Through one season and a few weeks of play at the NHL level, defenseman Nick Blankenburg has been an electrifying player for the Blue Jackets when he’s been healthy. The issue is: he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for any real length of time. Now with a revamped Jacket blue line; is there a future in Central Ohio for the undersized spark plug?
D Nick Blankenburg
5’9″, 177 pounds
2022-23 stats: 36GP, 4G, 10A, 14P, -16, 16PIMs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent (NCAA UFA), April 2022
Contract: $825k through 2023-24
Role: Depth/utility defenseman
After spending the first three games of the 2022-23 season as the team’s seventh defenseman, Blankenburg finally got his crack at the lineup on October 18 – helping propel the team to its first win of the year. As he did late in the 2021-22 season, he brought a ton of energy to the lineup; using his small frame to throw big hits, while also jumping into the rush and helping create confusion in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, he got into just four games before suffering an injury; then returning two weeks later for just three games, suffering another injury, and missing the next two months.
This has been the story of his young career so far. Dynamic two-way play from a difference maker that makes us want to see him a ton more – only to see him suffer one injury after another, keeping him out of the lineup. As we enter the season, it’s even harder to find a fit for him in the lineup. His placement will really depend on training camp and the preseason. I think he probably starts out somewhere around 8th or even 9th on the team’s depth chart – but this is exactly the kind of guy you don’t want to count out, because as soon as you do, he’ll prove you wrong.
We know that Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson, Erik Gudbranson, Adam Boqvist, and Andrew Peeke are going to be the front-runners for jobs on the back end. Next you have another returning IR player in Jake Bean, whose left-hand shooting presence makes him a favorite for the third defense pair – maybe even ahead of right-hand shooting Andrew Peeke. They’ll also have top prospect David Jiricek also competing for a job – which means that Blankenburg, the oft-injured, undersized player who is still on a two-way contract, could be an easier player to cut.
Three keys to success:
- Keep that swagger. There was talk about having him change his game up to try and protect his body more; but that seems counterintuitive to me. What got him to the NHL – and has us wishing for more – is his confident swagger on both sides of the puck. He has to keep a certain amount of that in his game, if he’s going to stand out. Especially being several inches shorter than most other defensemen on the roster.
- Stay healthy. I’ll make the argument that if he’d stayed healthy last season, he probably would have established himself as a top-four defenseman on this team, and might have made it so the team didn’t feel the need to go out and acquire Severson in the first place. He has to show his value consistently.
- Don’t take no for an answer. This won’t be a problem for Nick; he’s been proving people wrong for his entire career. Even if he gets sent down to start the season, he should keep working to prove that he belongs in the NHL.
In the end, we should be prepared for any potential outcome with Nick Blankenburg. I think it’s most likely that he’s sent down to start the year. But, he’s also the only right-hand shot that proved he can play on the left side; which means that if he stands out in camp, there’s the potential that he could take Jake Bean’s job. One hot take: I think he could push Adam Boqvist for a job in the top-four, pairing alongside Ivan Provorov or even Zach Werenski. This would prompt a trade, because you don’t want to waste a guy like Boqvist by sitting him in the press box. The possibilities are really all over the place with Nick, and he’ll be a storyline to follow all throughout training camp.