The offseason moves, the abundance of young players, and a still new coaching staff will once again make it hard to predict where the Columbus Blue Jackets may end up in the standings in the upcoming season. Will they be middle of the road again? Will regression set in and result in a bottom five finish? Or will talent blossom and potential be reached as they fight for a wild card spot? Let’s take a look at the best and worst case scenarios.
Best Case Scenario
The center depth question gets answered early as Sillinger proves he’s ready for a top six role in the NHL. He scores 20 goals, adds 30 helpers, and hangs with the best in the league defensively. Roslovic shows more consistency and continues to improve defensively as he shares top six duty with young Cole. Jenner gets relegated to centering the third line, but that proves to be a good thing. Less defensive responsibility helps him thrive in that role. Last but not least, Kuraly picks up where he left off last season and continues to be a luxury on the fourth line.
Gaudreau’s addition is immediately felt. Laine thrives on his wing as Johnny Hockey takes the pressure off of the Finn and once again has a point per game season. Gaudreau doesn’t miss a beat and becomes the first Blue Jacket to record a 100 point season. The power play is top ten all season as teams struggle to contain a top unit containing Gaudreau, Laine, and Werenski. The stars shine.
Marchenko and Johnson both prove they belong in the NHL. Johnson shows flashes of brilliance and has a respectable season, but Marchenko breaks out with Voracek on his opposite wing, scores 30 goals, and ends the season as a Calder finalist. As for the fourth line, Texier and Robinson return to prior form and give the opposition nightmares.
The defense improves as Peeke takes another step forward and becomes a good shutdown compliment to Werenski. Gavrikov and Boqvist become a legitimate second pair and Boqvist continues to be a dangerous offensive threat. Bean and Gudbranson settle in on the third pair and do a fine job with the minutes they are given.
Elvis finally puts together a consistent season and puts up top ten numbers while Korpisalo returns to NHL backup form. The defensive improvement from both the forwards and defensemen make the lives of the goalies easier and contributes to the more consistent play in net.
Now all of this doesn’t mean the team goes on a tear, wins the Metro, and advances to the conference finals. They are still young and prone to mistakes and the competition in the East is fierce. They do go on to win a wildcard spot, bumping the Pittsburgh Penguins out, but fall in the first round of the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario
The center depth continues to plague the team, especially defensively. Roslovic, Jenner, and Sillinger can put up points, but they get caved in when facing the top lines of better teams. The coaching staff rotates centers all season, but nothing ever sticks.
While Gaudreau proves to be a star, the supporting staff can’t take advantage. Laine’s possession numbers continue to be poor and the top line can’t be consistent enough to compete on a nightly basis. Not having a bona fide top six center certainly doesn’t help the matter.
The youth becomes a weakness as the youngsters and newcomers struggle to keep up. Johnson ends up in Cleveland and both Chinakhov and Marchenko see only third and fourth line minutes on a nightly basis. As a result of the forward struggles as a whole, many nights the first line ends up being Nyquist, Jenner, and Gaudreau.
The defense looks like the prior season as Peeke’s development stalls, Boqvist’s defensive struggles continue, Gudbranson’s contract becomes an immediate albatross, and Bayreuther sees more than a handful of games. Opponent pucks easily find the back of the net night in and night out as the entire team struggles defensively and the goaltenders aren’t able to bail them out.
You may think that a bottom five finish is coming here. Wrong. In typical Blue Jacket fashion, the team does just enough to not be a basement dweller and takes themselves out of the Bedard sweepstakes.
Which scenario seems more likely? Which players have to step up the most for the best case scenario to come true?