This week on Blue Jackets News & Rumors, it turns out more than one player was not welcome at Training Camp. We’ll review each situation. Then we talk about the other top prospect not named Yegor Chinakhov or Cole Sillinger whose season is ramping up. Finally we preview the Monday night game in Buffalo and tell you what to watch for.
Zac Rinaldo Waived
We found out on Media Day that Zac Rinaldo was unvaccinated and not welcomed at Blue Jackets’ training camp. That day, GM Jarmo Kekalainen said the ball was in Rinaldo’s court as to what happened next. We found out this past week what that next step was.
Rinaldo was not welcomed in Cleveland either.
The Blue Jackets announced that Rinaldo would not be welcomed with the Cleveland Monsters given his unvaccinated status. Two important things to note in this announcement. First, the team will honor Rinaldo’s contract and pay him. Second, if another opportunity comes up, they will not stop him from pursuing it.
Here is what Kekalainen had to say about the decision to exclude Rinaldo from Cleveland.
“Our position has been very clear that our organization is committed to doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and fans. Given the impact COVID-19 continues to have in our communities, we believe the best course of action given Zac’s vaccination status is to not have him report to Cleveland at this time. While we respect an individual’s right to make a personal choice with regards to being vaccinated or not, we have a responsibility to do what we believe is best for our organization. We will honor Zac’s contract, but if he wants to pursue any other opportunities to play this season we will allow him to do so.”Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen 10-1-2021
Let’s keep one thing in mind here. The Blue Jackets had an interest in bringing Rinaldo on board before this became an issue. They did sign him. They clearly wanted him around because of the type of game he’s known for. Tom Wilson, anyone?
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The question that will work itself out now is who can step up when needed in a physical sense? Unlike past seasons, the Blue Jackets come in with a more skilled team. But those power forwards such as Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are gone. We’ll see how things go when the situation arises. But it is fair to wonder which players will answer the call.
Regardless of the above, the Blue Jackets handled this situation as good as anyone can ask given the circumstances. They are acting in the best interest of the club while still honoring the contract.
Cam Johnson Waived Too
It turns out that Rinaldo was not the only player waived by the Blue Jackets last week. Goaltender Cam Johnson joined Rinaldo on waivers. It was curious because he wasn’t at camp nor did he appear in any preseason games. Recall he was signed by the Blue Jackets in order to fulfill the necessary requirements of exposure to Seattle in the expansion draft.
Head coach Brad Larsen was asked about Johnson. “He didn’t meet the fitness standards,” Larsen told the media on Friday. As it stands, he’s far on the outside and not welcome at camp.
The Blue Jackets also signed goaltender Jean-Francois Berube to a one-year, two-way deal for this season. This was a combination of Berube’s play in the preseason and Johnson’s fitness situation. Expect Berube and Daniil Tarasov to share time in net. Also Jet Greaves will be part of the rotation in Cleveland as well.
The Blue Jackets are making a stand this preseason. If you are not vaccinated like Rinaldo, you are not welcome. If you came into camp out of shape like Johnson did, you are not welcome at camp either. Johnson has been assigned to the Cleveland Monsters but it will be interesting to see if he can do anything to get back into the rotation. As of now, that doesn’t look very good.
Kent Johnson’s Season Underway
All the early chatter around the younger Blue Jackets has centered around Chinakhov and Sillinger after their performances in Traverse City and in the preseason. But the third member of their top-end prospect pool had a preseason game on Saturday night. He scored less than two minutes into the game. Enter Kent Johnson.
Johnson received a pass at center and had a clean-cut breakaway that he buried. The general belief amongst the experts is that Johnson is the Blue Jackets’ top prospect. It’s easy to see why given the skill he has.
The Wolverines won the game 7-1 against Bowling Green. Johnson finished with a goal and three assists on the night. That’s a decent way to start a season.
Johnson’s Wolverines will be must-see TV all season long given the immense talent they have on the roster. He will play a huge role in where this team goes eventually. Anything short of a National Championship will be seen as a disappointment.
Johnson and the Wolverines open their regular season at home this Friday and Saturday night against Lake Superior State. Friday’s game is at 7:30 P.M. and Saturday’s game is at 7:00 P.M. Both games can be seen on the B1G+ streaming service.
The Blue Jackets play their fifth of eight preseason games Monday night in Buffalo. This game perhaps is the most telling to date of what the potential opening night roster could look like. Here is the roster for the game in numerical order.
- Forwards: Kuraly, Nyquist, Foudy, Bjorkstrand, Laine, Sillinger, Jenner, Robinson, Bemstrom, Chinakhov, Voracek, Roslovic.
- Defense: Peeke, Werenski, Bean, Boqvist, Gavrikov, Carlsson.
- Goalies: Tarasov, Korpisalo.
What To Watch For
- Let’s see who plays center in this group. Boone Jenner returned from a two-day absence at practice but played on the wing. With Texier not in this game, perhaps Jenner slides back to the middle. Check back at warmup.
- This game will be the preseason debuts of both Joonas Korpisalo and Gus Nyquist. Korpisalo is in a contract year and has everything to play for this season for his next contract. Let’s see how he handles it. Nyquist meanwhile hasn’t played in a game since Mar 8, 2020. He missed all of last season due to shoulder surgery. The team elected to not play him at the end of the season once the playoffs were out of reach. For him, it has to feel good to get back out there again.
- The third pair for this game appears to be Carlsson and Peeke. It’s a nice opportunity for them to separate themselves with an NHL lineup on the ice. Can they take advantage of this?
- The game is not being televised but will be available online starting at 7 P.M. on bluejackets.com in the Columbus market.
Blue Jackets Cut Roster to 30
On Monday afternoon, the Blue Jackets cut down to 30 players remaining at training camp. Here is a list of those players who were cut.
- Players placed on NHL waivers for the purpose of assignment to Cleveland: Gavin Bayreuther, Jean-Francois Berube, Brendan Gaunce and Tyler Sikura.
- Players loaned to Cleveland: Tyler Angle, Tim Berni, Jake Christiansen, Josh Dunne and Carson Meyer.
- Players released from tryout and returned to Cleveland: Cole Cassels, Cole Fonstad, Brett Gallant, Jake Gaudet, Adam Helewka, Zach Jordan, Tristan Mullin, Justin Scott, Jake Slaker, Cole Clayton, Olivier LeBlanc, Thomas Schemitsch, Dillon Simpson, Billy Sweezey, Giovanni Vallati and Jet Greaves.
- Players released from their tryout: Navrin Mutter and Evan Moyse.
There are no real big surprises on this list. One could perhaps argue Josh Dunne could have had a shot at making a bottom-six spot but with competition already fierce as it is, those on the outside had to blow the door down. Dunne should have success in Cleveland while continuing his development.
Tyler Angle and Carson Meyer will be worth watching in Cleveland as impact players. The Monsters open their season on Oct 15 at home against Syracuse. Expect big things from this duo.
After these cuts, there are 18 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies remaining. There is opportunity especially in that bottom-six with four preseason games remaining. There’s no better time than now to stand out. It starts Monday in Buffalo.
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.