Blue Jackets Embark on New Era Filled With Skill

April 13, 2022. Mark that date on your calendars. This was the day the Columbus Blue Jackets entered into a new era of their franchise.

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On a night when former Blue Jackets’ David Savard and Josh Anderson return to Nationwide Arena for the first time since their respective trades, it’s fitting that a big part of the Blue Jackets’ future makes his NHL Debut. With Kent Johnson’s debut comes a new era of Columbus hockey, one that is much different than the recent past.

Celebrating the Past

First it was Nick Foligno coming back. Then he was followed shortly after that by Cam Atkinson. Now both Savard and Anderson return to Nationwide Arena to face the Blue Jackets for the first time. Each player has a significant part of their own when it comes to the success of the last five seasons.

Think back to those games for a minute. Those games were physical and in-your-face. It was also the way the Blue Jackets liked to conduct their business under head coach John Tortorella. The one thing that lacked in comparison to other teams was top-end skill.

The Blue Jackets enjoyed an array of success culminating with four consecutive trips to the playoffs. But they never depended on just skill alone to win games. They had good goaltending. They played good defense. They blocked a lot of shots. They scored by committee for the most part.

Those Blue Jackets’ teams were annoying to play against if for nothing else than just how physical they were. But they could only muster one playoff series win in that stretch. It’s a playoff series no one will soon forget. But they fell short of their goal to win the Stanley Cup.

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When were the Blue Jackets at their best? They were at their best when Artemi Panarin came on board and elevated them to a new level. Not only did they play a physical game, they had a true game-breaking player who added elite skill to the lineup.

When Panarin left, it was back to the drawing board for the Blue Jackets. They were never the same since. The team made one more playoffs and then they ran their course. The veterans and leaders who helped guide the team found new homes including Anderson and Savard. The Blue Jackets were on a new path, a reset. They needed to find top-end skill for their future.

At the 2021 NHL Draft, the Blue Jackets announced to the world that a changing of the guard was coming. It started when they selected Johnson with the fifth-overall pick. Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena, Johnson makes his NHL debut. With that, a new journey for the Blue Jackets begins.

Embracing the Future

Cole Sillinger has made the most of his time with the Blue Jackets as an 18-year old. Adam Boqvist is showing flashes of becoming an elite offensive defenseman. Patrik Laine has been more like himself and showing everyone what his upside could be. Jake Voracek has two more seasons left on his contract to continue to make plays. Yegor Chinakhov is primed to take the next step too.

While the team acknowledges that there is a need for bigger players who can bring skill, you can’t deny the young skill the Blue Jackets have. Coach Brad Larsen acknowledged on Wednesday morning that there is a shift that has taken place within the team. But the memories with Savard and Anderson will remain with him forever. Then it’s time to move on.

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“With this shift, this still seems fresh this shift in what our core was, our leadership group. They’re all coming back one-at-a-time it seems like this last month,” Larsen said. “There’s a lot of memories there. And I’m sure they’ll have some anxious moments getting ready for tonight. Then it’s in the rear view mirror for them.”

Zach Werenski was a big part of the recent success of the Blue Jackets. He’s going to be a big part of the future success of the Blue Jackets. He sees the skill on the team and how exciting that could be. But he also acknowledges the need for physical players as well.

“I definitely think we have a skilled lineup,” Werenski said. “I think we could use some size in our lineup. I think that’s definitely something we can add this offseason based on what I’ve seen. I definitely think it’s been a priority that (management) seems to have is adding skill. We got (Patrik) Laine and Jack (Roslovic) last year. We got Voracek who’s got great skill. We got a guy in Kent Johnson coming in. I think we have the skill in our room. We can play with anybody and we’ve shown that. We just need one or two more pieces and we’ll be right there.”

Kent Johnson, Michigan Wolverines
Kent Johnson’s debut is bringing in a new era of hockey in Columbus. (Jonathan Knight, Jonathan Knight Photography)

The Future Starts Now

Wednesday night is the perfect way to both recognize the past and embrace the future of the Blue Jackets. Both Anderson and Savard will get their moments with the crowd recognizing each. But once the game goes on, it’s time to move on.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Johnson and Blankenburg Add Excitement to End of Season

A new era of Blue Jackets’ hockey is officially here, one filled with skill all over the lineup that will only get better in time. Never has this franchise had as much young skill together as they do now. And there’s more to come.

These aren’t the Blue Jackets you’re accustomed to seeing. They’ve embraced change. The payoff will start to slowly come with each passing game.

Side Dishes

  • Nick Blankenburg is also making his NHL debut Wednesday night. Both he and Johnson will have their families at the game.
  • Johnson still had visa issues to sort through, but that’s handled and he’s playing.
  • Larsen said that he had no expectations for Johnson for his debut. He told him “just be you.”
  • Both Anderson and Savard still love Columbus. Each went to dinner with current players Boone Jenner and Andrew Peeke. Savard says he keeps in contact with several of the Blue Jackets today.
  • Anderson didn’t want to get into the details of how his Columbus tenure ended. He did admit though that being traded for his good friend Max Domi was something he never saw coming.
  • Canadiens’ coach Martin St. Louis returns to Columbus for the first time since he was a consultant under Tortorella. He said the experience in Columbus has helped him today as he got to see the workload that was required for a coach, seeing all of the preparation, the video and day-to-day activities he didn’t get to see as a player. He admitted he envisions being the coach next season despite some previous comments he made before.

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