When the dust settled on the 2014-2015 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets stood with a 42-35-5 record. It was good enough for fifth in the Metropolitan Division and put the five points up on the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, their 89 points were well shy of the Pittsburgh Penguins and left them on the outside looking in when it came to the post-season.
There were some bright spots last season, despite the obvious injury troubles. Columbus scored 227 goals, 10 more than the Penguins and 13 more than the Montreal Canadiens. They were killer on the road, going 23-15-3 when away from the confines of the Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets were less than stellar at home. They went 19-20-2 in front of their home crowd.
The summer has been interesting for Columbus thus far, with the addition of Brandon Saad a highlight. The former Chicago Blackhawk was acquired with defenceman Michael Paliotta and forward Alex Broadhurst in exchange for forwards Artem Anisimov, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, Marko Dano, and a fourth round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Saad is coming off a career-high season in goals and points, plus he had eight playoff goals to lead the Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup. He’s a clear winner and Columbus will stick him right on the top line. At just 22 years of age, there’s a lot of upside for Saad and the Blue Jackets have a great addition to the future of their franchise. He’s a sleek skater and a dependable scorer.
Saad joins centre Marcus Johansen and winger Nick Foligno as part of a very impressive young core. Johansen is just 23 and he’s already proven himself to be a top-tier centre, scoring 26 goals for a total of 71 points last season. Foligno had a terrific year, scoring 31 goals and adding 42 helpers. He’s a workhorse and he’ll do whatever Todd Richards asks of him.
There’s considerable depth up front, too, with the likes of Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, David Clarkson, Alexander Wennberg, and Scott Hartnell fleshing out the unit. Jenner’s had his injury troubles over the last while, but he’s still worth betting on. Dubinsky is a responsible and poised second unit centre, while Atkinson’s ace positioning on the wing led him to score 22 goals last season.
Jack Johnson leads this group, no matter what a certain segment of fans have to say. The 28-year-old from Indianapolis had 40 points last season and is an instinctual player, but there are some positioning issues that could use a look. Despite the urgings of some bloggers looking to fill space, there aren’t many logical reasons to shove Johnson off to another hockey club. Even if his Corsi numbers don’t pan out, Johnson has enough upside to justify his position on the Blue Jackets.
David Savard, drafted by Columbus in 2009, is another quality skater and an extremely mobile blueliner. He can quarterback the power play and he scored 11 goals last season, adding 25 assists. Veteran defenceman Fedor Tyutin also helps this group with his experience and overall hockey sense. Tyutin can work in a shutdown role, plus he can add minutes on the man-advantage. He makes some mistakes and doesn’t use his size as much as he could, but he’s a firm presence that adds a lot to the Blue Jackets.
Other defenders like Dalton Prout and Ryan Murray add value. The 21-year-old Murray has struggled with injuries, but he’s another mobile player and he can build into the sort of player to log huge minutes. Prout, picked up in 2010, is a depth defenceman with a solid frame. He’s 6’3 and 222 pounds and he knows how to pay attention to the details of the game.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the man in Columbus and he will be for the foreseeable future. The 26-year-old from Novokuznetsk joined the Jackets from the Flyers in 2012 and gave the team an almost immediate boost in fortunes. He won 30 games last season, posting a 2.69 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Bobrovsky is a quick and athletic goalie, plus he doesn’t get rattled. He’s going to see a lot of rubber in Columbus, so his vision for the play certainly comes in handy.
Veteran backup Curtis McElhinney does what’s asked of him and that’s helped him to enjoy a rather judicious career. He’s had a thankless job, but McElhinney picked up a dozen wins last season and forwarded a 2.88 goals against average to go with a .914 save percentage. He’s a hard worker and a tremendous teammate, which benefits 22-year-old Swedish netminder Anton Forsberg nicely. Forsberg saw limited action in Columbus last season and was less than impressive, but he’s got raw talent.
The Blue Jackets have a nice-looking prospect pool in terms of defencemen, with several NHL-ready blueliners in the tank. The likes of Zack Werenski and Gabriel Carlsson join Dillon Heatherington and 22-year-old Michael Paliotta as serious bright spots. Werenski, drafted by Columbus in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is going to be a heck of a player on this team. He’s a natural. And Carlsson, another 2015 first round pick, has a tremendous point shot.
Columbus also has an impressive pool of centre prospects, like Alex Broadhurst and Kevin Stenlund. Stenlund was another 2015 draft pick, one with great size and two-way ability. And Broadhurst, who joined the Jackets in the Saad trade, has put up serious points at lower levels and should transition well to the bigs.
The Path Ahead
The book on Columbus starts with goaltending, with Bobrovsky possibly among the league’s best netminders. He gives the Blue Jackets a chance to win every night and he’ll have to be great this season if the team expects to make the post-season. They weren’t terrible last season by any definition of the word, but there is a lot of room for improvement and Bobrovsky will have to be the linchpin if that development is to come in 2015-2016.
Acquiring Saad was a smart move, too. The Blue Jackets now have some offensive options to work with, which will give their power play a boost. They’re a creative and quick team when they want to be, especially if the injury bug doesn’t plague them like it did in 2014-2015.