You may have noticed the Columbus Blue Jackets look a little different these days. That’s because they are a shell of themselves thanks to a crazy run of injuries.
Let’s start with the current injured list. As of Saturday morning, the Blue Jackets have over $30 million on injured reserve or out of their lineup. That accounts for many of their best players. Here’s the full list.
- Oliver Bjorkstrand (out 8-10 weeks)
- Cam Atkinson (out 2-3 weeks)
- Brandon Dubinsky (out indefinitely)
- Seth Jones (out 8-10 weeks)
- Alexander Wennberg (out 3-4 weeks)
- Ryan Murray (out indefinitely, but did skate Friday)
- Josh Anderson (originally announced as 4-6 weeks, but is out indefinitely now.)
- Alexandre Texier (out indefinitely)
- Dean Kukan (out indefinitely)
- Joonas Korpisalo (originally announced as 4-6 weeks, but is approaching eight weeks. He’s currently on a conditioning assignment in Cleveland and could be ready soon.)
Other players have been out at different times as well. At this pace, the Blue Jackets would get to over 500 man-games lost for the season.
But the show must go on, right? It especially does since the Blue Jackets enter play on Saturday in 10th place in the NHL’s overall standings. That’s crazy to think about given the above. It shows just how important goaltending and defense have been especially in December and January.
But without many of their best players, the Blue Jackets will have to find a way to win and keep themselves in the playoff race. In order to do that, many newcomers will have to step into the lineup and contribute in important ways.
Here’s how the Blue Jackets’ lines appeared in practice on Friday.
- Gus Nyquist/Pierre-Luc Dubois/Nick Foligno
- Stefan Matteau/Boone Jenner/Emil Bemstrom
- Sonny Milano/Kevin Stenlund/Calvin Thurkauf
- Eric Robinson/Riley Nash/Jakob Lilja
And on defense.
- Zach Werenski/Markus Nutivaara
- Vladislav Gavrikov/David Savard
- Scott Harrington/Andrew Peeke
- Gabriel Carlsson was called up Saturday morning
If you haven’t followed the Blue Jackets closely this season, you’re probably thinking to yourself who are some of these players? This is what you get when over $30 million sits on injured reserve. Their depth is being tested by fire like never before.
For many of them, every passing game is the biggest one of their career trying to help these Blue Jackets do the unthinkable and make the playoffs.
Now is a good time to introduce you to some of the newest call-ups who are going to play important minutes down the stretch. Let’s start this with top-six winger Stefan Matteau. I can’t believe I just typed that last sentence.
Matteau has had an interesting path to the Blue Jackets. He was a first-round pick in the 2012 entry draft, 29th overall by the New Jersey Devils. Since then, he’s played 65 NHL games with four different teams. Besides the Devils, Matteau has played with Montreal, Vegas and now Columbus.
How did Matteau get to the Blue Jackets? They signed him to an AHL-only deal in August of 2019 as a free agent. This year for the Cleveland Monsters, he scored 12 goals. His performance earned him a new two-year contract.
In his first game for the Blue Jackets, he scored a goal by deflecting Boone Jenner’s shot past Brian Elliott. That was his first goal in the NHL since Dec 2015 as a member of the Devils.
Thanks to all the injuries, Matteau finds himself playing as a top-six winger. He brings energy and plays the type of game John Tortorella likes. If he wants to stay there, he needs to play a physical, feisty game. As Tortorella said the other day, that shouldn’t be a problem for him. Otherwise he’ll go right back to Cleveland.
We outlined Stenlund a little the other day. His teammates love the kind of game he brings. In this current edition of the Blue Jackets, he’s a top-nine center.
Stenlund was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the second round of the 2015 draft. He appeared in four games during the 2018-19 season. This season in 24 games, Stenlund has five goals and seven points while even seeing some time on the top line. He’s also contributing on the power play.
Two things stand out about Stenlund, his speed and his shot. For someone who is 6-foot-4, he skates well and can blast the puck. He’s also very poised with the puck. He’s making a case for a full-time spot in Columbus. On Saturday, his Monsters’ teammate will join him on his line.
Thanks to Bjorkstrand’s injury, Thurkauf earned his first NHL call-up. He was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. He’s enjoying his best season to date in North America.
Thurkauf has nine goals and 25 points in 47 games for the Monsters. His 25 points is a personal career high. This season is his third in the organization. What you’ll notice about him right away is his skating. He’s fast. But he can score goals too. That’s personally why I think he got the call instead of someone like Kole Sherwood. Thurkauf is more like Bjorkstrand given the type of game he plays.
The Blue Jackets hope this duo along with Milano can make some Monsters magic as a line and find a way to contribute some offense. The talent is certainly there. But they don’t see defenses like the Nashville Predators that often, especially with Ryan Ellis back in the lineup.
Peeke was very close to making the Blue Jackets out of camp. He was the last cut. Then thanks to the injuries, he got the call, only to get injured himself.
Peeke broke his finger in Detroit and landed on injured reserve. Once he healed, he was sent back to the Monsters.
Peeke is back now and playing very important minutes on defense. The Blue Jackets are high on him given his puck-moving ability and the fact he is right-handed. Of late, he has been paired with Scott Harrington. This duo hasn’t been terribly good although there have been some bright spots.
With Murray’s status in question, Peeke should continue to play huge minutes. He had a rough game in Philadelphia with two goals going in off of him. But he will continue to improve with each game. The Blue Jackets hope there is enough improvement in a short time for the bottom pair to not be a huge liability.
What Peeke is trying to do as a young defenseman is not easy especially in a playoff race. But he’s embraced the moment and hopes to give the team a payoff as a result.
This lineup might look different but they still think they can make this an interesting race all the way to the finish. They have lost seven in a row coming into Saturday’s game in Nashville. It will take a total team effort to end the streak. If they do, these youngsters will have had a major hand in making that happen.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.