25 Blue Jackets’ Questions They Must Answer in 2022-23

We now continue our season preview of the Columbus Blue Jackets by asking some tough questions. The answers to these questions will determine how the 2022-23 season will go for them.

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The Blue Jackets enter the new season with a combination of excitement and unknowns. The early part of training camp is showing just how many questions this team is facing. With a wide array of outcomes possible, these Blue Jackets could be anything from in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes to safely in a playoff spot.

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What are those questions? We now share 25 questions that the Blue Jackets must answer this season. Including one question for management and one question for head coach Brad Larsen, we have 23 other questions that will be aimed at players who will most likely make the opening night roster. We will also include some bonus questions for the guys on the bubble too.

For each situation, we will present our question and the rationale behind asking the question. The Blue Jackets are on record saying their goal is to make the playoffs every year including this one. The questions will focus on meeting that goal in 2022-23. Let’s begin.

1. Management: Did you do enough on defense this offseason?

This to me is the single biggest question facing the Blue Jackets in 2022-23. After all the talk at the end of last season about reducing goals against and prioritizing defense, they are essentially running it back. The obvious addition is Erik Gudbranson.

Will there be enough self improvement within the defense to get out of the basement in goals and shots against? Help is eventually on the way. But right now, it’s the story. Don’t be surprised to see them explore possibilities to address a top-four D if the right player becomes available.

Columbus Blue Jackets Jarmo Kekalainen
Did Jarmo Kekalainen do enough for their defense this offseason? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gary Wiepert)

Low-key, watch Ben Harpur, who is in Blue Jackets’ camp on a PTO. I think he has a path to make this team given his experience and size he brings. He could make for a good 5th-7th defensemen.

2. Coach Brad Larsen: What have you learned from last season that will help you in year two?

Last season was a learning experience for Larsen being a first-time NHL head coach. But now facing higher expectations, we need to consider how he can be better in order to get the most out of the team.

Look at his lineup decisions. Look to see how he handles certain players. Of note, several younger players could be in for big roles in 2022-23. Will he deploy them in those bigger roles right away or ease them in.

There are some sportsbooks out there that have Larsen in the top-10 of coaches that could be fired first this season. While that certainly seems premature early in his second year, it is a sign that expectations are rising and a bad start could lead to more questions. He needs to make good decisions to help the team get early momentum to start the season. We’ll see if he’s more comfortable now having a year under his belt.

3. Elvis Merzlikins: Are you ready to mentally handle the rigors of being a number-one?

Last season was tough on Merzlikins. He lost his good friend Matiss Kivlenieks in the summer. He admitted that it affected him at different points of the season. But it seems like he’s in a better place to start 2022-23.

If the Blue Jackets want to take the next step, Merzlikins has to be one of the main reasons. He needs to play the role of number-one goalie. We’ve seen flashes of his upside. But now he needs to find consistency. His focus will determine how the season goes. He says he’s ready. We’ll see soon enough.

4. Joonas Korpisalo: Hey now, are you an All-Star?

Get your game on. Go play. That’s exactly what Korpisalo needs to do this season, go play and play well. The former All-Star goalie had a year to forget in 2021-22. Injuries and inconsistency dominated the headlines for him. But on a new one-year deal, he’s back in a familiar place hoping to return to his old habits.

Merzlikins can’t start every game. So Korpisalo will need to really push for more starts to make it a true 1A, 1B situation. That would be the most ideal for the Blue Jackets to keep both goalies sharp and fresh.

At the start, Korpisalo is still working his way back from offseason surgery and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go on opening night. Whenever he returns, he needs to use this season and make a point. His career is on the line in a sense playing for his next contract. No matter who the backup is, the Blue Jackets cannot make the playoffs if they struggle. Korpisalo has to find his game early and often.

5. Zach Werenski: How great do you think you are?

The evolution of Werenski’s game has been fun to witness over his career. He started as a rover. He’s developed into a number-one defenseman. But he has so much more to give too.

The great teams are led by great defensemen. Werenski now has the chance to show how great he can be. He is still rounding into form as a two-way defender. However if he were to go down to injury, that would be a huge loss that would be tough for the Blue Jackets to overcome.

Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski must ascend to a true number-one defenseman. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Blue Jackets want to make the playoffs, Werenski has to have his best season of his career as a two-way defender. He doesn’t need a 20-goal season. He needs to make a positive impact in both zones and needs to raise his game up in the important moments. His contract says that’s the expectation. Can he now meet that?

6. Vladislav Gavrikov: How much more is there to your game?

Generally considered the second-best defenseman on the Blue Jackets, Gavrikov is highly respected amongst his teammates given the honest game he plays. He does the dirty work and has a flare when he contributes on offense.

Like all good players, Gavrikov has more to give. The question is just how much does he have. Have we seen his best and what his upside is? His seems destined for the second pair on the left side. What will be curious is who he ends up with as his partner. With so many questions on defense, that second pair will need to step up if the Blue Jackets want to stay in the playoff race. Gavrikov will be at the center of this. He needs to take it to another level.

7. Adam Boqvist: Will you meet them halfway?

The offensive firepower is obvious with Boqvist. But even he knows his defensive play is quite the work in progress. A good scenario here would be if he can meet the Blue Jackets halfway.

Boqvist needs to put forth the same kind of effort defending as he does with the puck on his stick in the offensive end. He has reportedly come into camp in better shape. Now he needs to show that his defense won’t be a liability.

Can Boqvist find a permanent home in the top-four? The answer is yes but only if he shows a commitment to keeping the puck out of his own net.

8. Jake Bean: Just who are you exactly?

Bean will be an interesting player to watch all season. There is a belief that the Blue Jackets have an abundance of a certain kind of defenseman on their roster. Like Boqvist, Bean has some offense and also has questions surrounding his defensive play.

Bean needs to come in and prove who he really is. Is he going to be a dependable two-way defender or is he more of a one-trick pony who can’t quite get to the next level? With younger prospects eventually coming, he needs to make his case quickly or else his name could start swirling in the rumor mill.

9. Andrew Peeke: Where do you fit on this defense?

Peeke enjoyed a spike in playing time last season due to both his play and circumstance. At times he thrived. At times he struggled. But where will he fit this season?

Peeke played a lot on the top pair with Werenski and was asked to play a physical role. He could end up there again if others don’t make their case in camp. One wonders if he’d be better served on the second or third pair. Regardless Peeke can play on any pairing. Where he ends up could be a direct result of how others did. If that means top pair, that’s good for him but worrisome for everyone else.

10. Erik Gudbranson: Will you actually make a big difference?

Gudbranson was the big signing before the Johnny Gaudreau news came down. The Blue Jackets needed to add size to their young and developing group. He will provide that and a steady presence in the bottom-four.

That will be the key story to watch. Gudbranson is a Blue Jacket for the next four years at $4 million per season. In order for the investment to have a positive return, he needs to be a steadying force in all situations he plays in. He also needs to step up when other teams challenge the younger players. He won’t be measured in points. But he does need to make a difference when on the ice. His role will have a lot to do with that.

11. Nick Blankenburg: Can you handle the full rigors of a full NHL season?

Blankenburg was one of the bright spots at the end of last season. He came in and made an instant impact. But now with more competition at camp, is his path to a roster spot completely safe?

Blankenburg will need to show he can be durable during a full season. He did have injuries at the end of last season and into the offseason. When healthy he even got a chance to play with Werenski. We’ll be watching the way he continues to adjust to the NHL. Assuming his health he could be one of the surprises of the season.

12. David Jiricek: Are you ready right now?

This will be a big story to watch over the preseason. The Blue Jackets appear to be giving Jiricek every opportunity to show how ready he is. He’s played on the international stage and showed well. He might even get a chance to play on the top pair with Werenski this preseason.

Is Jiricek ready now? It seems the games will tell the story. If he does make this team that would be quite the accomplishment for the 2022 first-round pick of the Blue Jackets. Many already consider him the next Seth Jones. Even if he doesn’t make the Blue Jackets right away, it shouldn’t take him long to get there. Cleveland and juniors would each be an option. If he’s ready, why not keep him?

13. Johnny Gaudreau: How will you adjust to new everything?

A new city. A new coach. A new system. New teammates. This season for Gaudreau has new all over it. How quickly can he adjust to the new? That answer will tell the tale of the season.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau’s adjustment to the new’s will be a big key to the season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We shouldn’t expect 115 points again. That Flames team was loaded and the Blue Jackets are steps down from that. But Gaudreau is still a world-class player who will get his points and elevate those around him. Don’t be terribly surprised if he doesn’t pop right away. But after the first month or so, he should be adjusted and ready to roll.

14. Patrik Laine: Are you Legend?

With Gaudreau in the fold, many believe Laine will reach new heights in his career. With a new contract in hand, he seems primed and ready to return to one of the best scorers in the NHL. He can just focus on playing hockey after dealing with the trade, the death of his father and injuries.

Laine recently said he had goosebumps when he talked to Gaudreau. That line will be the main attraction in games. If they pop it will be one of the most fun lines in the NHL. Is he legend? Assuming chemistry and success it’s not out of the question. We could be in the beginning stages of the ascent of Laine to legend status, especially in Columbus.

15. Boone Jenner: How concerned should we be about your injury?

Jenner states he is ready for the season. However the Blue Jackets are taking a cautious approach in the preseason as expected. The obvious question will be how will his health hold up over 82 games?

Jenner’s role could be a big part of that. He seems in line to get the first chance with Gaudreau and Laine. I do wonder though if the Blue Jackets will limit his minutes or even consider another role for him that comes with slightly less ice time. Back injuries are scary and everyone involves wants nothing more than full health. So expect caution here at least to start.

Jenner is such an important part of the Blue Jackets that they have to watch his ice time to start. Don’t expect him to play a lot in the preseason as a result. But this will be closely monitored all throughout.

16. Jake Voracek: Are you ready to bounce back in goal scoring?

With all the news around the team, there’s been little mentioned on Voracek. That’s not a bad thing. He is in line to play on the second line resuming his playmaking ability.

Jakub Voracek Columbus Blue Jackets
Jakub Voracek and his line could be in for a big season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Voracek scored just six goals last season to go with his 56 assists. He knows he can be better there. With opposing defenses aimed to shut Gaudreau and Laine down, Voracek and company have an opportunity to provide much needed scoring beyond the top line. Don’t be surprised if he does shoot a little more in an effort to prove six goals was a fluke. I see 15-20 for him this season along with around 50 assists.

17. Gus Nyquist: What is in store for your future?

Nyquist is a UFA after this season. But both he and the Blue Jackets love their current situation. He can play top-six, is dependable on defense and is a big member of the penalty kill.

The question is going to hover over them though throughout the season. Will the team look to re-sign him or will he become a casualty of the trade deadline? Given the cap and young players pushing for time, there is no clear answer at this point. For now, expect another 40-50 point season with Nyquist doing his thing.

18. Jack Roslovic: If you’re not the 1(C)?

With questions surrounding Jenner’s injury and return, Roslovic could find himself between Gaudreau and Laine at some point. If he plays like he did at the end of last season, he deserves a chance.

Roslovic could also end up with Voracek on that second line. The flexibility does allow the Blue Jackets to try some different things looking for the right combinations. His overall improvement does open the possibility that he’s an answer at 1C. There’s other contenders but he’s right in the mix.

19. Cole Sillinger: What do you have for an encore?

Sillinger did everything asked of him as an 18-year old. He put up numbers not seen at that age since Patric Bergeron. But now what comes next?

Sillinger seems like he’s set for a role either on the second or third line to start with the chance he gets a promotion to the top. He needs to show last season was not a fluke and that he’s ready to earn his spot again at age 19. What does his sophomore campaign have in store?

20. Kent Johnson: What is his best path to early NHL success?

Johnson has done it all outside the NHL. Now the time has come for him to make the Blue Jackets and to have an impact. But just how should the Blue Jackets approach this?

Do they put him immediately in the top-six say next to Roslovic and Voracek? Do they play him in the bottom-six to get used to the grind of the NHL. Or do they send him to Cleveland to dominate for some time? They have lots of options available. How they handle this will be of utmost importance.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson’s early development will be a big story in 2022-23. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Johnson needs to play top minutes somewhere. The Blue Jackets must make the right decision on where to slot him in to get the most out of the needed development.

21. Kirill Marchenko: How thrilling are you going to be?

He’s finally here. Marchenko now gets his chance to make the Blue Jackets out of camp after being in Russia the last several years. He comes with hype. When you are known as Kirill the thrill it gets your attention.

Marchenko did fine in Traverse City. He is a sneaky Calder candidate if given a top role right away. But in reality, he will be adjusting to the league and the smaller ice. He will bring thrills but he must earn his roster spot first and then show he can be dependable both ways. Still don’t be surprised if he makes you jump out of your seat on occasion. He’s electric when given the chance.

22. Sean Kuraly: Are you ready for a more steady role?

Kuraly was all over the lineup last season even seeing time on the top line. But the Blue Jackets and coach Larsen like him centering on the bottom six playing a specific role.

That role seems to suit Kuraly well. Now is he ready to lock that position down so there’s consistency there? His linemates could vary throughout the season. But his steadiness will be an underrated important factor for them as the season goes on.

23. Emil Bemstrom: Would the real Bemstrom please stand up, please stand up?

Bemstrom is back. The Blue Jackets believe he is an important part of their future. Just where does he fit on this current roster?

Related: 3 Blue Jackets Who Need to Prove Themselves in 2022-23

Don’t be surprised to see Bemstrom play a number of spots in the preseason. He needs a chance to play in the top-six to show if he can handle the role. The Blue Jackets continue to believe in him. But he needs to start paying off their belief soon given the competition. It’s time for him to start filling the net with regularity.

24. Eric Robinson: Finish them?

Robinson has never had trouble getting scoring chances thanks to his speed. But he has had bad luck finishing. Is this the year he puts that part of his game together?

Robinson did finish 2021-22 with a career-high 10 goals in his 67 games played. It seemed like he could have easily had 5-10 more on scoring chances alone that he was unable to finish. Someone has to provide depth scoring. Robinson is a great candidate for that but does need to finish more consistently.

25. Mathieu Olivier: What will you bring to the Blue Jackets?

The Blue Jackets traded a fourth-round pick to the Nashville Predators to land Olivier. Despite the competition, he has a chance to make this roster out of camp. Why?

Mathieu Olivier Nashville Predators
Mathieu Olivier’s size could help the Blue Jackets’ bottom-six. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

6-foot-2 and 210 pounds on the wing, that’s why. Olivier’s presence should help the Blue Jackets in the bottom-six. He has just three goals in his career in 48 games. You aren’t going to depend on him for goals. You want him laying big hits and playing a responsible game when called upon. We’ll see if the presence of bigger players was as big of a need as the team said it was.

Others: How will you stand out to make an impact this season?

This applies to everyone else not mentioned. What will these players do to stand out, make an impact and make this team at some point during the season?

Daniil Tarasov might be the backup to start if Korpisalo can’t play right away. What about Yegor Chinakhov’s sophomore season? Is he ready to pop? Justin Danforth could be a key bottom-six contributor. How did he get better this offseason?

Liam Foudy is working his way back from injury. Can he finally crack the roster? Joona Luoto wants to reinvigorate his NHL career and could do just that with the Blue Jackets. Can Gavin Bayreuther or Jake Christiansen do enough to earn a chance on defense? So many questions. Answers will start coming soon.

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The story of the season for the Blue Jackets comes down to improved goaltending, a defense that must limit goals against and an offense ready to see new heights led by Gaudreau’s arrival. This can be a playoff team if all three areas do well. But this can also be a bottom-10 team if the defense and goaltending struggle like they did last season.

Is there enough self improvement on the Blue Jackets into the new season? If so, the playoff race will be intense. Otherwise start studying up on Connor Bedard’s impact now. With both extremes in play, this truly makes for an exciting Blue Jackets’ season in 2022-23.

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