The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a rollercoaster of a season. Many around the league expected them to be near the bottom of the Metropolitan, yet they currently sit fifth, right in the middle of the division. With the amount of player turnover in recent years, a large portion of the fan favorites from the playoff years are already gone. That gives plenty of room for new players to take those spots, and they have certainly done just that. Although there are certainly more than three players who fit this description, here are three of the players that Blue Jackets fans have fallen in love with during the 2021-22 season.
Although Patrik Laine made his debut with the Blue Jackets last season, it wasn’t until the start of this season that fans really began to notice exactly who general manager Jarmo Kekalainen brought to Columbus in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade (from ‘Blue Jackets trade disgruntled Pierre-Luc Dubois to Jets for Patrick Laine, Jack Roslovic’, USA Today, Jan. 23, 2021). He had a stretch of games he’d like to forget in his first season. Factor in the fact that off the ice interaction with fans was fairly limited coming into training camp this year, and not many fans knew much about him besides what they had seen on social media.
Related: Blue Jackets Must Prioritize Signing Patrik Laine for Life
The current season didn’t start how Laine likely would’ve imagined either. Early on, his performances seemed reminiscent of 2020-21. He went through some injury troubles and a personal tragedy as well, which took him away from the team for extended periods of time. Since the All-Star Break, however, he has been on a rampage. He’s in the middle of a nine-game point streak and has boosted his season numbers tremendously. As of writing, he currently has a stat line of 16-15-31 through 29 games.
Fans don’t just love Laine because of his recent on-ice performances, either. He’s become one of the top personalities on a team full of personality. Whether it’s a crazy outfit, funny interactions with fans, or just his demeanor in general, he knows how to entertain. One example of his aforementioned entertaining personality is shown above.
Bringing a player back to their hometown will always result in increased popularity, but add in Sean Kuraly‘s hard-nosed, never give up style of play, and it’s a recipe for success with the fans. He had spent his entire NHL career with the Boston Bruins before signing with the Blue Jackets this past offseason.
During his first season in Columbus, Kuraly has been noticeable essentially every time he’s on the ice. Whether he’s making an impact defensively, offensively, or physically, he’s making sure that he gets noticed by the opposition. He’s been a key penalty killer, and offensively, he’s been having a career year. He’s currently tied for his career-high in goals with eight, while he’s only five points off of his career-high of 23 in 2019-20, having played 20 fewer games.
Despite not having a letter, Kuraly has also stepped up into a major leadership role. Considering a majority of the Blue Jackets’ previous leadership group has departed, having a player signed to a multi-year deal attempt to fill their shoes is great for the organization as a whole. His contributions both on and off the ice have made him a quick favorite in Nationwide Arena and throughout Columbus as a whole.
The Rookies (Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov)
This may be technically cheating the system since it makes it a total of four players, but it’s impossible to include one of these two without the other. Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov are both in the midst of their rookie seasons in the NHL, but they’ve made a considerable impact in a short time. Neither one will be in the conversation about the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year, but they’ve been able to step into sizeable roles and put together respectable numbers.
Cole Sillinger was selected as the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which they acquired in the blockbuster Seth Jones trade earlier in the day. Following a great training camp and preseason, he made the opening night roster and has stayed with the Blue Jackets the entirety of the season to this point. He has spent some time on the top line, but he currently finds himself sitting as the second-line center while also being the youngest player in the league at just 18 years old. His father, Mike Sillinger, was a Blue Jacket himself back in the early years of the franchise, and as a result of that stint with the team, Cole is a Columbus native. His impressive shot, work ethic, willingness to throw the body, and occasionally fight when necessary has been enough to win over the Blue Jackets’ faithful.
Yegor Chinakhov’s road to the Blue Jackets hasn’t been as straightforward as Sillinger’s. Chinakhov went undrafted in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft; however, the next year, he would be selected 21st overall by the Blue Jackets. During the 2020-21 season, he remained in his native Russia, playing for his hometown Avangard Omsk, who he helped win the Gagarin Cup.
Once he accomplished that major feat, he signed his entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in May of 2021. He had a rocky start to the season due to the crowding of the roster. As a result, he moved constantly between the Blue Jackets and Cleveland Monsters despite only playing a single game with the farm club. He spent quite a few games as a healthy scratch before becoming a part of the everyday lineup. His shot and underrated ability to back-check have been his most noticeable characteristics this season, and those will only continue to improve over the coming years.
With a team like the Blue Jackets, quite a few players could easily have made this list. As the franchise goes through a continued reset, some names will come and go. Regardless, next season, with players like Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko expected to make their NHL debuts, there could be even more fan favorites added to the mix.