The 2022 NHL Draft has passed and free agency is in full swing. Since the only moves the Columbus Blue Jackets are expected to make going forward are small trades to clear up cap space, it seems like it’s time to start looking toward the upcoming season. As Cole Sillinger proved last season, training camp can bring quite a few surprises. There are a few young players who will almost certainly make the opening night roster like Kent Johnson and Nick Blankenburg. There are even more young players looking to fight for an unexpected NHL opportunity. Let’s take a look at three prospects who have a strong shot at making the lineup when the puck drops on the 2022-23 season.
The Blue Jackets have finally signed top prospect Kirill Marchenko to his entry-level contract and it seems inevitable that he’ll play in the NHL during the 2022-23 season. The only reason there’s a bit of doubt that he’ll be on the opening night roster is the abundance of forwards on the depth chart. Despite having some strong performances last season with SKA. Saint Petersburg, he was often given very limited ice time. Putting up just over half a point per game in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is difficult for any young player, and he was able to do so with around 10 minutes of ice time most nights. It raises the question of what he would’ve been able to do in his final KHL season if he had gotten top-six ice time. That will never be answered, but it does mean that there’s a lot of untapped potential in the young Russian winger.
Marchenko has been one of the organization’s top prospects since being selected in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he starts the season in the American Hockey League (AHL) though. Giving him time to adjust to the North American style of hockey without the pressure of the NHL could be beneficial for him long term. With that being said, if the 21-year-old winger does make the Blue Jackets roster out of training camp; he’s the type of player who can surprise a lot of people and potentially contend for the Calder Trophy.
David Jiricek was the Blue Jackets’ first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The Czech defenseman had a strong draft year, and as a right-handed defender, he’s an asset that will certainly fill a gap for the team in the future. He’s not expected to be NHL-ready at this point in his development; however, the same was said about Sillinger 12 months ago. Defensemen usually don’t develop as quickly as forwards, but recent draftees like Quinn Hughes, Moritz Seider, and Jamie Drysdale have shown that the game is changing. Defensemen are entering the league younger than ever, making it more likely that Jiricek can have a legitimate chance of cracking the NHL roster in 2022-23.
Mikael Pyyhtia had a strong 2021-22 season with TPS of the Finnish Liiga. For many, the news of him signing an entry-level contract in May might have been easy to overlook, but the former fourth-round pick has a legitimate opportunity to shock Blue Jackets fans when training camp comes around. He’s currently expected to be loaned back to TPS for the upcoming season, however, in the world of hockey things can change very quickly.
Pyyhtia is a 6-foot forward who can play both center and wing. He took a major step forward with his performance last season, where he scored 21 goals and a total of 35 points through 56 games in one of Scandinavia’s top professional leagues. He also had a very strong playoff performance with eight goals and five assists through 18 games. He may not be a name that most Blue Jackets fans are familiar with at this point in time, but if his development continues down its current trajectory, that won’t be the case for much longer.
The Blue Jackets have put themselves in a strong position for both the present and the future, as some players like those mentioned above could possibly be able to contribute on both fronts. While there’s still quite a bit of time before training camp starts, it’s never too early to get ready for the upcoming season. There’s almost always one player who surprises everyone after an offseason of hard work, the only question left is, who will it be this time around?
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.