The Blue Jackets will enter the 2022-23 season with arguably the most talented lineup they have ever had. While they still have areas of needed improvement, the team is deep at forward and on defense. The roster will be highlighted by the best tandem of wingers it’s ever had: Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau. But in a season where the overall expectations are still pretty low, what would be a successful year from these talented players?
Signed to the wealthiest contract in Blue Jacket history, Gaudreau is coming off of a 40 goal, 75 assist, 115 point season that saw him finish second in the entire NHL in scoring. He posted career highs in every offensive category and led the league in plus/minus at +64. He couldn’t have chosen a better season to become an unrestricted free agent, and he cashed in with the Blue Jackets in a big way. While last year was a more explosive year for him, he has been a consistent producer throughout his career – with 609 points in 602 career games.
Gaudreau is one of the game’s most elite playmaking wingers. He has the hands, the vision, and the hockey sense to carry a top line. He’s a rare talent, and the moment he takes the ice for the Blue Jackets, he will become one of the most talented players to ever play in Columbus.
But, he’s coming to a new organization, a new city entirely, and will be on a completely different team. His linemates last season were pretty good: Matthew Tkachuk has 382 points in 431 career games and spent the season not only producing in a big way, but also being a physical pest on the ice. He frees up space and has the skill to finish. Elias Lindholm centered the group; his career totals are 449 points in 663 games – but he’s also one of the elite two-way centers in the NHL.
Simply put, the Blue Jackets don’t have a Matthew Tkachuk, or an Elias Lindholm. The best center on the team may very well be Cole Sillinger, but he’s only 19 years old. While I think he may develop into an elite two-way center; he’s just not there yet, and may not be for a few years. But, they do have a capable winger to play the other side: Patrik Laine.
Obviously, Laine doesn’t have the physical nastiness of Matthew Tkachuk. Nor is he a strong two-way player. But, among pure goal scorers, there aren’t many better. We’ve seen glimpses of Laine’s natural scoring ability throughout his two years in Columbus. He has a 6′-5″ frame, a world class shot, and surprisingly soft hands for a big man. He seems like a natural fit alongside a playmaker like Gaudreau, and it will be interesting to see how their chemistry develops.
Down the middle, the most likely candidates to center the line are Sillinger, Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic – or perhaps Alexandre Texier. Jenner is probably the most likely player to start the season in the role. It’s his to lose – he fared pretty well last season with 23 goals and 44 points in 59 games. But longer-term, I don’t think Boone is the ideal player to be a top line center in the NHL. They’ll need someone faster and more skilled to step up and take the reins here, if they are going to get max production from their two star wingers.
All of that said, what would a fair expectation be from Laine and Gaudreau? Assuming a healthy, 82 game season, I think it’s reasonable to expect Laine to score 40+ goals, and Gaudreau to score 75+ points. Even without a top line center, these guys should be lethal on the power play and productive at even strength. If someone steps up and can be a 60-70 point player between them, I think it’s not out of question that the team’s single season goal record (41), and points record (87) are in danger. They are that good.