The Columbus Blue Jackets extended pending restricted free agent defenseman Jake Christiansen on Monday, by signing him to a two-way, one-year deal.
This contract takes Christiansen through next season and allows the Jackets to keep using him both in Cleveland and Columbus, without the risk of him passing through waivers. After next season, he’ll still be an RFA, but he’ll have arbitration rights – which may force the team’s hand on keeping him beyond.
Christiansen was originally signed in March of 2020, as an undrafted free agent playing for the Everett Silvertips (WHL). Since joining the organization, he’s appeared in 32 NHL games, registering 1 goal and 4 assists in that span. He’s spent the bulk of his time in the AHL, where he’s scored 27 goals and 94 points in 149 games with the Cleveland Monsters.
It’s hard to see this as anything but a depth signing for the Jackets. Even while they were sorely thin this season, at times, Christiansen was far down the depth chart and still kept in the AHL. He’s been fantastic at that level, scoring at more than a half point per game clip – but he has yet to establish himself as an NHL player, three years into his career.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could find his way into a full-time role with the Jackets, but to this point he looks like a traditional “4A” player – too good for the AHL, and not good enough for the NHL. For him to find a role in the big league, he has to show that he can be a productive puck mover; something he hasn’t quite put together yet.
At 6’0″ and 185 pounds, he’s a bit undersized when it comes to NHL defensemen. He does everything pretty well – skating, passing, shooting – but doesn’t have any one trait that really separates him from the pack. He did show more of a penchant for physical play this year, which is encouraging; but he needs to pull it all together soon, or he’ll be passed up by a terrific crop of prospects, some of whom are going to be competing for his ice time this year.
Ultimately, this feels like a “show me” deal. Jake gets one more year to prove his value to the organization, buying some more time for players like Stanlislav Svozil and Denton Mateychuk to develop. He’s a really good depth piece at the moment, but if he can’t stick around full-time this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the sides head in different directions next year.