CBJ: How Should the Kids Develop?

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The most important thing the Blue Jackets can focus on at this time: developing the future of this team. Part of that future is finding the correct answer to this question: how should the kids develop?

Maybe it would be more correctly worded if we asked “where” instead of how. Because at this point in time, the entire system is decimated by injuries, which makes finding bodies – any bodies – to play in the NHL and even the AHL has been difficult.

The injury situation has forced the hand of GM Jarmo Kekalainen, and has thrust several players into roles they definitely were not penciled into during the offseason. But with wins and losses not being all that important in Columbus, the Cleveland Monsters sit six points back from a playoff spot in the AHL. So we ran a Twitter poll with a list of AHL-eligible players on the Blue Jackets and asked: might they be better off playing more meaningful hockey in the AHL?

It’s an interesting discussion to broach, and most of the voting went pretty much in line with my thinking. Starting right at the top, Cole Sillinger has struggled offensively in his sophomore season, to the tune of just 2 goals and 5 assists through 46 games. With that said, he’s still been an effective, reliable center, improving on the defensive side of the puck. But to prepare him mentally for next season, sending him to the AHL to regain his scoring confidence could be huge.

The popular vote with Kent Johnson is to keep him in the NHL, and it’s hard to argue with that. His ice time has come up quite a bit over the last few weeks, and he’s responded well with 5 points in 6 games with heavier minutes. As long as he’s playing in the top-six, he should be in the NHL. Same with Kirill Marchenko, who has scored 13 goals in 28 games – and often looks like the most dangerous forward on the ice. He belongs in the NHL.

Yegor Chinakhov should be returning very soon from his ankle injury, and most fans agree that keeping him up is the right move. I agree with that, Yegor is an NHL player by my eye test, he’s been really good this season and the goals will come in bunches.

Sep 29, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets forward Yegor Chinakhov (59) controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Liam Foudy has been nothing short of a mess this season, and a change of scenery seems like an absolute must. I don’t think anyone would be upset to see him sent down to try and find his game again, and if another team were to claim him via the waiver wire, I don’t see that as a huge loss. In fact, a fresh start for Liam in a new environment and system, could very well help rejuvenate his career.

There was one result here that I didn’t agree with: Emil Bemstrom. While he isn’t lighting the world on fire offensively, he’s scoring at roughly the same pace as Kent Johnson, Gustav Nyquist, Kirill Marchenko and Yegor Chinakhov … and he’s doing it while averaging fourth line minutes. Bemstrom has been the whipping boy for this team for a couple of years now, but in reality he quietly plays a strong two-way game and does have some skill. He should be in the NHL.

Our poll has Nick Blankenburg staying up and Tim Berni returning to the AHL, and I think both of those would be fine results. Blankenburg is a standout player and the team definitely plays with a different swagger when he’s on the ice. Berni has gone about his business more quietly, and he and Erik Gudbranson do work well together; but for the sake of his development, more time in the AHL would not be a bad thing.

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