Their play this year has signaled one major weakness, in my opinion: they need immediate help down the middle.
Center is the one position on the ice that can directly affect both your goals for and against in a big way. I chose the featured image in this article because without intending to do so, it illustrates the obvious: the Jackets have nobody capable of playing with Johnny Gaudreau, no true top-line center. Currently, they’re rolling out Boone Jenner, Dmitri Voronkov, Adam Fantilli, and Sean Kuraly down the middle. Stack that up against the Islanders, or the Devils, or any other Metropolitan Division – or NHL team – and you can quickly see the uphill battle this club is facing.
Now, in two years, I think this group will actually be really good. Add in Cole Sillinger, who (offensive struggles aside) has shown flashes of being a reliable two-way center. Maybe Luca del bel Belluz can come in and help, or Kent Johnson will transition into that role. They’re probably going to end up with another high pick at next summer’s draft – so maybe there’s more help on the way there. The problem is, that’s years away, and this team is terrible now.
For right now, in the immediate moment, they have to do something to correct this issue. You know how they acquired two defensemen over the summer, to buy time for their top prospects? They need to do that for their young centers as well.
This team has a variety of talented players on the wings. They have plenty of depth on defense. They’re even about to have three goalies on the roster. But they’re still rolling out a top line centered by a guy who spent the bulk of his career as a middle-six left wing; and they have two rookies featured on the second and third lines.
I’m not sure who might be on the table, or what their asking price might be. But at this point in time, any deal that does not cost the Jackets their 2024 first round pick, or one of the future core pieces; they have to consider. There should only be a few untouchables on this roster, and if the right player becomes available, you might have to part with someone you think highly of, in order to steer this ship in a better direction. Adding a center that can play on one of this team’s top-two lines, would make a huge difference.