This week in Columbus Blue Jackets news and rumors, one top prospect made it official where they are playing this season while another one signed his entry-level deal. Then we end with the importance of development this season. In case you missed last week’s edition, you can catch up here.
Kent Johnson Returns to Michigan
This was a foregone conclusion as soon as the Blue Jackets made Kent Johnson the fifth-overall pick, but the University of Michigan made it official this week that all three of Johnson, Owen Power and Matty Beniers will return to the school for the 2021-22 season.
Has there honesty been a more stacked team in the NCAA’s in recent memory? The Wolverines have the makings of being something special that could go down in history. Johnson, Power and Beniers each return with some unfinished business to take care of.
From a Blue Jackets’ perspective, this comes as no surprise. Johnson will enter his sophomore season at Michigan hoping to help his team win not only the Big 10 but a National Championship.
No matter what happens between now and the end of the season, the Wolverines will be must watch TV. It’s not often you get a collection of talent like this at one school. Johnson will be leaned on to provide top-line production and much more.
That should also be quite a scene when the Wolverines come to Ohio State. It will of course be a pro-Buckeye crowd but Blue Jackets’ fans will want to see Johnson do well. So 4-3 Buckeyes and a Johnson hat trick?
Johnson is in a great place to develop his game this season. Then once the season is over, we’ll see if he follows a similar path that Zach Werenski once took. Once Werenski’s season at Michigan ended, he signed on with the Cleveland Monsters for the rest of the season. He went on to help them win the Calder Cup as AHL Champions.
Johnson now sits as the top prospect in the Blue Jackets’ system. Fans have every reason to be excited for his season at Michigan and what he could eventually do in a Blue Jackets’ uniform. The Wolverines will open their season at Yost on Oct 8 & 9 against Lake Superior State. We’ll know their Big 10 schedule at a later date.
Cole Sillinger Signs His ELC
The Blue Jackets’ other top prospect from the 2021 draft Cole Sillinger signed his three-year ELC this past week. Of the three 2021 first rounders, Sillinger was the one that had the highest chance of signing in this offseason.
What is noteworthy at this point is just how close Sillinger is to being NHL ready. We’ll discuss this more in detail below when we talk about development, but the Blue Jackets actually have an important decision to make when it comes to Sillinger. Where will he play the 2021-22 season? This is especially important if he’s as close to ready as some are indicating.
Because Sillinger played in the USHL, he is not subject to the CHL/NHL agreement and can be assigned to the AHL right away if the Blue Jackets feel he’s ready for that step. His other options include starting with the Blue Jackets or going back to the WHL. Training camp and the preseason will ultimately decide this. But the team will need to ensure Sillinger is in the best place for his development.
There’s no need to rush Sillinger to the NHL at this point unless he’s 100% ready. But getting him signed was a priority and now the team can handle him the way they need to. Like Johnson, Sillinger could have a huge impact on this franchise as the years go on.
Development a Top Priority
While the Blue Jackets have many stories and things they want to see in the 2021-22 season, no story is more important than how their young players develop. This goes beyond the players they drafted this year.
Think of some of the players and what they’re currently facing. Jack Roslovic is learning to become a top-six center. Alex Texier is trying to do the same. Emil Bemstrom has a huge season ahead to show the team what he could become. Newly-acquired Jake Bean is still learning to become an everyday defenseman. Andrew Peeke has a golden opportunity for everyday playing time. But he needs to continue his development. Liam Foudy needs to take the next step. The list goes on.
While the Blue Jackets do have a veteran presence about them, they will still be one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Nothing will be more important to them in 2021-22 than how their young players develop. This is why it will be critically important to have their young players get as much playing time as possible.
That leads to another interesting point. Like Sillinger, other players have flexibility available in regards to where they can play. Stanislav Svozil comes to mind. He can play in Columbus, Cleveland or be sent to WHL Regina since he was signed out of Europe. The Blue Jackets will need to decide where the best place for a player will be. In a season where development is the top priority, GM Jarmo Kekalainen will need to choose the player’s destination correctly.
In Columbus, head coach Brad Larsen is going to have to find a balance in playing his young players while making sure they are competitive especially early on. But when we get to the end of the 2021-22 season, their success will be measured by how much their players have developed. Getting to the playoffs is a bonus and still should be their goal. But if their top prospects and other young players take important steps, they will be able to walk away from the season thinking of it as a success even if the record doesn’t indicate it. If we do not see noticeable development, then questions will need to be asked.
Enjoy your week. See you next Monday.
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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.