3 Blue Jackets’ Priorities For the Rest of the 2022-23 Season

Have you seen the most recent injury report for the Columbus Blue Jackets? In case you haven’t, it’s not for the faint of heart.

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Going into Tuesday night’s action, the Blue Jackets had nine players on injured reserve. Nine. It’s not just the quantity of players on the injured list. It’s also the quality of players on the list.

The Blue Jackets’ top center (Boone Jenner), top defenseman (Zach Werenski), both top goalies (Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo), a top-six winger (Jake Voracek), three other top-six defensemen (Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean, Nick Blankenburg) and two other top-nine forwards (Justin Danforth and Yegor Chinakhov) are all out. Only Merzlikins is not on injured reserve of the above names. He missed Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia due to illness. We haven’t even touched on Cole Sillinger yet either.

As a result, the Blue Jackets have suffered in the standings. While there have been some good performances from those playing, it hasn’t been enough to reflect in the results.

That doesn’t mean this season is totally lost. Far from it actually. What the Blue Jackets do the rest of this season will reflect in future seasons. Whether it’s important roster or development decisions, what the Blue Jackets do for the final 50 games is a big deal. It’s a unique opportunity to see some things maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise had the team stayed healthy and in the playoff race.

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That’s what our focus will be on in this space today. 50 games. One mission. The Blue Jackets must prioritize certain things in order to position themselves well for the future.

Every game is a big game for the Blue Jackets. It’s another chance to see how a player plays, how they handle adversity, how they learn from mistakes and then if they are a part of the future.

In particular, there are three things the Blue Jackets must prioritize in these last 50 games to ease some of the pain of this season while setting themselves up. This first one has been harped on all season but it needs to be discussed again.


This is non-negotiable. The Blue Jackets must prioritize the development of their young players. Failure to do so will have grave consequences in future seasons.

What should you watch for? See how players are deployed during games. See what kind of matchups they draw and if they are able to handle them. For instance, in the Dallas game, Brad Larsen took the Kent Johnson line away from the matchup against Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz. Johnson, who is still adjusting to the league, was in tough there. Once they got a different matchup, things stabilized. The game was 1-0 for most of the last 40 minutes.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson should get ample development time this season. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Watch also for players who switch lines in game or are benched for one reason or another. Larsen chose to bench both Josh Dunne and Kirill Marchenko during the latter part of the game. With Chinakhov injured, Larsen played nine forwards looking for a tying goal. Clearly these players are still trying earn the trust of their head coach.

While development for the players is the focus, so is the development of the coaching staff too. Is Larsen and his staff using the right approach in developing their players? Time will tell. But know how these players turn out will be a direct reflection of the coaching staff.

The Blue Jackets have to get this part right. They cannot leave this season leaving development opportunities on the table. They’re in a unique situation. Now they must take advantage of it.

Help Merzlikins

The Blue Jackets are in the midst of trying to help Merzlikins in any way they can. What they must get right is making sure he is put in the best position to succeed.

Merzlikins is not playing right now. Tarasov’s play helped him earn more starts. Then Merzlikins came down with an illness. Manny Legace has to find the right formula to get this goaltender going.

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets need to figure this situation out. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The contract is just beginning. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are. What matters is getting to the root of the matter and addressing it.

Merzlikins is going to get plenty of starts down the stretch of this season. Should he continue to struggle, it could put the Blue Jackets in an awful position of deciding what to do about it given Tarasov’s development. The easiest thing here would be for the Blue Jackets and Merzlikins to figure things out. They have a majority of the season to accomplish this task. They cannot enter the offseason with a significant question in net. This was supposed to be their strong spot.

Position Themselves For 2023 Draft

Let’s make one thing clear. The Blue Jackets are not intentionally tanking. They do not operate this way. However their circumstances could allow them the opportunity to position themselves well for this upcoming draft.

The Blue Jackets are not going to be buyers. They are not trading first-round picks to get help for this season. They hope their 2023 first rounder gives them the golden ticket to a franchise center.

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With so many key players out of their lineup, their young players can give maximum effort trying to win, but it simply might not be good enough. If the Blue Jackets do finish in 32nd place, they would be guaranteed a top-three pick. That would guarantee them one of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson, the projected top-three centers of this draft.

Related: Blue Jackets Present Most Attractive Fit for 2023 Top Prospects

However this draft also has other potentially good centers available. Namely Dalibor Dvorsky, Will Smith and Brayden Yager. So even if the Blue Jackets don’t land in the coveted top-three, they can still land a quality center in the top-10. A 12-5-1 end to their season certainly could take them out of this conversation. Whatever it takes to best position yourself without intentionally losing, the Blue Jackets must do that here and then get some much needed luck along the way.

Development. Help their top goalie. Position themselves with a little bit of luck. If the Blue Jackets can do those three things for the rest of this season, they would have made the most out of an otherwise awful situation.

Side Dishes

  • Couple notes from Tuesday night’s loss to the Flyers. The Blue Jackets have now lost five in a row and eight of their last 10 games. Unlike recent efforts, Larsen called this game “sloppy.”
  • The Blue Jackets have now allowed 30 or more shots in a game in 25 of their 32 games. They average 35.5 shots against per game. That’s one way to keep your goalie busy.
  • The Blue Jackets dressed 10 rookies in Tuesday’s game. That’s usually not a recipe for success. But what choice do they have at this point?

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  • Larsen with the money quote postgame: “We have to learn how to figure this out.” The we in this case is everyone on the team, as a team. Spot on.
  • The Blue Jackets got goals from Andrew Peeke, Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko. Johnson scored his eighth of the season and is now tied for third in goals by a rookie in the NHL. If he continues to play in a top role even after Jenner returns, never say never about making a Calder run.
  • The Blue Jackets have one last game before Christmas, in Chicago on Friday night. That has potential lottery implications. They play again on New Year’s Eve in Columbus also.
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