NHL Free Agency: Potential Forward Targets for the Columbus Blue Jackets

Who could the Blue Jackets potentially target in free agency this summer?

Free agency begins for the NHL on July 1. The Columbus Blue Jackets could be active this summer, especially if they seek to add a secondary scoring to really make a push this upcoming season (as well as make an effort to truly woo Artemi Panarin into staying past this season).

Here, we take a look at some of those options that Columbus could add. For this exercise, this will look only at potential signings, and not at any potential trade targets.

So, what forwards could the Columbus Blue Jackets potentially look at this summer?

Riley Nash

Position: Center
Age: 29 years old
Career stats: 399 games played, 53 goals, 86 assists, 139 points, 101 PIM, 14:04 TOI, 51.6% CF%

Riley Nash comes into free agency off of a career high 41 points last year in 76 games played for the Boston Bruins. A former first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, Nash played for the Carolina Hurricanes for five years before playing for two seasons in Boston. Nash has been a positive possession player for the entirety of his career, though he posts just a 48.4% career face-off win percentage.

Nash, a solid middle six center option, could command a contract similar in structure (though valued at a higher AAV) to former Blue Jacket Sam Gagner. Nash made $900,000 last year and could be due for a slight raise. He offers versatility and could help shore up critical center depth going forward into next season.

James van Riemsdyk

Position: Left Wing
Age: 29 years old
Career Stats: 609 games played, 201 goals, 102 assists, 393 points, 144 PIM, 16:39 TOI, 50.0% CF%

James van Riemsdyk posted a career high 36 goals scored last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, his second straight season of at least 29 goals scored. JVR boasts an ability to get on the scoresheet, scoring .645 points per game for his career. He would add a bona fide scoring threat to the second line (or the first to compliment Pierre-Luc Dubois if Panarin is indeed traded). JVR also did his damage both with the man advantage (11 goals) and at even strength (25 goals). He could be an asset to a team desperate to add scoring help.

James van Riemsdyk is said to want a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million per year to $8 million per year. The Blue Jackets do not have cap space to throw around, but do have enough to add JVR on the lower end of that spectrum. The cost may be high, but the Blue Jackets need scoring help to make a deep playoff run and could make a difference.

Jay Beagle

Position: Center, Right Wing
Age: 32 years old
Career Stats: 471 games played, 51 goals, 65 assists, 116 points, 159 PIM, 12:26 TOI, 56.4% FO%, 45.6% CF%

Jay Beagle played a key role this past season for the Washington Capitals as they went on to win their franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Beagle was seen as a face-off specialist and played a key defensive role for the Capitals as they looked to close out game. Beagle is a solid bottom six center option, and a proven talent with the ability to chip in on the score sheet.

Beagle is said to have a large number of suitors, and will likely command a multi year contract worth around $2 million. The Blue Jackets have long struggled with center depth and in the face-off circle, and he could shore up key areas where the Blue Jackets have struggled mightily over the last couple of seasons.

Rick Nash

Position: Left Wing
Age: 34 years old
Career Stats: 1060 games played, 437 goals, 368 assists, 805 points, 750 PIM, 18:20 TOI, 51.0% CF%


Okay, apparently there has been some interest, but how much is unknown. We know Rick Nash - a former Blue Jackets captain who requested a trade to leave the team he led before going to New York and never quite living up to expectations with the Rangers, particularly in the playoffs. Last season at the deadline, he was traded to Boston where he spectacularly underperformed as the Bruins fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nash statistically had a worse season than Thomas Vanek.

Still, nostalgia is powerful, and some fans might want to bring the big middle six left wing back. The question, then, becomes fit. Nash is rumored to want a contract in the range of $5 million to $8 million, and that just does not fit with the plans for Columbus. That cap hit is too much to pay for a 34 year old wing on the downturn of his career.

There may be interest, but it is unlikely that Nash makes a return to Columbus.

Austin Czarnik

Position: Center
Age: 25 years old
Career Stats: 59 games played, 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points, 12 PIM, 12:40 TOI, 44.1% FO%, 55.2% CF%

Austin Czarnik is a 25 year old center that seems to have been squeezed out of the Bruins’ plans due to depth elsewhere on the roster. Czarnik scored 25 goals last season for the Providence Bruins and boasts speed and offensive skills that could allow him to slot right in to the Blue Jackets’ lineup. He would fill a need for the Blue Jackets - a young center with offensive upside that could allow him to slot further up the lineup in case of injuries.

Czarnik, as a result of these skills, will likely have a number of teams knocking on his door on July 1. To sign him, the Blue Jackets may have to overpay on the market, though it is rumored that Czarnik will command a salary in the $1 million to $2 million range. Signing Czarnik, however, would boost center depth and give the Blue Jackets more young talent down the spine of the forward lines.

Michael Grabner

Position: Right Wing
Age: 30 years old
Career Stats: 553 games played, 158 goals, 91 assists, 249 points, 96 PIM, 14:35 TOI, 48.4% CF%

The speedy winger left the New York Rangers for the New Jersey Devils, and now becomes an unrestricted free agent. He has shown a goal scoring ability thanks to his speed and ability to spring himself on odd-man rushes. Grabner also plays solid defense and has the ability to kill penalties, both of which are qualities John Tortorella values in his forwards. Grabner has scored more than 20 goals multiple times in his career (including 27+ both of the last two seasons, without power play time) and is a fairly streaky finisher. In a system that utilizes his skill, he could be a valuable asset.

Grabner is rumored to want a four year contract worth more than $5 million, a costly investment for a player who just turned 30 years old. However, if the Blue Jackets are intent on going for a deep run this season, Grabner could be a valuable asset in the next couple of years while the window is open (particularly if Artemi Panarin is convinced to stay).

Would you sign any of these free agents? Who do you want to see the team target? Let us know in the comments below!

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