Blue Jackets Blasts: Kuraly, Danforth, Signings & More

Welcome back to Columbus Blue Jackets’ Blasts. We are down to the last three weeks of the regular season. The Blue Jackets have just nine regular season games left before they enter another much anticipated offseason.

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But before we get there, there are games to play. And there is plenty of news to talk about. This week, we’ll start with COVID’s return to the Blue Jackets.

Kuraly Latest Hit By COVID

Before Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Blue Jackets announced that Sean Kuraly was placed in COVID protocol. He was just one of three Blue Jackets to play in every game this season. Now, only Andrew Peeke and Gus Nyquist remain as the only ones to not miss a game.

Among those that have recently been hit with COVID was head coach Brad Larsen and associate coach Pascal Vincent. Other reports have indicated some members of the staff were also in COVID protocol. Kuraly is the first player in protocol since this recent wave hit the team.

Sean Kuraly Columbus Blue Jackets
Sean Kuraly is the latest Blue Jackets’ player to be hit with COVID. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Remember that testing now happens when there are symptoms. Larsen recently said having the virus was like “having a bad cold.” He was able to test negative after five days and then rejoined the team. Kuraly hopes to be able to do the same.

But until then, the Blue Jackets’ lineup is a land of opportunity with injuries and absences abound. They played Saturday with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Their centers were Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger and Justin Danforth (we’ll talk more about Danforth below.) Kuraly joins Boone Jenner and Alex Texier out of the lineup, all of whom can play center.

Someone had to step up given the absence list. Roslovic did just that on Saturday night perhaps playing his best game to date as a member of the Blue Jackets. He recorded a hat trick including the game-winning goal and added a primary assist to help the Blue Jackets defeat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. His line along with Nyquist and Patrik Laine were dominant.

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If there was anything the Blue Jackets needed to see as this season wound down, it was performances like this for someone needing to make a lasting impression. The hat trick gave Roslovic a new career-high 15 goals this season. With Kuraly possibly having to miss another game depending on his situation, the Blue Jackets will continue to lean on Roslovic as their top-line center.

And who knows? With COVID being around the team, there’s always a chance someone could get it. If so, it’ll be next man up over these last nine games.

Danforth Paying Dividends

We need to take a moment to talk about the recent play of Danforth. He scored again on Saturday night as he was on the receiving end of a beautiful pass from Roslovic. That made four goals in Danforth’s last six games.

Back to the impressions talk. While there’s certainly things in Danforth’s game that need developed, has anyone made a bigger statement of late than him? It seems like he’s making something happen every time he steps on the ice.

The Blue Jackets have to start asking themselves which players are part of their future. With many new faces expected to join in soon, several guys have to start making their cases. Danforth has done that and then some showing that he can play in any role. Saturday in Detroit, he played center. Before that he was on the wing. He even found himself in the top-six at one point on the wing.

Why is Danforth getting these chances? That’s because he’s earning these chances through his play. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. He now has nine goals this season. A goal every four games in his role is exceeding expectations.

Now Danforth’s goal is to show that he can consistency play this type of game. He might not score once every four games moving forward. But he can show how effective of an overall player he can be. Don’t be surprised if he’s part of the Blue Jackets moving forward based on his play at the end of this season. He’s been that good and noticeable.

The New Signings Are Here

The Blue Jackets made significant news on Friday. They made the Kent Johnson signing official. That part wasn’t surprising. But they also announced that Johnson’s teammate Nick Blankenburg signed as well. Blankenburg’s deal is a one-year ELC that will expire at the end of this season.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Prospect Report: The Countdown to Kent Johnson

Both players were at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday watching the game. Both are expected to join the team on Monday and each could make their NHL debut on Wednesday against Montreal.

There’s a couple of takeaways here. First, we’ll get our first glimpse of what Johnson can do. Expect him to get a chance in the top-six right away. Also expect him to get some power-play time. All eyes will be on him.

Kent Johnson, Michigan Wolverines
Kent Johnson is expected to make his Blue Jackets’ debut on Wednesday. (Jonathan Knight, Jonathan Knight Photography)

As for Blankenburg, he’s a mobile defenseman who comes in with exceptional leadership skills. He was Michigan’s captain this past season. Given the recent rotation on the Blue Jackets’ D, there’s a clear path for some playing time this season. This is a good gamble by the team.

The other thing that we need to note here is the team’s approach. Johnson comes in with expectations to help turn the Blue Jackets around in the coming years. The team will want to do right by him and other future core pieces that come in. Signing Johnson’s teammate is not a small matter. The Blue Jackets liked Blankenburg enough to sign him. But think of the message that sends to Johnson too.

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In previous seasons, there have been reports of “a split” between the players and management. It seems obvious the Blue Jackets are now trying everything they can to build trust early and foster these relationships moving forward. This is a good start and something that should having lasting benefits down the road.

For now though, Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena comes highly anticipated. We could see multiple NHL debuts. We get David Savard’s homecoming. And the game is on National TV in Canada. That could make for one memorable night.

Side Dishes

  • With the Capitals win on Sunday, that put the Blue Jackets’ tragic number at three. Any combination of points gained by the Capitals and lost by the Blue Jackets that total three will eliminate the Blue Jackets from playoff contention. This was to be expected. But they sure did last longer than many experts thought they would.
  • If the Blue Jackets finish 21st or higher in the standings, then they would have no chance of winning the first-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. That’s because under the new lottery rules, teams can only jump up as many as 10 places. In addition, the first rounder they own from Chicago is lottery protected this season. If it carried over to 2023, the Blue Jackets get the pick regardless of lottery impact. As of this writing, the Blue Jackets are in 21st place, so a lottery win would jump them to second at most.
  • Also of note on the Draft Lottery, teams can win at most two lotteries in a five-year period. That starts this season, so all teams are on equal playing ground when it comes to that.
  • The Blue Jackets have important games down the stretch for different reasons. Their games against non-playoff teams could impact draft position. But they also play the Kings, Lightning, Oilers and Penguins to end the season. Those could carry playoff seeding weight for their opponents. Expect Elvis Merzlikins to start almost every game in these final nine.