Columbus Blue Jackets First-Quarter Grades

We are officially one-fourth of the way through the 2019-20 season. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was a period of ups and downs.

After their 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night, the Blue Jackets finish the first quarter at 9-8-4. Needless to say there is a lot of room for improvement.

So what grades did the team get? We are going to share those with you now. Let’s set the expectations on how we came up with these grades.

Head coach John Tortorella and both goalies will receive a grade. The remainder of the skaters will get a grade if they’ve played more than half of the games, meaning 11 or more as of the end of the Detroit game. Given that it is a progress report, each player will get a couple of sentences as to why they got the grade they did.

As for how we came up with the grades, we looked at current results versus expectations coming into the season. There were some A’s. There were some F’s. Many fell in the middle. Here is the scale I am using.

  • A: Exceeds expectations.
  • B: Meets expectations.
  • C: Slightly below expectations.
  • D: Below expectations.
  • F: Way below expectations.

We’ll start with the forwards then we’ll focus on the defense. Then we’ll end with the goalies and Tortorella. Players will be listed in alphabetical order. Let’s begin.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
How did John Tortorella fare in the first quarter? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Forwards

  • Josh Anderson: Grade F. When many thought Anderson could explode for a 30-goal season, having two points in 14 games qualifies as failing. The team and player insists he is healthy despite missing time. He’s at least been more noticeable of late, but it’s simply not good enough at this time.
  • Cam Atkinson: Grade F. We’ve seen this story with Atkinson. He’s streaky. But coming off a 41-goal season, he’s currently on pace for 44 points and just 12 goals. Based on expectations and talent, this is a failing grade. He must play to his potential if the Blue Jackets hope to snap their offensive slump.
  • Emil Bemstrom: Grade B-. Bemstrom has been much better of late and has seen some time with Dubois as a result. Coming into Thursday, he had six points in his last five games. The reason for this grade is his lack of impact on the power play overall. He hasn’t been the spark many hoped he’d be to this point. He’s coming though.
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand: Grade C. He’s underlying numbers are great but isn’t seeing the results on the score sheet. I keep leaving wanting more from him because he has the talent but just hasn’t consistently been able to fill the net. He’s on pace for 16 goals which is below what many thought he’d become.
  • Pierre-Luc Dubois: Grade A. Dubois has been fantastic especially given the struggles around him on offense. He’s answered the call and takes it upon himself to have an impact on the game. He’s been their best forward to this point, simple as that.
  • Nick Foligno: Grade D. Foligno has had a couple of nice moments but that’s about it. He has just one goal in 17 games and is coming off a three-game suspension. All of the leaders on this team need to take their games to another level and that starts with the captain.
  • Boone Jenner: Grade C-. The good. He has five goals which is second amongst forwards so there’s at least some contribution. The bad. Just about everything else. It’s simply not good enough for someone who is one of the leaders on the team. He has so much more to give.
  • Sonny Milano: Grade B. I’ve been pleased with Milano this season and so has Tortorella. Like Bemstrom, Milano is playing with Dubois. The most noticeable improvement is his play away from the puck. He’s getting more ice time as a result.
  • Riley Nash: Grade D. He hasn’t had the kind of impact the team had hoped for this season. He has just one goal on the season and has been just ok defensively. His play forced Tortorella to scratch him.
  • Gus Nyquist: Grade B. Nyquist is as advertised. He can contribute at both ends of the rink and is one of their most consistent players despite the slow start. If I had a complaint about him, he can go long stretches of not being noticeable then all of a sudden make a play. I’d like to see more impact more often given his role.
  • Alexandre Texier: Grade D. Texier gets a slight bump from an F because of injury but he hasn’t produced in the way I expected to this point. He has just three points in 16 games and has just eight shots in his last six games coming to Thursday night’s game. He’s better than what he’s showing.
  • Alexander Wennberg: Grade C-. Wennberg had a good start but has fallen off. He’s currently on a 30-point pace which is not good enough for someone who has the skill to produce more.

The Defense

  • Vladislav Gavrikov: Grade B. There’s no question he belongs in the NHL. He’s steady and is showing a level of reliability that’s impressive for someone new to the league. He’ll get even better as we go along.
  • Seth Jones: Grade D-. Had his first multi-point game of the season against Detroit on Thursday. But when expectations are Norris candidacy, he’s falling way short of expectations. Blue Jackets’ success hinges a lot on what Jones can do. He needs to find his consistency.
  • Dean Kukan: Grade C. He’s done his job. No real complaints when called upon.
  • Ryan Murray: Grade B-. When he’s been in, he’s been as steady as expected. But he still has brutal luck with injuries.
  • David Savard: Grade C. He’s been fine but is not quite having the same impact as I’m used to seeing. He has another level he can bring.
  • Zach Werenski: Grade A-. He has points in five-straight games and the second-leading scorer on the team. His overall defense has improved as well. His A is deserved.

*Note: Scott Harrington and Markus Nutivaara have played less than half the games so there is no grade for them.

Zach Werenski, Fantasy Hockey, Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski has performed well despite his team’s early results. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The Goaltenders

  • Joonas Korpisalo: Grade B. He had a bad start but has come along nicely in this last stretch. He came into Thursday at an even .900 for the season in save percentage after posting a .922 in his previous six starts. He’s starting to get comfortable. He’s where I’d thought he’d be at this point.
  • Elvis Merzlikins: Grade C. Elvis has just one regulation loss in his career, that brutal first game in Pittsburgh. Otherwise he has three overtime losses. So he’s playing well but hasn’t won yet. He’ll have some chances coming up to show how far he’s come along. All-in-all, he’s made a nice recovery but does need to deliver wins when called upon.

John Tortorella

  • Grade C-. The Blue Jackets were 8-8-4 coming into Thursday night. For Tortorella’s standards, that’s simply not good enough. He’s had to manage Korpisalo’s outbursts. He’s had to battle his team not being able to score consistently. He just started juggling lines to find a groove. In all, he needs to do a much better job of finding out what’s ailing his struggling offense. He said recently he’s going to take more control of the room. We’ll see what comes from that. Thursday night was a good start.

In Conclusion

There is too much talent on this team to be this bad offensively. There is also too much talent to be just a .500 team. The lower grades are deserved as these players have so much more to give. If the D’s and F’s don’t wake up, it’s time to start planning for the draft lottery. Nobody wants that at this point. They still have 61 games to right the ship. It continues Saturday night in Winnipeg.