Once again, no current NHL players will be in action at the Winter Olympics. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any familiar names on the scoresheets. We’re going to do a dive into Blue Jackets – past and future – who are set to take the ice in Beijing next week.
One thing that comes to mind perusing the list is the word “potential.” Whether it was a player who came in highly touted but crashed and burned or a player who still fits in the “prospect” category and is noted to have a bright future. We’ll be sorting by team, from the least amount of Blue Jackets to the most. Also crossing off the teams with no Blue Jacket connection, which are teams USA, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, and Denmark.
Canada – 1 Player
Adam Cracknell – 2014-15
Adam Cracknell is a definite journeyman. He carved out a pretty decent niche as a scrappy bottom-line NHL winger for a few years in the mid-2010s. Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, (remember when the draft was longer than seven rounds?) Cracknell was first signed by the St. Louis Blues and has played for 17 different teams since his NHL debut in the 2010-11 season. His 6-foot-3 stature was good for digging in the corners and his energy helped provide a jumpstart to the roster.
Cracknell’s stop in Columbus was short. He was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, on Oct. 7, 2014, and then traded to the Blues for the ominous “future considerations” on Feb. 26, 2015. Only 17 games played in Ohio with a whopping one assist and a minus-8 rating. I don’t think I’d consider him a legacy player, but his name could spark something in your hippocampus.
Another name you may be familiar with is goalie Matt Tomkins. He spent four years at Ohio State University in Columbus generally serving as the 1B or back up to other Buckeye goalies.
Czech Republic – 1 Player
Lukas Sedlak – 2016-19
Lukas Sedlak was a minor part in the mass exodus from Columbus following the 2019 NHL season. His departure was a little overshadowed by the losses of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Sergei Bobrovsky – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt the depth of the team.
He was an interesting piece that showed a flash of brilliance in the Lake Erie Monsters’ run to the Calder Cup championship, tying Oliver Bjorkstrand for the team lead in point-scoring. That run would be the most flare he would show in his game, not translating that success to the NHL level. Sedlak found himself often scratched and only ended up with 27 points through his first 162 games of NHL action.
Following the 2019 season, it came time to renew his contract. Sedlak had spent eight seasons in North America – including two in major junior – so it seemed that his first priority was to play in the NHL. However, he decided to jump ship to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) instead of waiting for a qualifying offer. Since he left Columbus, he’s shown the offensive talent from his Calder Cup run, being a force for Chelyabinsk Traktor. He’s sitting at 0.74 points per game through 164 games.
Switzerland – 1 Player
Gregory Hofmann – 2021-22
This may be the freshest face and the only person to play in both the NHL and the Olympics this year. Gregory Hofmann bailed on the Columbus Blue Jackets only a month ago and has already been back in action in his native Switzerland. The skilled forward racked up five goals in his first five games back with his old squad in Zug. His high production is a massive improvement on the two goals and seven points through what will likely be his only 24 games of NHL action.
Hofmann came to the NHL after much anticipation. A top scorer in the Swiss league for several years running, he was waiting for a one-way contract to make the leap to North America. He did so in his age 29 year, which was this season, for the Blue Jackets. Hofmann bounced around the bottom-nine of the forward corps and showed flashes of what he could become. Ultimately, he decided to quit on Brad Larsen’s squad in a tough season
Finland – 1 Player
Mikko Lehtonen – 2020-21
The Toronto Maple Leafs fanbase lauded the signing of Finnish defenseman Mikko Lehtonen as one of the moves that would put them over the top to win their first Stanley Cup in a millennium. Like every other time they’ve declared that since 1967, it was fraught with delusion. However, that doesn’t mean that Lehtonen didn’t have potential.
His last season before crossing the Atlantic was spent in the KHL’s Helsinki Jokerit, racking up 66 points in his last 77 games. The hype was high, but through nine games, Lehtonen scored three assists and found himself on the outside of the Maple Leafs’ defensive core. That gave the opportunity for a trade and in swooped Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekelainen.
Lehtonen played 17 games in the 2020-21 season for the bottom-dwelling Blue Jackets and re-signed after adding 3 assists. He was set to compete for a bottom-three spot on the blue line for 2021-22 but disappointed in training camp. He was set to be sent to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters but refused to report. They terminated his contract and he’s made his way to SKA St Petersburg in the KHL, where he plays with Jackets prospect Kirill Marchenko – who you’ll have to scroll down to read a little more on.
China – 1 Player
Jeremy Smith – 2013-14
This one is a bit of a stretch, but I’m going to go for it anyways. Jeremy Smith signed with the Blue Jackets as an eager 24-year-old goalie with the hopes of making his mark in the big leagues. The former second-round pick had been buried deep in the Nashville Predators organization and decided to sign in Columbus before the 2013-14 season. He was eager to work with the coaching staff in Columbus after they helped propel Sergei Bobrovsky to a Vezina Trophy.
“I think this was the best fit for me, quite honestly. Just looking at the coaching staff with Ian Clark and the success he’s had with Bobrovsky and [winning] the Vezina, this is a place I really wanted to play.”Smith told the Blue Jackets website after signing.
He never got a chance on the NHL roster, spending 38 games in then-Blue Jackets farm squad, Springfield, before moving on to the Bruins organization. He bounced around several other organizations since then and is now in his third season starting for the KHL’s Chinese squad, Kunlun Red Star. His time there made the Dearborn, Michigan native eligible to play for China.
Slovakia – 2 Players
Marko Dano – 2014-15, 2019-20
This name should really sting for Blue Jacket fans as one of the ultimate “What ifs” in recent history. Marko Dano was one of Columbus’ three first-round picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Dano started his career highly touted, after performing well in international competitions. He had an immense amount of skill that many were excited to see at the NHL level.
He started his rookie campaign showing why he was worthy of a first-round selection with 21 points through his first 35 games of NHL action. Then he was shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Brandon Saad trade. Dano never repeated that level of production, bouncing around the Blackhawks, Jets, and Avalanche before making another stop in Ohio. His second stop was much successful, being held off the scoresheet through three games of action. Dano now plays in the Czech league.
Samuel Knazko – Prospect
At the forefront of a wave of young Slovaks with some serious talent is a young defenseman in the Blue Jackets pipeline. Samuel Knazko captained a surprisingly talented Slovak team at both the 2021 and 2022 World Juniors. He was brought over to the Seattle Thunderbirds to start his acclimatization process to the North American game.
His addition to the Olympic squad will be great experience for him and will give Blue Jackets brass another look at how Knazko fares against men. His only other real shot against players over 20 was in last year’s World Championship, during which he went scoreless through eight games. His skating and passing are his strengths and could be on display during this tournament.
Russia – 4 Players
Artem Anisimov – 2012-15
Artem Anisimov‘s place in Blue Jackets lore may be more based on transactional value, as opposed to anything else. He was a part of two of the biggest trades in team history. He was part of the return package from the Rangers in exchange for franchise cornerstone, Rick Nash. Then, Anisimov spent two and a half lacklustre years with the BJs, topping out at 22 goals and 39 points in 2013-14 playing a role as an effective two-way centre. Then he was shipped off to The Windy City in exchange for Blackhawks youngster Brandon Saad – the key piece that would land Artemi Panarin from Chicago only two years later.
Anisimov spent four years in Chicago and another two with the bottom-feeding Ottawa Senators before joining Yaroslavl Lokomotiv to start this season.
Mikhail Grigorenko – 2020-21
One of the higher touted prospects headed into the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh was the Quebec Ramparts’ Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigorenko was slated by many to go third overall, just after fellow Russian Nail Yakupov and Russian descendant Alexander Galchenyuk. He ended up sliding to the Buffalo Sabres at 12th overall which is one slot behind the class’ leading point producer in Filip Forsberg.
The Blue Jackets could have taken him with their 2nd overall selection but opted for the oft-injured Ryan Murray. Murray who didn’t turn into a franchise cornerstone wasn’t much of a loss in a draft class that looks more and more like a bust as the years go on.
Grigorenko never really stuck in Buffalo, never getting a full time shot with the big club, he bounced around between the Sabres, their AHL affiliate, and his Quebec Ramparts in each of his first three seasons. He was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly, then was not tendered a qualifying offer after two seasons of full-time action. He couldn’t find an NHL suitor so he headed to his native Russia where he dominated for CSKA Moscow. Then came the Blue Jackets.
They signed the then 26-year-old forward to a contract for the 2020-21 season with hopes he could fill part of the offensive void left by the likes of Artemi Panarin and company. Similar to the Gregory Hofmann scenario, Grigorenko was pushed out of top-six minutes by other talent and never really got a chance to show his offensive prowess. He chose not to re-sign following a four-goal, 12 point performance through 32 games in John Tortorella’s offensively stringent system.
Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov – Prospects
Now we transition to two Russians who are set to be a big part of the future of the Blue Jackets. Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov are expected to make a splash when they eventually make their way to Ohio from Russia.
Marchenko was a second-round pick by the Jackets in 2018 and has shown some offensive prowess on the New York Yankees of the KHL in SKA St. Petersburg. His half a point-per-game clip puts him above many of the peers in his age group, in a league which scoring is particularly stringent for younger players.
Voronkov is a fourth-rounder from 2019. He’s really come alive with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan. The 6-foot-3 forward has a penchant to rise to the occasion. He was really on display in last year’s playoff with six goals and ten points through 15 games and in the 2020 World Juniors with a point-per-game through seven games. One could only hope this will not be a repeat of the Sedlak situation which started with one strong playoff run.
These players alone make the Russian squad without a doubt the most interesting team to watch for Blue Jackets fans. It may be a tough decision choosing whether or not to choose to root for your home country or your favourite team. One thing for certain is that even if the Blue Jackets current roster players aren’t in Beijing fighting for gold, their fanbase still has some skin in the game.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.