After a season in which the Blue Jackets missed the playoffs, the team finds itself in need of upgrades in key positions. A rapid turnover of the roster resulted in the club’s identity changing; going from that of a tight checking, defensively responsible group, to a high-scoring, exciting to watch team. Unfortunately, though the club scored a team record 262 goals for; they also surrendered 300 against. Reducing the number of goals against will be top priority this offseason, and there are a couple of obvious areas of need.
The issue with adding to the roster? GM Jarmo Kekalainen has done a terrific job and the roster is loaded with NHL talent. The depth on this team is pretty strong, but they need to upgrade the roster defensively, and at center. Secondary to these needs are size and a physical presence; by this point we’re well aware that the team got pushed around last year and are looking to change that. Today we’ll take a look at some ways the Blue Jackets can improve their roster, while clearing some of the logjams that may prevent the growth of younger players.
While there is plenty of talent on the blue line, the Blue Jackets had the youngest defense corps in the entire NHL last year. Starting the year led by Zach Werenski’s 335 games played (Vladislav Gavrikov sat second, with 124gp), the team entered the season with an eye on development and progress. While there was marked improvement across the board, an outside observer might notice that the mix just isn’t right for this group and something has to change.
In short, it’s almost all offense from the back end. With Werenski, Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean, and newcomer Nick Blankenburg all vying for minutes in offensive situations – you’re left with only two capable defensive defensemen in Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke. That isn’t to say that the four players mentioned are terrible defensively, they just haven’t all developed that portion of their game yet. Bean and Boqvist both struggled in fact, with Blankenburg surpassing them both quickly on the depth chart (within just a couple of games), because his play defensively stood out.
Moving forward, I think you have four players that are obviously going to be in the plans long-term: Werenski, Gavrikov, Peeke, and Blankenburg. At some point, it seems like the team will have to make a decision between Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean. Now, that decision doesn’t necessarily have to happen this offseason … but the progress of this roster in the “reload” dictates that it just might. This is a group that’s going to be on the winning track soon, and a big missing component of that is a veteran physical, stay at home defenseman. That player needs a place to play, which creates an interesting issue on the blue line.
Factoring in Jake Christiansen further complicates things, as he’s a capable, puck moving, close to NHL ready defenseman. If Simon Nemec or David Jiricek are picked sixth overall, suddenly the outlook changes again. Could Christiansen or a top prospect emerge and make someone on the bottom pairing expendable?