3 Blue Jackets Benefitting From the Team’s Extensive Injuries

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been hit particularly hard by injuries this season. It’s a long list that has a lot of star power on it. Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, Elvis Merzlikins, and Nick Blankenburg, among other key fixtures to the roster, have been knocked out for an extended period of time, leading to a substantial amount of man-games lost through the first quarter of the season.

Despite the seemingly endless list of injuries, there are a few Blue Jackets who are actually benefitting from the injury situation. Let’s have a look at three of those players.

Marcus Bjork

One of the sneaky signings of the offseason was the Blue Jackets’ one-year pact with Swedish defenseman Marcus Bjork. He had spent the last four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Before that, he was named the Defenseman of the Year in the Allsvenskan League, which is the country’s tier two league.

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Unfortunately for Bjork, the depth of the Jackets’ blue line was too much for him to make the opening night roster in October. However, the injury situation has given him the opportunity to hop into the lineup. He made an impression by scoring in his first game and has quickly become relied upon for around 20 minutes of ice time per game.

He has been a reliable player on the back end, using his 6-foot-3 frame and decent skating ability as tools for making good decisions. Bjork has been noted as saying he feels the smaller ice suits his style of game better, as he likes to use his reach to hold off attackers in the defensive zone.

I really like to play here. It goes faster, but I like it very much and being in the D-zone here.

Marcus Bjork on playing on the smaller ice in North America this season.

With multiple defensemen set to be out for several months, don’t expect Bjork to be going anywhere any time soon. His play may even force a tough decision once everyone is back healthy on the blue line.

Emil Bemstrom

I wasn’t expecting to see Emil Bemstrom back with the Blue Jackets quite so soon. Sent to the American Hockey League (AHL) after failing to make the opening night roster, he was a man on a mission. Through ten games he was the league’s leading scorer with seven goals and seven assists, including three multi-goal games. The moment the injury bug hit, he was the first player called to make the drive down I-71.

Emil Bemstrom Columbus Blue Jackets
Emil Bemstrom, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has not been given quite the same amount of ice time as Laine – the man he’s filling in for – averaging only 12:54 per game. That harkens to a larger issue in which developing players like Bemstrom, Kent Johnson, and Yegor Chinakhov are not getting many opportunities. That’s something that my colleague Mark Scheig has written about so I won’t dive too deep into it here.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Injury Woes Doesn’t Excuse Need for Development

Despite limited ice time, he’s looked pretty good so far. He’s scored four points through his first seven games which is a total that took him 13 games to hit last season. He’s also been a fixture on the first powerplay unit averaging 1:31 per game on the man advantage.

This season could be the final chance for Bemstrom to become a full-time NHLer in Columbus. The injury situation clearing up space for him to get into the lineup has certainly been beneficial to making that a reality.

Joonas Korpisalo

It looks like the once-outcast Joonas Korpisalo is back. It’s still shocking to see him still in a Blue Jackets jersey. That’s because many have said he would be the next player traded since Elvis Merzlikins signed a massive contract extension before last season. But here he is pushing for the starting goalie position.

I have always been one to say since that extension that it is clear that Merzlikins is the goalie that the Jackets’ brass should be 100 percent behind. His performance this season has made that less clear. Between the two, Korpisalo has been significantly superior.

Joonas Korpisalo Columbus Blue Jackets
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Through nine games, Merzlikins has an abysmal .864 save percentage (SV%) and an even worse 4.74 goals against average (GAA). Korpisalo has a more respectable .901 SV% and 3.85 GAA through a seven-game span. It’s worth pointing out that both of their numbers are far from good, but only look okay when you factor in that they are playing behind the Jackets’ swiss cheese of a defense.

Now, do I think this speed bump changes the long-term plans for the goaltending position? Not in the slightest. Merzlikins is still the guy in Columbus. However, this does benefit the Blue Jackets in that Korpisalo is showing his poor play last season was truly due to his injuries. Every big save he makes will only increase his trade value as a rental at the trade deadline. Make no mistake, he is definitely a trade chip since the Blue Jackets have next to no chance of making the playoffs this season.

The Blue Jackets have been experiencing a nearly unprecedented amount of injuries through the first half of the season. Despite that, Bjork, Bemstrom, and Korpisalo have been benefactors of an increased opportunity.

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