When we’re talking about players the Blue Jackets really could have used this season, you have to bring up Justin Danforth’s name. In fact, depending on how you look at it, his absence may have been the beginning of this team’s true collapse this season – he’s an important piece to this puzzle.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Jackets brought Danforth in on a one-year contract, leaving a lot of us (myself included) wondering why. After all, did we really need another small veteran forward? Especially one who didn’t seem like he would move the needle in any direction for this team? Still, the Jackets brought him over from Russia with a contract for league minimum, signing him on May 3, 2021.
It did not take long for us to take notice. Danforth was an immediate standout for the Blue Jackets at training camp that fall. All he did was show up with his lunch pail and go to work, bringing speed and energy to the team the moment he hit the ice. He quickly emerged as a fan favorite; and though he started the year in the AHL, once he was called up, he never looked back.
Danforth is a player that is extremely easy to root for. He took the long road to the NHL, playing Junior A hockey in the OJHL, before spending for years with Sacred Heart University (NCAA). Stops in the ECHL, AHL, Liiga (Finland) came next, before a big season in the KHL put him on the radar of NHL teams.
He finished sixth in KHL scoring in 2020-21, with 23 goals and 55 points in 58 games. He skated for team Canada at the World Championships that spring, and then worked his way into the CBJ lineup that fall. Danforth doesn’t have any one skill or trait that stands out, relying on his speed to get in on the forecheck and create havoc in the offensive zone. This speed allows him to get under players and surprise them with a body check, or sneak into a dangerous scoring area for a quick strike.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, after Danforth earned a third line role with the team to start the season, he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder just six games in. This ended his campaign, and the Jackets lost an important energy piece from their bottom-six. Worse, Danforth is 30 years old, and with the quality of future NHL wingers coming up through the Jackets system, one has to wonder if this year could be his final chance to win a job with this team.
Final seasons stats: 6 games played, 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points, 4 PIMs, -3, 10 shots on goal. Overall grade: incomplete.
Sometimes, it just isn’t fair. Danforth has worked his entire life to get to this level, and he banged and bruised his way to get a 2-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets. I’m pulling for him to secure a spot with this team for at least the next couple of seasons – he’s been a really fun player to watch. You need guys like this around, especially with a young team. Hopefully Justin comes back with good health this fall.