The Blue Jackets signed Andrew Peeke on Tuesday to a three year contract extension, which keeps him locked up through the 2025-26 season. While the announcement was far more controversial than we expected, this seems like a solid deal for the club, locking down a guy who played top pairing minutes, for third pairing dollars. But now that he’s signed, what does this signal for the future of the Blue Jacket blueline?
We’ve talked a bit about the team’s likely corps heading into this season; the depth chart is likely as follows: Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov, Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, Erik Gudbranson, Jake Bean, and Nick Blankenburg. This is assuming one of the team’s prospects doesn’t make the club, of course. Gavin Bayreuther, Marcus Bjork and Jake Christiansen seem primed to be the team’s first callups when opportunity arises, while Ben Harpur still stands an outside chance of earning a contract with the team to provide even more depth.
Of that group, there are six players signed beyond next season: Werenski (until 2028), Boqvist (2025), Peeke (2026), Gudbranson (2026), Bean (2024), and Blankenburg (2025). Christiansen and Bjork will both become restricted free agents next summer, while Bayreuther and Gavrikov are slated to hit the open market as UFAs.
Waiting in the wings are some very talented prospects: Corson Ceulemans, David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk, and Stanislav Svozil all seem like standout talents who will be looking to crack the lineup at some point in the near future. This doesn’t even factor in prospects like Ole Bjorgvik-Holm or Samuel Knazko, who could also battle for a roster spot at some point. In short, what you have here is a logjam.
What happens in the immediate future?
I think it will be easy for the club to write Bayreuther off after this season. He’s a quality player but seems like a classic ‘tweener – too good for the AHL, not good enough to play consistently in the NHL. Bjork is a bit of an unknown, so it’s too early to make any kind of statement there other than “we’ll see”. But with the prospects being injected into this system, it’s hard to keep guys around who aren’t pushing and contending for spots, and I have not seen it yet.
Jake Christiansen is an interesting case because he’s still developing and looks the part of an NHL defenseman. I don’t think the team lets him walk for nothing, but I also don’t see him being in a hurry to re-up and play in the AHL. I think he could be a trade chip if nothing else, but it won’t be until later in the year – or even next summer. They would only deal this player away if they felt a player like Knazko or Svozil can replace him at the AHL level, so they can develop further.
Which brings us to the last player who will wear Union Blue this season: Vladislav Gavrikov. Simply put, I have a really hard time seeing this team moving on from this player at this point. If they are in a playoff race by the trade deadline, it will probably be because Vlad is part of a good shutdown pairing, and you can’t trade a guy when you’re in the hunt. If they’re well out of the playoff race, it becomes anyone’s guess … but then you trade away a player that you will immediately need to replace if you’re going to make a push next season or beyond.
There aren’t any prospects in the system who can replace the kind of defense that Gavrikov brings immediately. If you are looking to trade for a player like that, you’re giving up big assets. Personally, I’d rather see the team extend him, and use those assets to fill other holes in the lineup. You can’t come into the 2023-24 season even younger on defense, in my opinion. Trading him now means you’re gaining more picks and prospects for the reload … and that’s when this club should be looking to flip the switch and become serious contenders for a playoff spot. For these reasons, I think they use the money coming off of the books from Gustav Nyquist, to keep Gavrikov around for a few seasons.