Surely, this was going to be our year, right?
With the 2014-15 season completely wasted, it was easy to carry over our excitement from the 2014 playoff run for one more year. After all, that season was a loss because of injuries – not on ice performances. We were entering the 2015-16 season with center depth for the first time ever, led by Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, William Karlsson, and Artem Anisimov.
We had a budding young defenseman in Ryan Murray, who was going to be our #1 guy in no time. A young up and coming scorer named Alex Wennberg. We even had guys on the wings who could score and play gritty. Scott Hartnell, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Matt Calvert, Brandon Saad … heck, we even added depth pieces that summer. Surely, this was going to be our year, right?
Not so much. The Blue Jackets came out of the gate strong, playing a 50/50 game against the New York Rangers to open that 2015-16 season – only to see a soft goal from the corner beat them in the final minutes. Sound a little bit like the early going of the season opener in Raleigh this year, until Laine went down injured?
That goal in 2015 seemed to break something within that group, and they started the seasons flat on their faces; going 0-7-0 before firing then-head coach Todd Richards. To right the ship, John Tortorella was hired, and we all know how things went from there.
While it was extremely painful, the 2015-16 season was probably the most important season in the last roster rebuild. It gave them a head coach determined to win – and one more high draft pick to bolster the roster. The team that made the playoffs two years prior, was playing well above their heads and probably had no business being there at that point. A great goaltender will do that for you, sometimes.
In hindsight. the injury-riddled 2014-15 season leading up to one of the strongest drafts in recent memory, paid off huge dividends for the Blue Jackets. While they lost the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, their #8 overall pick that summer became a cornerstone piece: defenseman Zach Werenski. And the next season, when they came out of the gate with their skate laces tied together and the coach took the blame? They ended up with a #3 overall selection: center Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Now, we can all debate some of Jarmo’s decisions over the years. Or his ability to retain top talent (though, that seems to be changing). But what isn’t really up for debate, is his ability to find talent at the draft – especially in the top-10-15 picks. Those picks in his tenure have been: Werenski (2016), Dubois (2016), Kent Johnson (2021), and David Jiricek (2022).
While it’s too early to call Johnson and Jiricek successes, both of them are off to pretty good starts in their careers, and seem ahead of the curve. Throw in Wennberg (14th overall, 2013) Cole Sillinger (12th, 2021), and Denton Mateychuk (12th, 2022), and you might argue that he’s basically perfect in the top-15 of the draft so far. It’s not until you get into that pick #16-40 range, before you start seeing some draft whiffs here – and that’s to be expected.
In the end, this season may be tough to watch if history does again repeat itself. But we’re looking at a brighter future. The biggest difference between the 2015 Jackets and the 2022 Jackets? The talent that is actually on the ice. We don’t have a group of aging second and third line players this time around. We have legitimate top line threats in Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, along with solid scoring depth.
We also have a strong core of prospects, especially on the blue line. This time around, adding another top-10 pick in a very deep draft, could thrust this team into a completely different stratosphere. They just need to fill in a couple of more pieces, get healthy, and they’re right there. This upcoming draft is stacked with blue chip center prospects like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson. If this season of suffering means we’ll see any of those guys wearing the CBJ crest in the near future, it will be well worth it.
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