Blue Jackets Continue to Show Willingness to Sign Depth From Overseas

The Columbus Blue Jackets have added to their depth chart in the last week with a pair of signings. With that an interesting trend continues for the team.

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The Blue Jackets first signed defenseman Marcus Bjork to a one-year entry-level contract. He has spent the past four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. He has limited experience in North America appearing in a handful of games for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers in 2016-17 before returning to Sweden.

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Then on Wednesday, the Blue Jackets announced the signing of forward Joona Kuoto to a one-year, two-way NHL/AHL contract. He has appeared in 16 career NHL games with the Winnipeg Jets during the 2019-20 season. This past season in Finland’s Liiga, he won the Jarri Kurri Award for the best player in the playoffs.

Joona Luoto Winnipeg Jets
Joona Luoto comes to the Blue Jackets with previous NHL experience with the Winnipeg Jets. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

The question that comes to mind is what does this mean in the grand scheme of things for the Blue Jackets? Besides adding depth on defense and forward, it continues to show the willingness of the team to look overseas for depth. Each player is a low-risk, good bet given their contract terms and what they’ve just accomplished in Europe.

Blue Jackets Hoping to Hit Depth Signings

If there’s been a pattern that has emerged with the Blue Jackets, it’s that they make low-risk signings of players from overseas in which they hope will turn into a key contributor for them. Here are some recent examples of this overseas trend.

  • Mikhail Grigorenko: Signed to a one-year deal in April 2020 after being in Europe.
  • Justin Danforth: Signed a contract with the Blue Jackets after spending time in Finland and Russia.
  • Gregory Hofmann: After his rights were acquired in a trade, Hofmann signed with the Blue Jackets after playing in Switzerland.
  • Brendan Gaunce: Signed a two-way contract with the Blue Jackets after playing in Sweden.

The results from this group have been a mixed bag. Grigorenko and Hofmann are no longer with the organization while Danforth and Gaunce each enjoyed a level of success with the Blue Jackets in 2021-22. The team hopes that Bjork and Luoto can provide the same kind of boost moving forward that Danforth and Gaunce did. It’s an interesting strategy in filling out the depth chart both with the Blue Jackets and the Cleveland Monsters.

Justin Danforth Columbus Blue Jackets
Justin Danforth has been an excellent low-risk addition for the Blue Jackets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking to Europe For Depth

Many teams resort to filling out their depth by signing players who couldn’t stick with their previous teams. The Blue Jackets are utilizing their presence in Europe to look for guys who have enjoyed some sort of recent success and giving them a chance to prove they can stick in North America.

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Bjork is a 6-foot-3 defenseman who was named 2017-18 Defenseman of the Year in Sweden’s second-highest league. He has scored 17 goals and 64 points in his last four seasons in Sweden’s highest league. You can see why the team is giving him a look.

As for Luoto, besides being named the best player of the Liiga playoffs, he has familiarity with fellow countryman Patrik Laine. The two are from the same hometown in Finland and are good friends. Why not give a player coming off of a playoff performance like that a chance?

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The Blue Jackets still are faced with a logjam of players especially with their depth. Players have had their chance to prove themselves. Now with Bjork and Luoto in the fold, the room is even more crowded. There is opportunity for those that want it the most.

It is clear that adding depth was a priority for the Blue Jackets especially given the way the season in Cleveland went with so many injuries coupled with the effects from the pandemic. Bjork and Luoto seemed prime to start off in Cleveland but depending on their performance could work their way up the depth chart. They’ll each get their chance starting with training camp.

Watch this trend not only this season but in the future. Should the Blue Jackets continue to find good values in Europe, it could become a permanent fixture for them. They’re showing a willingness to look anywhere in the world for players they think will help them now. Given the low risk involved it’s a win-win for them.