Defenseman Nick Blankenburg struggled to stay healthy in his first full NHL season, but when he was on the ice, he was a solid contributor from the back end for the Blue Jackets. Still, we’re left wondering what his eventual NHL role might look like.
Signed to a “show me” one-year contract as a free agent from the University of Michigan, Blankenburg joined the team in the spring of 2019. He was at risk of being written off, completely forgotten, as he joined the team alongside highly touted 5th overall pick and Wolverines teammate Kent Johnson.
But that’s not what happened. In fact, it was Blankenburg who stole the show, picking up an assist in his first NHL game, and wow-ing the crowd with his physical brand of defense. He soon separated himself from the pack, and by season’s end, he was taking regular shifts alongside Zach Werenski on the top defense pairing.
It was a whirlwind start for an undersized player – going from NCAA hockey, as an undrafted free agent, to a top defense pair in the span of about a week. After signing a two-year contract extension, our hopes were pretty high for Nick this season, whether that’s fair or not. He had a great training camp and preseason, which only led to talk of even higher expectations.
But as the season started, Nick found himself in the press box. The right side of the Blue Jacket defense corps was loaded with Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, and Erik Gudbranson, which meant that he would have to wait his turn. But once he got his chance, he quickly proved his worth just as he did in the season prior.
In his first game on October 18th, he skated over 21 minutes as the team found the win column for the first time this season. In his second game, he scored a goal and an assist. But unfortunately, in spite of his excellent play; Nick just could not stay healthy this season, finding himself on the IR list four times throughout the season – leaving us still wondering what his actual future is with this team.
Final season stats: 36 games played, 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, 16 PIMs, -16, 50 shots on goal. Overall grade: C
His “C” grade is less a reflection of his play on the ice, and more of a reflection of his inability to stay healthy. We don’t want him to stray too far from his assertive, in your face style – but, he has to find a happy medium that will allow him to contribute, while also keeping him in the lineup. Nick is 25 years old, so he should be entering the prime of his professional career. Getting him into a full slate of games next season, would be huge for him and the team.