After signing a 7-year contract with the Blue Jackets last summer, Johnny Gaudreau came to Columbus with huge expectations. His first season with the Jackets may not have gone according to plan as far as overall standings – but make no mistake, Johnny was fantastic for this team.
The moment he put pen to paper, Gaudreau became the most high profiled free agent signee the Jackets have ever seen. His signing was so big that a lot of us looked past this team’s honest state – in the midst of the rebuild – and thought that they could possibly push for a playoff berth this season.
Unfortunately, a slow start and major blows to the roster due to injuries, kept this team well out of the race from basically the start of the season. But quietly, through the inconsistent lines and with change being the only constant, Johnny posted the fifth most productive regular season by any player in franchise history.
His 53 assists led the team by a full 20, and was good enough for the fourth highest regular season total in franchise history. His 74 points led the team and were 22 more than the next closest player; and his 21 goals tied him with Kirill Machenko for third on the team. He was everything advertised for this team, and the reality is, without Johnny Gaudreau, the Jackets were easily, far and away the worst team in the NHL this season. Seriously, how bad would they have been had #13 not signed here last summer?
For him to have that kind of impact and have this team still finish 31st out of 32 teams, should highlight the reality: this team is still several pieces away from being a contender. But, the fact that Johnny chose to come here, even with this team in the situation they’re in, should signify a brighter future ahead for this franchise.
This guy is a difference maker, and the kind of player that you can build an offense around. In letting go of Brad Larsen last week, it seems like the expectations are about to change in Central Ohio, in a big way. Having a player as talented as Gaudreau leading the way, should give the next head coach of the Blue Jackets something to work with right out of the gate. He is the kind of player coaches love to have, and now the key is building a roster around him.
Final season stats: 80 games played, 21 goals, 53 assists, 74 points, 22 penalty minutes, -33, 220 shots on goal. Overall grade: A
It’s hard to find many negatives here. Gaudreau was productive with virtually whoever was on his line this season – including fourth line center Sean Kuraly in the final games of the year. He made everyone on the ice better, and for these reasons he’s easily, far and away the team’s most valuable player in a dark 2022-23 season.