The 2022-23 NHL season starts on Oct. 7. With training camps opening soon, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, inside scoop on roster questions, and projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Coach: Brad Larsen (second season)
Last season: 37-38-7; sixth place in Pacific Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs
1. Gaudreau’s impact
The Blue Jackets arguably landed the prize of free agency by signing left wing Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.25 million contract ($9.75 million annual average value) on July 13. Last season, Gaudreau finished tied for second in the NHL with a career-high 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) in 82 games for the Calgary Flames.
The Blue Jackets haven’t had a player of Gaudreau’s ilk since Artemi Panarin played two seasons in Columbus from 2017-19. Panarin would go on to leave via free agency, though, when he signed with the New York Rangers on July 1, 2019. That same summer, the Blue Jackets also lost goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Matt Duchene in free agency.
The hope in Columbus is that Gaudreau’s signing changes the narrative and shows that Ohio’s capital city can be a destination market for the top players in the NHL, but he and the Blue Jackets have to showcase that on the ice, too.
That means the pressure is on for Gaudreau to bring his offensive game to the Blue Jackets, who need it after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 19 points last season.
2. Laine’s production
Gaudreau could have a significant impact on right wing Patrik Laine both at even strength and on the power play. They’re set up to be the two wings on Columbus’ top line and should be the playmaker (Gaudreau) and shooter (Laine) on the top power-play unit.
Laine, who showcased his excitement over Gaudreau by signing a four-year, $34.8 million contract ($8.7 million AAV) on July 23, had 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games for the Blue Jackets last season, but that was without a player like Gaudreau setting him up. He could be a 50-goal scorer this season.
Video: Top 5 Patrik Laine Plays from the 2021-22 Season
3. Center depth
One of the biggest questions for the Blue Jackets is who will play center on the top line, likely between Gaudreau and Laine? They do not have a proven No. 1 center.
The top three candidates are Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic and Cole Sillinger. Rookie Kent Johnson could be an option if they attempt to put him between Gaudreau and Laine and he impresses, but he’s more of a long shot.
With that being said, Jenner might be the favorite. The 29-year-old is a veteran center who can go get the puck low in the zone and recover quickly, effectively doing all the dirty work necessary to make sure Gaudreau and Laine are as effective as they need to be. He can score, too. Last season he had 44 points (23 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games.
Roslovic, who has played with Laine in the past, had 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 81 games last season.
Sillinger, meanwhile, impressed as an 18-year-rold rookie, getting 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games. He too will get his opportunity, but the third line might be where he starts.
Making the cut
Johnson and right wing Kirill Marchenko are the two most intriguing players to watch in training camp. There are spots available for both rookies, but the Blue Jackets will not hesitate to start them in the American Hockey League if they think they need more seasoning. Johnson, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, had three assists in nine games last season after the 19-year-old finished his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. Marchenko is entering his first season in North America after the 22-year-old played the past three seasons with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. With forward Alexandre Texier not playing this season per the advice and recommendation of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, the Blue Jackets will have to fill that hole. Mathieu Olivier, Justin Danforth, Emil Bemstrom and Liam Foudy will also compete for roster spots.
Defenseman Nick Blankenburg can win a role in the top six in training camp, but to do that he’ll likely have to beat out Jake Bean or Andrew Peeke.
Most intriguing addition
That Gaudreau chose the Blue Jackets was one of the biggest storylines this offseason. There was a lot of talk about him potentially going to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, his hometown team, the New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders, but the 29-year-old forward chose Columbus, which was not expected. Now the pressure is on him to deliver for the Blue Jackets.
Video: Johnny Gaudreau Joins NHL Tonight
Biggest potential surprise
Johnson is not a lock for the opening-night roster, he has to earn it in training camp. However, if he makes it, he could be an instant hit in the Blue Jackets’ lineup. Johnson had 37 points (eight goals, 29 assists) in 32 games at Michigan last season, and he may need more time to develop. He’s only 6-foot-1 and 167 pounds, but if makes the team, it’s because the Blue Jackets believe he can be a big-time player for them right away.
Ready to break through
Adam Boqvist is 22 years old, and he’s already played in 128 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Blue Jackets. Chicago was so high on the 6-foot, 189-pound Sweden-born defenseman that it selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Columbus was so high on him that he was the key piece it got in return in the trade for defenseman Seth Jones on July 23, 2021. Boqvist finished with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 52 games last season, and he will have a chance to play on the top pair with Zach Werenski if he proves he can be a more effective player in the defensive zone.
Roslovic, C (undrafted on average in fantasy) — He led the Blue Jackets in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes (1.08; minimum 50 games) last season, and his potential to be the center on the top line with elite wings Gaudreau and Laine makes him a deep sleeper. — Anna Dua
Johnny Gaudreau — Boone Jenner — Patrik Laine
Gustav Nyquist — Jack Roslovic — Jakub Voracek
Kent Johnson — Cole Sillinger — Kirill Marchenko
Eric Robinson — Sean Kuraly — Mathieu Olivier
Zach Werenski — Erik Gudbranson
Vladislav Gavrikov — Adam Boqvist
Jake Bean — Nick Blankenburg
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