The 2021-22 season is upon us, and at The Hockey Writers, we’ve assembled our Blue Jackets writers in the hopes of predicting one of the most unpredictable years in team history. There has been more roster turnover in the last year than ever before, with so many different x-factors. Among others, a new coach, a motivated goalie, a brand new blue line, and a fresh captain.
We got the writers together and made some predictions for end-of-season award winners. All awards were named after retired Blue Jackets, so you could read some old names that maybe you haven’t seen in print for a while. I’ll be expanding on my picks, and each pick will have input from our senior contributor, Mark Scheig.
Geoff Sanderson Award for Most Goals
- Unanimous Pick: Patrik Laine
After a strong preseason, we’re pretty high on the idea of a resurgence of the wonderboy that is Patrik Laine. He’s taken a lot of flack since coming to Columbus, and to an extent, it’s been warranted. But the bottom line is that Laine is still only 23 years old, and it’s rare for someone of such youth to have 150 goals. Bank on him having more than the 20 he was on pace to have last season.
Mark’s thoughts: I think [Laine] cracks 35 goals and has an unbelievable year on the power play. The Voracek acquisition will greatly benefit him.
Ray Whitney Award for Most Points
- Unanimous Pick: Jakub Voracek
Since 2010, Jakub Voracek has had the 15th most points and ninth most assists of anyone in the league. Over the last couple of years, Columbus has had players capable of scoring 30+ goals, but no one to feed them the puck. Voracek’s arrival gives the forward corps some diversity as an elite playmaker, the first since Artemi Panarin left. The return of the Czech brings not only a boost to the power play, but his personality should lift the spirit of the locker room as well.
Mark’s thoughts: I think the change in scenery will help [Voracek] get back to around 55 points this season. He is eager to prove the Flyers made the wrong decision in trading him.
Rick Nash Award for Most Valuable Player: Elvis Merzlikins
Sergei Bobrovsky was the best player in Columbus throughout his tenure, and now the Blue Jackets are turning the reins over to a new MVP in goal. Elvis Merzlikins is playing with a cause this season. He’s said the tragic death of his “little brother” Matiss Kivlenieks will be a driving force for his play in 2021-22, even saying he’s going to win a Vezina Trophy for him (from ‘Elvis Merzlikins’ Q&A: Blue Jackets goaltender opens up about his summer of tragedy and triumph,’ The Athletic, September 7, 2021). Extraordinary circumstances have led many in sports history to extraordinary performances, and we’re predicting this will be another of those.
Mark’s thoughts: I’m of the belief that once [Merzlikins] gets on a roll, it will be tough to beat him. I see a couple of Vezina votes coming his way.
David Vyborny Award for Best Forward
The forward corps of this Blue Jackets team has no standout player who is head and shoulders above the rest, as the other positions do. Every player has some sort of drawback, be it defensive deficiency or a lack of scoring prowess.
Bjorkstrand’s drawback in recent years has been consistency. A streaky forward at times with a ton of talent who hasn’t been relied on to be a big part of the forward corps. Now he’s got the big-time role and the contract to match, our man Cody is banking on him taking the next step.
My head says Boone Jenner will be the top forward come April, but my heart wants to use my one “hot take” on this award pick. Domi is fresh off of shoulder surgery and motivated. He’s in a contract year coming off of two mediocre seasons, and put in a lot of work over the summer to rehab his shoulder ahead of schedule after surgery. Every time he has needed to step up in his career, he has. His rookie year, his first year in Montreal, and now this season would be a big step for Domi.
Mark’s thoughts: It’s not that [Jenner will] have the most points, but I think he’ll have a good season, making an impact at both ends of the ice with an uptick in production thanks to his power-play usage.
Fedor Tyutin Award for Best Defenseman
- Unanimous Pick: Zach Werenski
This is Werenski’s award to lose. The Columbus blue line is looking very green with a lot of room to grow, and the 24-year-old Werenski is the veteran of the lot. If he isn’t the best defenseman on the roster, a lot of fans will be looking at his exorbitant new contract and sighing. Vladislav Gavrikov would be the likely runner-up, as the only other defenseman with any sort of full-time NHL experience — although 124 games make him far from a seasoned veteran.
Mark’s thoughts: We’re finally going to see that he’s good enough on his own to be a number-one defenseman in this league.
Pascal Leclaire Award for Best Goalie
- Unanimous Pick: Elvis Merzlikins
Merzlikins is motivated and a real x-factor player. He has proved the ability to get hot and burn incredibly bright when he gets hot. His extension would suggest he is the goalie of the present and the future. Barring an injury or the completely out of his mind performance from Joonas Korpisalo, Merzlikins will be the top dog between the pipes.
Mark’s thoughts: I think he’s the team MVP.
Matt Calvert Award for Best Defensive Forward
- Unanimous Pick: Boone Jenner
The second that Jenner retires, this award will be named after him. He has spent nearly a decade honing his play away from the puck. The freshly minted captain will be consistent from past years as persistent on the puck. The forward will continue to be a mainstay on the penalty kill, as he’s led Blue Jackets forwards in most shorthanded time on ice in the last two seasons with an average of 1:51 per game.
Marks thoughts: Jenner knows where to be and knows only one way to play the game. All out.
Division Standings Prediction: Out of Playoffs
- Cody’s Pick: 6th place, 75-80 points
- Mark’s Pick: 7th Metro, 82 points
- Nicholas’ Pick: 7th place, 79 points
All predictions were close, with one thing in common: missing the playoffs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, with two absolutely loaded drafts coming down the pipeline, so getting some more young top talent wouldn’t hurt. Another thing all writers have in common is the belief that this team isn’t as bad as many would lead you to believe. There’s a lot of raw talent, but in the Metropolitan Division, the Blue Jackets have a bit of refining to do before they can rise to the top.
Mark’s thoughts: I want to believe they can prove people wrong. But being thin down the middle and young in key spots is a lot to overcome. However, they will give teams fits all season.
Steve Mason Award for Best Rookie
Chinakhov brings the most star power potential, but whether he is able to tap into it this season is still up for debate. If he’s in the lineup, he’ll make some noise. Sillinger could take the way simply from opportunity. The Blue Jackets’ wings have plenty of NHL talent, but the middle is barren. No matter what line Sillinger plays on, he’ll be flanked with two good players.
Mark’s thoughts: Yes [Hofmann’s] older, but he thinks the game very well. I think he gets a larger role later in the season and shines.
Vaclav Prospal Award for Best New Addition Not Named Jakub Voracek
If there is one thing that Vinny Prospal was good at, it was not being named Jakub Voracek. “Best New Addition” was another unanimous vote for Voracek, but we decided to dig a little deeper to find the second-best new addition.
Sean Kuraly is another Columbus boy who has come home. He is a player of a Jenner mold, persistent on the puck, strong two-way play, and good in the faceoff dot. He is where he wants to be and will make a good addition to the bottom six as one of few natural centers on the roster.
Boqvist is an offensive mastermind. Lacking defensively, but his addition brings an instant boost to the second power play unit. If given the opportunity to unleash his offensive talents, he could really be a boon to point production. The 21-year-old will get his first shot at a guaranteed roster spot and without any pressure of team success from the organization.
Mark’s thoughts: [Boqvist will] get a chance to show the kind of offensive upside everyone believes he has.
We Shall See
The Blue Jackets have a long season ahead of them, so we will store these picks away until the end of the season and name some winners. There will no doubt be some surprises, especially with the uncertain identity of the Columbus team moving forward. Player injuries, scoring streaks, and so many other factors will affect the outcome this season.
Writer covering Columbus Blue Jackets.
Also a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.