The Future of the CBJ Defense Corps

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 05: Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets challenge for the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on April 05, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 05: Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets challenge for the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on April 05, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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What happens in 2 or 3 years?

It really depends on how quickly the prospects develop. If they go through the summer of 2023 and see that David Jiricek is ready to win a spot out of camp, they can make a move. If Corson Ceuelemans reaches the same timeline? They can make another move. But, I don’t really see a world where both of these guys – let alone both of these guys, and Denton Mateychuk, and Stanislav Svozil (etc), are going to join the team and make immediate impacts. So you have to keep quality guys around until they prove they’re ready.

Sep 28, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Denton Mateychuk (5) skates against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Denton Mateychuk (5) skates against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The thing about signing guys to good contracts is, you can always trade from a position of strength. Assuming Jiricek is going to be ready next season, I think it would be possible to move on from a player like Nick Blankenburg, Jake Bean, or even Adam Boqvist. The best thing that could happen for this team would be all three of these guys exceeding expectations this year and making a trade difficult – but if any of them flounder, they become the obvious man out. Then you can fall back on one of the top defense prospects in hockey maybe joining the team next year. All three of these players are signed to really good, inexpensive bridge contracts.

But they may not have to do anything at all…

If you followed along with our top prospects list over the summer, we have professional ETAs listed for Jiricek (2023), Ceulemans (2023), Mateychuk (2024), and Svozil (2023). I think each of these guys could see NHL time in those years, but remembering that the learning curve for defensemen can be slow means that they may all need time to season in the AHL. This is all best case scenario; it’s possible that one or more of these guys could need 1-2 full seasons in the AHL to develop into NHL regulars. And that’s perfectly fine.

Sep 28, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Linus Weissbach (65) skates for the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (4) in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Linus Weissbach (65) skates for the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (4) in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

If they came back next season with the same 7 defensemen, that’s probably okay – we just have to hope they’ve improved enough to make this team better. Which, in a world where they’ve extended Gavrikov and kept the gang around, probably is the case.

Beyond that, the only defensemen signed for the 2024-25 season currently? Werenski, Gudbranson, Boqvist, and Peeke. Signing Gavrikov to a 3 or 4 year extension and adding him to that group, means you have five guys with experience, one guy (Jiricek) ready for the big time, and can fill in the #7 guy either from that list of prospects, a secondary prospect like Knazko or Bjorgvik-Holm, or from another source.

This is when the team should be looking to take a step forward. If Jiricek were to step in and take over a top-4 role, you’re pushing someone like Peeke down the lineup and into a more suitable role. The group looks something like this:

Werenski – Jiricek

Gavrikov – Boqvist

Peeke – Gudbranson

Borgvik-Holm/whoever

Maybe at that point Erik Gudbranson is forced out as the #7 guy? That would make room for a guy like Ceulemans, if he were ready.But then you have an experienced player around in case the games get physical, or should injuries occur. And, with two guys on ELC deals, you can afford to fit him under the cap.

In the end, I don’t see how the team signing Andrew Peeke to third pairing money, changes the long-term plans here. This is still a talented prospects group, but they are likely at least 1-2 years away from even competing for NHL ice time. As Jarmo has said again and again: you can never have too many quality defensemen.

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