Welcome to part two of our Columbus Blue Jackets’ regular season preview. In case you missed part one, we told you why the team was about to answer the ultimate question. Speaking of questions, we’re going to spend this part asking 23 questions. Given that 23 players made the roster, that’s one for each player!
We are going to go through every player that made the roster and ask one important question about them. How they answer this question through their play could determine how the season will play out.
Each player has an important role to play. Some will rise to the occasion and others may not reach what is expected of them. So let’s begin our inquisition. We’ll start with the obvious question on the team, the goaltending.
23 Questions For 23 Players
Joonas Korpisalo: Is he a true number one?
That truly is the $64,000 question. This answer will go a long way in determining the fate of the team. Korpisalo has had some success in extended action, but he’s done nothing like this before.
Elvis Merzlikins: How quickly can he adjust?
Merzlikins has swagger. He has confidence. However what he doesn’t have is NHL experience. He is new to North America and is learning on the fly. He will play and could play a lot depending on circumstances. If he can prove he’s consistently ready for the starts, he’ll get his share and could have a major impact on the season.
Seth Jones: Has he figured out consistency issues?
If there’s been any knock on Jones, it’s been his consistency. He can dominate the game at times. But other times he’s been average. If the Blue Jackets hope to get to their goal, Jones has to start from his first shift and dominate more consistently, especially now that the defense is the backbone of the team.
Zach Werenski: Can he defend from day one?
Defending was a struggle early last season for Werenski. But to be fair, he had a long summer of rehab just to be ready for the season. By the end, he played a consistent two-way game. He told me Thursday that he enjoyed a relaxing summer and was able to get his mind off hockey enough where he’s excited to be back and ready to get the season going. His defense especially early could be a huge boost for the Blue Jackets.
Ryan Murray: Has the team figured out the right plan?
The Blue Jackets are focusing on load management for Murray in the hopes that will limit his injuries. He won’t practice every day and he may miss games here or there. He is vital to the success of the defense so it will be interesting to see if this strategy pays off down the road.
David Savard: Can he continue to bring offense?
Perhaps one of the goals of the playoff series last season with the Lightning was when David Savard walked Victor Hedman and finished a beauty. He can score and add offense. On a team where scoring is a question, can he bring that kind of offense more often? He has it in him, clearly.
Markus Nutivaara: Can he play like a top-four in a bottom-pair situation?
I’ve always been a fan of the way Nutivaara plays. He can skate. He can move the puck. But with the current top four pretty set for now, can he do his thing in limited minutes, perhaps even challenging for a top-four spot? It might open some trade doors if you get my drift. Yet, he’s close enough to the bubble where if he struggles, there’s others waiting for their chance. Big year ahead for Nutivaara.
Vladislav Gavrikov: Just who is he anyway?
Gavrikov got in a playoff game last season and didn’t look out of place. Yet it was a small sample size. He seems primed to start as the sixth defenseman but has higher upside. Can he reach that? Can he play like he did in his limited time last season? Still quite bit unknown about this player.
Scott Harrington/Dean Kukan: What did they do to get better?
Harrington and Kukan are serviceable bottom-pair defensemen when called upon. They each have had good moments mixed in with some frustrating ones. The team likes them enough for their current role, but how much will they really play? Did they do anything to improve themselves to get more of a look? If injury strikes, can they play consistently so the team doesn’t miss a step?
Cam Atkinson: Can he improve his overall game?
I’m not worried about his scoring. Atkinson has done it with and without Panarin. But this season, he needs to improve at both ends of the rink. I want to see a commitment to the defensive end. I want to see him produce offense when opposing defenses focus on him more. He can be streaky, but can’t be this season. He need to improve from the start and stay consistent.
Pierre-Luc Dubois: Can he round into a number-one center?
That’s a lot to ask for a 21-year old but if last season was any indication, Dubois has the upside to make it, but he has work to do. Can he produce with opposing defenses knowing his line is the one to stop? Can he get better at faceoffs? He’s not even on a power-play unit at this time. Can he take the necessary steps to become that top center?
Alex Texier: Can he handle the top line as a rookie?
I know he did well in a limited role, but Texier is a rookie and will be asked early to produce in the spot Panarin vacated. Can he prove to be a dangerous threat from the beginning or will there be some time for adjustment?
Nick Foligno: Will he produce more offense?
There’s no sugarcoating this. Foligno must improve at the offensive end. He’s a good two-way player but hasn’t been as dangerous in producing points. He is getting power-play one time so he is being given every opportunity. His line must consistently contribute goals if they are to succeed.
Boone Jenner: Will he bring more offense?
Jenner is in the same boat. He bashes. He brings energy. He can block shots. He can produce offense but can he take it all to another level. Coach Tortorella has said he will depending on his line to be the spark for the team. This means scoring timely goals as well.
Josh Anderson: What is in store for his contract year?
Anderson knows this is an important season. He wants paid. Can he show consistency at both ends? We know he brings energy to the team and has tantalizing upside. He needs to limit his off nights. He needs to take the next step on an important line.
Alexander Wennberg: Will he shoot more?
It seems like the message is starting to get through. Wennberg is such an important player for this team especially needing to produce at a much higher rate. He’s getting power-play time. He’s being asked to shoot more. We’ve known this for years though. Will this finally be the year it’s consistently part of his game?
Gus Nyquist: How much will he limit the loss of the stars?
Nyquist has had a solid career to date and has shown a knack for producing points. Can he continue this trend while helping his fellow countryman Wennberg find his game? I think the Nyquist signing will be huge for Wennberg. This line will be watched all season and is important to the overall success.
Oliver Bjorkstrand: Is this finally the breakout year for goals?
Everyone every year says this is the one for Bjorkstrand. Few can shoot the puck like him. But it’s now time to show he can reach that potential. He must start from day one and earn more ice time. He is the true x-factor for me on the offensive end. I can see him score only 10. But I can also see him score over 30. He needs to show that desire to want more.
Riley Nash: Will he continue the improvement he started to show last season?
It took him a while, but Nash finally got comfortable with his new team. He started playing a consistent game towards the end of the season. Can he play with the youngsters in the mix for the fourth line? And will that consistency continue if so?
Sonny Milano: Is this the last hurrah?
I think it is. He’s on a one-year deal with opportunity to show he belongs to stay. He said he’s more explosive now. Can he prove that, get in the lineup, work his way up the lineup and then stay in the lineup? He has to. If not, his time here might be coming to an end.
Jacob Lilja: What is his upside?
Lilja was the suprise of camp making the final roster. He scored goals. He played well defensively. He’s slated to start on the fourth line. Does he have more to give? I think he does. But can he unseat someone ahead of him?
Emil Bemstrom: Is he the answer on the power play?
All the talk has been about the struggles of the power play and what Bemstrom can bring. Not only did he make the roster, he is on the top power-play unit. Can he live up to the hype he’s been given? That’s a lot to ask for a young player new to North America. But he’s confident. Is he the one the Blue Jackets have been waiting for?
And there you have it, 23 questions for 23 players on the roster. The onus is on them to answer these questions and then some. Will it lead to success? Without further ado, let the regular season begin so we can find out.
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.