The new season is fast approaching and that means its time for some preview content here at The Hockey Writers. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, there is a lot to be excited about. In preparation for this season, they have signed a shiny new free agent, traded away a long-time forward, and brought in some new top prospects to the void in the full-time roster. In this article we’ll have a look at three of the pieces who are primed to pounce on a new opportunity and have a breakout season in 2022-23.
The thought of a full season of Kent Johnson in a Blue Jacket jersey should have fans drooling with anticipation. The young offensive dynamo has had a heck of a summer. He was a big part of the Canadian contingent at the World Junior Hockey Championship, most notably as the one who sealed the tournament, scoring the “golden goal” in overtime.
One would have to assume he is a lock for the opening-night roster. There is a small possibility that he could be bumped down early on as one of a few players ineligible for waivers should someone stand out in training camp. His appearance this season will not be his first in the NHL, as he played seven games with the big club late in the last campaign. While he didn’t show as strongly as some may have predicted, with only three assists through that time, it was far from an abysmal performance for an 18-year-old.
His skating is a little on the weaker side, which hurt his draft stock some, but the skills and talent that he brings are unteachable. Purely when looking at his hockey IQ combined with his hands, there are hints of the all-time greats. Looking at players like Pavel Datsyuk, Patrick Kane, and even newcomer Trevor Zegras. Depending on where he plays in the lineup and how well he adjusts to the rigors of an 82-game season, a rookie campaign like Zegras’ could be possible for Johnson. Realistically that could be a bit much to expect at this point, but I’d say this year will be a good one for Johnson. Expect the real coming out party to be in 2023-24, though.
Adam Boqvist is the prime example of a player that is just waiting to have that explosive year. Last season was his first with the Blue Jackets and he impressed. His 11 goals was good enough for 16th place among defensemen across the league, tying players like Zach Werenski, Adam Fox, and Jacob Trouba. That’s despite missing 30 games due to injury.
Drafted eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018, his offensive skills are tantalizing. He was seen as someone who could be the next best offensive defenseman out of Sweden since two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. We’ve seen flashes of that talent throughout his young career, but not over a meaningful stretch of time. Missing a lot of time due to injury certainly hasn’t helped his development.
Like Johnson, bulking up was priority number one this offseason for the young defender. He was a little too easily pushed around in the defensive zone last season. A stronger frame may also make him less susceptible to injury, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
If Boqvist is able to play a full season and he managed to bulk up a little in the gym, there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t break out. If he plays at least 70 games, it is not out of the question for him to score around 20 goals. Boqvist is one of the few pieces in the league that has what it takes to become the next offensively dominant young defenseman — like Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes — that have taken the NHL by storm over the last few seasons.
The golden boy has finally made his way stateside after what feels like a decade of waiting. Kirill Marchenko was a second-round pick for the Blue Jackets in the 2018 Draft, and since then has been a strong performer in his native Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Spending time on the KHL’s juggernaut SKA St. Petersburg has proven well for development, as seen in no finer example than Artemi Panarin. Other notable alumni of that program include Igor Shesterkin, Evgenii Dadanov, Vladislav Gavrikov, and are soon to be joined by 2024 top prospect Matvei Michkov.
Marchenko has shown a unique offensive ability that Blue Jackets’ brass have oft mentioned when asked about their next generation. He has some big game experience, having been invited to play in last year’s Olympic Games. While he wasn’t a regular in that lineup, just being along for the ride is a valuable experience to a young player.
At only 22 years old, Marchenko still has enough time to adapt to the North American game. That adjustment has been particularly challenging for some older players who have made their way over from Russia a little later. That includes players like Vadim Shipachev, Vladimir Tkachev, and Sergei Plotnikov, who were all highly touted, but came up short. Marchenko was not incredibly established as a star in the KHL, so I wouldn’t expect a Panarin-esque performance in his rookie year, but 15-20 goals and 40 points is not out of the question if he really takes the ball and runs with it.
One of the pros to having a younger group is that there is no shortage of potential. A handful of players could grab hold of their opportunity to reach new heights like Jack Roslovic. More established players could even push their league-wide status from star to superstar, like Patrik Laine and Werenski. One of the joys to the sport and why we love to watch the game is that you’ll never know what’s going to happen until the puck drops.
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.