Blue Jackets’ Johnson & Marchenko Are Strong Calder Candidates

The Columbus Blue Jackets will enter the 2022-23 season with one of the best opening night lineups in their franchise history. This is in part because of two rookies that could make a serious impact on their team should they make the roster.

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Both Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko will enter their first full seasons with the Blue Jackets’ organization. Given what each can bring to the table on any given night, there is a chance that one or both of them can make a serious run at the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL’s Most Outstanding Rookie.

Why the Hype for Johnson?

We have to discuss why both Johnson and Marchenko have so much hype. With Johnson, unless you lived under a rock or have been on vacation, you know he took the World Junior Championships by storm.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Canada’s 3-2 Win Over Finland

Johnson scored the Golden Goal for Team Canada in a moment that will live in World Junior history forever. He converted on his own rebound to send Rogers Place into a frenzy. This moment happened thanks to Mason Vezina MacTavish at the other end.

Considering how the rest of his tournament went, this was a goal that Johnson fully deserved. He led the entire tournament in shots on goal with 42. He created chances for himself and his teammates. But even more important, he showed he was responsible in his own end.

That last part could be the key for Johnson to make the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster. Just because he had the tournament of his life doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot. He still has to earn it. However if he performs at both ends of the ice like he did in Edmonton, I’m not sure there’s a way the team can send him to Cleveland.

To say Johnson was electric is an understatement. No matter who he played with, he made an impact on the game. He was confident. He generally made the right decisions with the puck. You could tell not scoring a goal in nine games for the Blue Jackets last season was going to motivate him. He’s a man on a mission to make an immediate impact.

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Johnson is more than ready to make the jump full-time. Considering that last season he played in college, at the World Juniors, at the World Championships, at the Olympics and with the Blue Jackets, he doesn’t have more to prove in terms of where he belongs. What he will need to do is show he can do it consistently against the best in the world.

Now here’s why Johnson must be considered in the very early Calder conversation. Opportunity. While he likely isn’t starting in the prime position of 1C, can you imagine if he gets to play with his idol Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Laine? Want to talk about an insane line, look no further.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson could find himself playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine eventually. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

But as we stated above, Johnson is going to have to earn playing time and promotions in the lineup. To start, we should expect Jack Roslovic, Boone Jenner or even Cole Sillinger to get first crack in the top-six at center. However it would surprise no one if Johnson was able to make the leap at some point during the season. His play in Edmonton shows he’s ready for the opportunity.

Johnson could conceivably (assuming he gets the opportunity) top 60 points this season. His eventual upside is that of a point per game player who can dominate at both ends of the ice. If he does make the Calder Trophy happen, it would be the latest feat within a number of amazing feats already for Johnson. He must be considered an early strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Marchenko’s Case

While Marchenko doesn’t have the case that Johnson has, it’s still a strong case for consideration. One thing stands out on tape. Offensive firepower.

When he’s on, Marchenko can be a dominant player. His release is lethal and can find ways to get open to make his release a deadly weapon.

The key for Marchenko will be his adjustment to North America and playing on the smaller ice surface. His fellow countryman Yegor Chinakhov went through the same thing in 2021-22 and was able to show some flashes while learning to adjust to the new conditions.

Marchenko is also a little bit older at 22 and has played against men in the KHL. A quicker adjustment for him is not out of the question.

Kirill Marchenko Columbus Blue Jackets
Kirill Marchenko’s offensive firepower makes him a strong Calder Trophy candidate. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Where as Johnson’s World Junior performance was a big message to the Blue Jackets indicating he is ready, Marchenko will have to make his case for the roster likely first in Traverse City at the Prospect’s Tournament and then at Training Camp soon after.

If Marchenko does make the roster, it will likely be in a bottom-six role. But don’t count him out of this conversation. There has been buzz around him ever since he was drafted by the Blue Jackets. The fact he came over is a big win for the organization. Even if he is not ready yet to make the team, they’ll send him to Cleveland to smooth things out. Then he could come in and dominate just like many expect he will.

A New Beginning

The 2022-23 Blue Jackets are entering a new beginning. Never before have they had this kind of young talent collectively ready to embark on a new season.

Johnson and Marchenko each have a path to becoming part of the Calder Trophy conversation. Development and opportunity will determine how far each go.

Johnson just showed the world how good he can be. Marchenko is ready to show the world how electric he can be. Together they have a chance to help the team return to the playoffs in 2022-23.

The kids are ready. By the time they’re done, one of them could be hoisting the Calder Trophy. But even if they don’t, it’s easy to see why they are such strong candidates.