After coming together to beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, the Blue Jackets will ice a completely different team for the next stretch of hockey. A rash of injuries has suddenly decimated an already thin lineup, with several key players now out long-term. The team will have to adapt quickly to new faces, as the schedule picks up pace over the next few weeks.
The news broke Friday afternoon, and it’s worse than most of us probably expected:
To summarize, the Blue Jackets are currently without 8 regulars: Erik Gudbranson sits day to day with an upper body injury. Forwards Jakub Voracek and Sean Kuraly, both injured on the Finland trip, have been moved to IR retroactively. Defenseman Adam Boqvist remains out for another month or so. Nick Blankenburg will miss at least the next month and a half.
Zach Werenski and Justin Danforth – both with shoulder surgeries – are done for the year. Add that to Alexandre Texier, who is spending this season in Europe to be closer to family, and the Jackets are in a dire situation.
To help stem the tide, they’ve recalled defensemen David Jiricek, Marcus Bjork, and Gavin Bayreuther to fill the holes on defense; and are anticipating the return of Kent Johnson, who missed last night’s game due to minor injury. This leaves the team with a very inexperienced roster – particularly on the back end.
Should Gudbranson sit tomorrow night, they’ll ice a defense corps with a combined 542 games played in the NHL. That’s an average of just 90 games played apiece. Compare that to the team they’re playing, the New York Islanders – another young team, but their top-two guys in ice time alone have both played nearly 400 games apiece.
The Jackets will lean heavily on their three veterans: Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke, and Jake Bean; but will still be icing two rookies. Jiricek has two games in the NHL this season, while Marcus Bjork has yet to suit up in the NHL.
What this means is that, the team is going to have to play better structured hockey. The forwards aren’t going to be able to free-wheel as much; the offense will have to come from timely attacks and they will need to rely on their power-play…for better or worse.
Much like the 2019-20 season when the team entered the season with two very inexperienced goaltenders, the Jackets will have to adjust their style to help out their young blueline until they can get some bodies back. Losing Werenski really hurts – especially with the way he played last night, he seemed to be finding his game.
The “next man up” phrase has hit hard for the Blue Jackets already this season. GM Jarmo Kekalainen touted his team’s depth in the offseason and mentioned that he could never have too many NHL defensemen. The time to prove that point is now, as players will be thrown into the fire during a crucial stretch of the team’s schedule.
One of two things will likely happen. Either the young players will rise to the occasion and this team will exceed expectations (us against the world sort of thing). Or, they’ll perform like a very young, inexperience group, and the Jackets will wind up picking very high in a very good draft. Either way, they will come out of this thing stronger on the other side.
Injuries certainly present opportunity. While it may not be fun to watch for the next little bit, we just have to hope that the future remains brighter.