The summer of 2022 may as well be called the “Summer of Jarmo”. The Blue Jackets GM has indeed been busy, continuing to overhaul a roster that became stale after the departure former head coach John Tortorella. But, even after trading away fan favorite Oliver Bjorkstrand, the team still has an excess of talent on the wings; however they still need to solve two questions: Who is the top line center? And, who plays alongside Zach Werenski on the top defense pair?
As things stand, the team has at least 16 players competing for 12 spots (with, likely, two press box seats available). In fact, we can round that up to nearly 20 by the time we account for everyone. There are 10 sure bets to make the team, including Boone Jenner, Alexandre Texier, Patrik Laine, Johnny Gaudreau, Jakub Voracek, Gustav Nyquist, Jack Roslovic, Sean Kuraly, Eric Robinson, and Cole Sillinger.
For the remaining spots, we have veteran Justin Danforth, newly acquired pugilist Mathieu Olivier, and then talented youngsters Yegor Chinkahov, Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, and Emil Bemstrom (RFA). This doesn’t even include Brendan Gaunce or Carson Meyer, both of whom played well in late season call-ups; or former first round pick Liam Foudy, a player that I think still has a lot to give. Add in players like Tyler Angle and Trey Fix-Wolansky if you’d like, and well … you get the point. It’s a good problem to have.
But, when you look at the overall potential of the team, the first question mark for me is: who centers Laine and Gaudreau? Boone Jenner seems the obvious first candidate. He scored 23 times and added 21 assists for 44 points in just 59 games last season, while playing an effective all-around game. But, can he keep pace with two of the most talented wingers in the league? Jack Roslovic ended the season on a tear, but overall posted just a modest 45 point season, skating in 80 games. Ideally he’s a second or even third line center, on a competing team.
Kent Johnson has the talent, but isn’t quite ready to play center in the NHL in my estimation (though I will admit to being wrong if proven so). The other options? 19 year old sophomore Cole Sillinger, who may or may not be ready for a bigger role. I think he could use one more season as a sheltered third line player – maybe best if the team could find a way to slot Boone Jenner onto his flank. The dark horse here? Alexandre Texier. He was playing extremely well before breaking his finger and taking time away from the team due to his personal situation. If “Tex” can find consistency in this role, he could be the guy.
As it stands, I think the #1C role is a position of weakness for this team, that they aren’t quite ready to fulfill from within. The team is loaded on the wings and has pretty good depth down the middle, they just lack a strong option for a top line pivot. If a trade were to happen, I think it would have to involve a young, quality center coming the other way.
On the backend, the team is loaded with quality and depth. In fact you can pretty much write in Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke, Erik Gudbranson, Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, and Nick Blankenburg as the 7 who will make the roster out of camp. Werenski is certainly the gem of the bunch and is well suited for his top pairing role. But, his defensive game isn’t ideal and it’s hard to find anyone on this list deserving of 25 minutes per night alongside him.
Boqvist is the most talented of the right hand defensemen; but he’s young and like Werenski, his game is built around offense, with a clear need to improve defensively. Peeke spent the second half of last season in the role and was surprisingly solid. But ideally, I think he’s best suited on the second pair, keeping the game simple for him and allowing him to be used in a shutdown role.
Gudbranson was signed to bring physicality and attitude to the back end, but he isn’t the kind of player you throw onto the top pairing on a nightly basis. The last option is Blankenburg, who showed very well in his late season audition with the team – but with only 7 NHL games under his belt, I don’t see him as the solution to the problem at this point. Again, solid all the way through, but like the forwards, they are just lacking that one top piece.
With all of that said, here’s how the roster and depth chart breaks down. Bemstrom still seems like an obvious “change of scenery” player to me, even if the return is just a future draft pick. Foudy is the toughest cut in my opinion, I really think he will make a hard push to make the roster this fall, and will earn an early call-up.
Danforth – Olivier
What do you think? Could the Blue Jackets make a splash in the trade market? Who should they target? Feel free to comment below!