After a tough season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are starting fresh with a new coach and era. With it being anticipated that the team will begin to rebuild, it will only be a matter of time before young players are asked to step up for Columbus.
Many of those players will be from Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters. This piece will give a quick overview of each player who could make a difference, how they could find themselves in a role with the Blue Jackets, and how they can help Columbus in the next five seasons.
The Blue Jackets’ Possible AHL Difference Makers
For this piece, I consulted with fellow THW writer, Mark Scheig, who also covers Cleveland. Together, we came up with the players to watch from the Monsters, and a list of who could make a difference in Columbus in the next five seasons. Those players are Andrew Peeke, Tyler Angle, Trey Fix-Wolansky, and Daniil Tarasov.
The first player who will be expected to pick up a larger role for the Blue Jackets is Peeke. He may be a familiar face in Columbus, with 33 NHL games played (GP), but with Seth Jones on the trade block this offseason and David Savard now in Tampa Bay, he will become an even more regular sight at the NHL level.
Peeke may not be at the level of Jones or Savard, but he would be a great piece to fill that void on defense. In his 33 appearances for the Blue Jackets, Peeke recorded six points, eight takeaways, 36 blocks, and 60 hits. In Cleveland, he has 20 points in 36 games, including eight points in seven games during the 2020-21 season.
Peeke is a solid defenseman who would be a decent piece to fill the defensive role. He is only 23 and has time to improve and be the next great defenseman for the Blue Jackets. He will be the biggest difference-maker amongst these players in the next few seasons.
Next up is Angle. He may not have a massive impact in the 2021-22 season, but in the next few seasons, it is quite the possibility he will start to get a chance with the Blue Jackets.
The biggest reason to expect Angle to get a look in Columbus is that he plays the center position, which is a struggle for the team. He also plays the position at a high standard, with 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists) in 23 games with the Monsters in the 2020-21 season.
Despite his skill, there are multiple reasons that it will take a few seasons for him to be a regular in Columbus. The first being, he is young, at only 20 years old. Second, the Blue Jackets are expected to try to trade for a first-line center, adding depth and pushing back the need for him in the NHL. Lastly, players like Jack Roslovic and Max Domi may improve their games and become decent centers for the third or fourth lines, decreasing the need for Angle.
Angle may not be a huge difference-maker next season, but it’s believable that he will be within the next five seasons. He could be given a chance even sooner if the Blue Jackets cannot land a center this offseason, or if injuries strike. No matter how long it takes, he is a player to watch in the next five seasons for Columbus.
Another player to watch is right-winger Fix-Wolansky. Compared to the first two players mentioned, he may be the one that takes the longest to have a foothold in the NHL and with the Blue Jackets, possibly even a few seasons.
Wolansky plays a position that is already well-covered by the team, with players such as Cam Atkinson and the recently extended Oliver Bjorkstrand. They also plan to add to this depth with a very skilled prospect in Yegor Chinakhov, another right-wing.
With the depth at that position, any NHL action that Wolansky would see would most likely be due to injury. If that ends up being the case, he would not be a bad fill-in. He has shown offensive ability in Cleveland, racking up 27 points in 55 games, including three playoff points.
He is behind many great players in Columbus, however, with the offensive talent he has shown, he is certainly a player to watch in the next five seasons for Columbus, and he will eventually find his way to the Blue Jackets. He will be ready to go, whether due to injury, a key departure, or future trade.
The last player we will take a look at is Tarasov. As far as next season, don’t expect to see much of him in Columbus unless either Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo sustains an injury. However, further into the future, he may get a chance, with many believing that either Korpisalo or Merzlikins will be dealt in a trade. If that is the case, Tarasov would be needed as a backup goaltender, and he could be a great fit in that role.
In six games played in the 2020-21 season in Cleveland, Tarasov posted a 4-2-0 record, with a save percentage of .896 and a goals-against average of 3.16. Those aren’t great numbers for a backup goaltender, but he will certainly have more time to improve and gain more experience before he is called upon by Columbus.
The Blue Jackets Are in Good Shape
Although Columbus is entering a rebuild and facing the looming loss of players such as Seth Jones and most likely Korpisalo or Merzlikins, they sit in good shape. The team will look drastically different in the next few seasons, but with the amount of young talent they have in Cleveland, the caliber of their prospects, and the number of draft picks, they can make quick work of the rebuild.
A lot of their future success will be with the help of the above-mentioned players. Those players certainly have the skill and ability to be stars, and their names are ones Columbus fans will want to keep an eye on in the next five seasons as the team changes.
Cody Chalfan is currently a journalism major at the Ohio State University who grew up in Columbus and loves hockey, especially the Blue Jackets. He is disabled, therefore he is a major advocate for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone movement. A piece he wrote focusing on the Blue Jackets’ work on expanding the sport into the local special needs community can be found here. Cody can be contacted via Twitter (@cachalfan) direct message for comments, constructive criticism, or story ideas.