Robinson is a solid penalty killer, who could benefit from using his big frame a bit more physically. He’s good pals with Johnny Gaudreau, so he will be around next season. However, don’t be surprised if he sees more time in the press box this year with the infusion of the young talent.
Oliver BJORKSTRAND - The perpetually underrated Oliver BJORKSTRAND stands to keep flying under the radar with the star power of Gaudreau and Laine stealing the spotlight. This may benefit the Maestro as he should be able to feast on second and third defensive pairings more often. He should put up career numbers this season on one of the top two forward lines.
Before anyone says it... No. Oliver Bjorkstrand is not the type of player that you trade for the sake of clearing cap space. He was the first player of the new core to commit long-term to the Jackets and unloading him simply for money reasons is horrible asset management. Trading him would tarnish the Gaudreau acquisition in my eyes.
Jakub Voracek - Voracek (and his $8.25M AAV cap hit) will most likely fill the final slot on the second line. Voracek led the team in scoring, while only potting six goals last year. He is another player who should benefit big time from having some of the offensive pressure taken off of his shoulders. I’d expect Jake to come in around 15 goals along with about 40-50 helpers. I do wonder if Jarmo Kekalainen is gauging interest in moving Jake and his contract to come in comfortably under the salary cap. It’s a big ask, and he’d likely be given away for cheaper than Max Paccioretty (and he was free.) In other words, Kekalainen may be giving up additional assets to unload that big of a contract. I don’t see it happening personally.
Yegor Chinakhov - Chinny needs to build on what was definitely a learning year. He showed flashes of what compelled Kekalainen to shock the hockey world and select him 21st overall in 2020. Adding more consistency to his game is a must if he wants to see consistent ice time, If Yegor can find ways to get into open ice and get off his laser of a shot, the Jackets will have a bonafide sniper on all of their top three lines. I’m very curious to see if he can take the next step in his development. He’s a wild card this year in my eyes. I can see him hitting 20 goals if everything falls in line for him.
Emil Bemstrom - Who knows? Bemmer remains unsigned as an RFA at the moment. Bemstrom entered the organization with sky-high expectations — whether warranted or not — based off his success in the SHL. In parts of three injury-riddled seasons, he has still yet to fully put it together, and many fans are more than ready to show him the door. I am not one of those people, and it appears Jarmo isn’t either as he chose to extend a qualifying offer to Bemstrom. If he’s here in camp he needs to come as a man on a mission, because currently, there isn’t much room at all for him. He’s still only 23, but it definitely feels like time is running out for him.
He did get to hang out with Post Malone this offseason, so that was a rare Bemmer W.
Justin Danforth - Danforth is the CBJ reincarnation of Derek Mackenzie and Matty Calvert. He was a ball of energy on the fourth line last year and earned himself a contract extension. Most players who come into the league in their late 20’s have their cup of tea in “The Show” and ride off into the sunset. It looks like Danforth is just getting started and should be a staple on the fourth line this year providing the hustle and energy.
Press box/AHL depth
Trey Fix-Wolansky - Didn’t look out of place in his few games with the big club. He should be an early call-up should injuries occur. Can probably slot in anywhere in the lineup and have success.
Liam Foudy - With a new contract in his back pocket, he will again be a tweener in the AHL and NHL. His contract is a two-way deal for this coming season, and I expect the front office to take full advantage of that. Could Foudy be added as a sweetener in a deal to clear cap space? Never say never.
Olivier Matthieu - Matthieu brings some heavy hands into the fold for the Blue Jackets. I would expect to see him in the press box more often than not, but he will be utilized against heavier teams and will be expected to police the ice and prevent teams from taking liberties against the young talent.
Brendan Gaunce - Congrats on the new contract. Hope to not see much of you this year in Columbus.
Carson Meyer - Hometown kid. Good story. Can play on the fourth line if absolutely necessary.
Joona Luoto - Will Luoto’s second North American stint be more successful than the first? I will go out on a limb and say yes considering he didn’t have any success the first time around. His confidence should be high after a huge championship run in Finland where he won MVP. He’s good friends with Patty Laine, so its possible he is a 13th or 14th forward with the big club to keep Laine company.
Tyler Angle - He pulled off “the Michigan” last year. Other than that it was a disappointing year for Angle. He appeared to possibly be another late round gem of Jarmo Kekalainen after playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in his first year pro, but regressed last season on a bad Monsters team. He’s pretty low on the depth chart at this point, and may see his window closing to make the big club.
In the system
As long as the wingers aren’t ravaged by injuries, the Jackets have the depth in both the press box and the AHL to keep the ship afloat with minimal drop off. The retool/reload in just two years is staggering, and the team is, in my opinion, in a much better position for sustained success going forward both this year and beyond.
It’s an exciting time to be a Blue Jackets fan!