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Who were the best pre-2012 Blue Jackets?

Let’s remember some guys

Topps NHL YoungStars Game

I got the idea for this post in a conversation last week with our old friend Fletcher:

This is a great topic because a) it’s August, and there’s nothing else to talk about, and b) the Columbus Blue Jackets fanbase has grown a lot in the last decade, so there are plenty who weren’t following the team in the early years, or (gulp) were too young for it.

It’s a bit of a challenging question, since those early teams weren’t exactly overflowing with talent. Not many players stayed for very long, but is a two year good stretch good enough to make the list?

There are no wrong answers here — ok, there are actually plenty of wrong answers here, but there’s no judgment. Make your list and make your case. Just one ground rule: I’m limiting it to players whose tenure ended by summer 2012. Anyone who played for the 2013 or 2014 teams is ineligible because those teams were too good. Here are few candidates that were suggested on Twitter, to get you started. Links are to their Jackets 20 profile, where applicable.

Rick Nash: This is like the free space on the bingo card. He was THE signature player of the era in question.

Rusty Klesla: The first draft pick in franchise history didn’t quite live up to the billing as a top five pick, but he still managed to play 515 games here over ten seasons (ninth most in franchise history).

David Vyborny: A hockey Moses who was a top point producer for the team for the first seven seasons, but just missed out on the first playoff appearance.

Ron Tugnutt: One surprisingly good season and one average follow-up probably aren’t enough to make top 5, but he was part of an all-time classic marketing campaign.

Manny Malhotra: An elite faceoff man, and the closest we got to a steady presence at center.

Ray Whitney: Put up the franchise’s first 70+ point season with a 76 point campaign in 2003 (still the fourth best in franchise history). Was allowed to hit free agency since he was 30, then went on to play ten more productive seasons.

Geoff Sanderson: Still eighth on the franchise list in goals, and recorded the first 30 goal season in CBJ history (34 in 2002-03).

Espen Knutsen: Was a good playmaker for the first two seasons, before injuries and tragedy clouded his final two seasons.

Jan Hejda: 302 games on the blue line, and managed a positive +/- (+23).

Nikolai Zherdev: I’m sometimes guilty of lumping Zherdev in with other first round busts of the Maclean era, but he was actually pretty good. He put up 34 points as a 19 year old rookie, 54 points for his sophomore effort, then 61 in his fourth and final season before being traded for Fedor Tyutin. He is tenth in franchise history in goals (76, tied with Zach Werenski).

Antoine Vermette: A deadline pickup in 2009, when the Jackets were finally buyers, Vermette spent parts of four seasons as a top line center in Columbus. He was also a faceoff whiz, and put up decent possession numbers on mediocre teams in 2011 and 2012.

Sergei Fedorov: A Hall of Famer!

So, which players stand out from this era? Were there any that I missed?