The Columbus Blue Jackets have a preseason game less than a month from now. With that said, it’s time to start setting up what to expect in the new season.
Today, we will start out with something hot. Now that we have a clearer picture of what the Blue Jackets could look like when they hit the ice, it’s time to share our first impressions of what we could see. It’s three hot takes for the 2022-23 season.
The offseason started with a bang when the Blue Jackets landed both David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk in the NHL Draft. It then exploded when Johnny Gaudreau decided to make the Blue Jackets his home for the next seven seasons. But then the signing came at a cost when they had to deal Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken for a pair of later-round draft picks.
But going into the offseason, defense was a major priority for this team. This leads us into our first hot take.
1. Gudbranson Signing Makes Blue Jackets Defense Better
Before the Gaudreau news broke, the signing of Erik Gudbranson was the story of the early offseason. Most fans when they saw this news were not happy with it. This was especially true when they saw what the contract was.
Gudbranson’s contract is for four years and $4 million per season. Other than this signing, the Blue Jackets are running the defense back as is.
Wait a minute though. How can the Blue Jackets proclaim that their defense was their top priority but then have Gudbranson be their only signing on the blue line?
It’s a good question. In the Blue Jackets’ mind, Gudbranson does make them better. While he has his flaws, he adds a missing element the team desperately needed with the size he brings. Our Nick Arnold did a nice job breaking down the pros and cons of his game.
The question at hand still remains. Is the Blue Jackets’ defense better by only adding Gudbranson? For our first hot take, I believe the answer is yes. Adding Gudbranson is just a small part of that.
The thing to keep in mind is the development of everyone else. The blue line is expected to take a step forward this season in their own games.
Gudbranson does help with this. His presence gives the Blue Jackets someone who can answer the bell when necessary. Zach Werenski admitted last season that they needed to do a better job of stepping up when challenged. They didn’t have anyone who could do that on a consistent basis.
Young players such as Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean, Andrew Peeke and others can play their own game while having someone who can protect them. Assuming each handled their offseason as they needed to in getting stronger, their own improvement while adding a veteran like Gudbranson should lead to an overall improvement on the blue line.
While we aren’t talking a jump to the top-10 of NHL defenses here, improvement seems inevitable. While the Blue Jackets were looking for bigger fish on defense, they got their guy in Gudbranson and believe they will allow fewer goals in 2022-23. The improvement might be limited, but there will be improvement. You can’t get much worse than what happened last season.
2. Blue Jackets’ Eventual Top Center Already on Roster
It can’t be another Blue Jackets’ season without wondering who will play the role of 1C to start out. This is especially in focus with the potential of playing with Gaudreau and Patrik Laine.
The good news is that the Blue Jackets won’t have to look very far for the answer. For our second hot take, they have four potential options that can eventually fill this role should Gaudreau and Laine demonstrate early chemistry.
Those four candidates are Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson.
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Before his injury, Jenner was enjoying success playing with Laine and Jake Voracek. He became a force on the power play too. He was their most important forward in terms of contributions all over the ice. Assuming his health in recovering from a back injury, Jenner can start there to give that line an element of defense.
Roslovic enjoyed a strong second half of 2021-22 while playing the role of top center. He looked confident and fast. You could also see vast improvement in his overall game although he still has a ways to go. It’s possible he goes right back to that spot and enjoys the spoils of playing with two world-class wingers. His speed could make him a good fit there.
Sillinger did all you could ask for and more in his rookie season. When someone puts up numbers comparable to Patrice Bergeron, people take notice. That’s why an option exists for him to eventually work his way into the number-one slot. His 200-foot game could be a great fit there assuming his development continues along.
Johnson just put on a show at the World Junior Championships. He capped it off by scoring the golden goal in overtime. The Blue Jackets drafted him to potentially be a long-term center. All he did was show why he could be the solution at center.
That’s four potential players that could play the 1C role who are already part of the Blue Jackets. I ultimately think Johnson gets there but that’s down the road. Wondering if they have a 1C option is overblown at this point. They have viable options. It’s going to be a matter who ultimately steps their game up and answers the call.
3. The 2022-23 Blue Jackets Will Make the Playoffs, Barely
Many wondered at first if it was a rebuild. Then it was a reset. Then Gaudreau brought his talents to Nationwide Arena. Are these Blue Jackets a playoff team now after their moves?
For our last hot take, the answer is yes. This completely depends on the play of goalie Elvis Merzlikins. Even in the struggles of last season, there were moments that stood out which indicate a rebound could be coming.
To pin last season’s struggles in goals against all on Merzlikins is not fair. The defense in front of him gave up a ton of shots. With an improved blue line and a renewed focus, he could come back and play like he did in his first full season with the Blue Jackets.
If Merzlikins struggles again, the playoffs are nothing but a dream. But when you couple Gaudreau’s arrival with the infusion of young talent the Blue Jackets have and then consider the defense should improve, they’re knocking on the wildcard door. It’s not out of the question. I think they do it.
What are your hot takes for the upcoming season? Do you think our takes are too hot? Share your thoughts in the comment section or on social media.
Regardless of how it shakes out, this season at Nationwide Arena promises to be full of twists and turns. With that comes a level of excitement given the recent moves.
Is it October yet?
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.