Columbus Blue Jackets 2023-24 player review, Johnny Gaudreau finished strong

Johnny Gaudreau and the Blue Jackets entered this past season with huge expectations. A slow start put a black mark on what was otherwise a solid season from #13.
Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

I'm not sure Johnny Gaudreau knew what he was getting himself into when he signed his 7-year, $68.25 million dollar contract with the Blue Jackets two summers ago.

I'm sure he knew he was joining a team whose best days were ahead. I'm just not sure he knew that, two years on, this team would still be bottoming out. Two new head coaches and a new GM later, I find myself wondering if he would make the same decision with the chance to do it all over again?

This season, Johnny and the Jackets had lofty expectations. While buzz of a playoff run was probably never realistic, I think almost everyone expected the team to be far better than they were. Unfortunately, this season was lost before it really got under way.

Johnny was definitely part of the reason. Early in the year, the Jackets struggled to find offense, even when the roster was relatively healthy. A big part of that falls on his shoulders - he is the key weapon that makes the entire offense click, after all.

Through the first 19 games of the season, Johnny scored just 2 goals and 6 points. For any veteran playing in the top-six forward group, this is wholly unacceptable. Worse, this is the highest paid forward on the team. The guy who was brought in specifically to give the offense a boost.

But Gaudreau didn't look like himself early in the season. He seemed a step behind. He seemed snake bitten, causing many (including yours truly) to wonder if he was dealing with an injury.

The good news is, he gradually snapped out of his funk, and after that slow start, went on to post 54 points in the team's final 62 games. Basically, right near his career average - and he did it with very little help.

Here we are, getting ready to enter Johnny's third season in Columbus ... and he still has Boone Jenner as his top line center. My gut tells me that this is a big part of the reason Jarmo Kekalainen was relieved of his duties as GM.

It shouldn't take all that much to put some talent around Gaudreau and win some hockey games. When he signed in Columbus, the team's competition window pushed way forward. Previous management's inability to act on that, probably cost people their jobs - starting with Jarmo.

I believe that Adam Fantilli will emerge as this team's top line center this season. He's good enough, but from the top down, it has to be made clear that running Jenner out for 25 minutes per night, flanking Gaudreau on the top line - can't be the crutch they lean on any longer.

It's time to get more out of Johnny, while he still has some good years left. And I don't think it's all on the player's shoulders. He needs help.

Johnny Gaudreau 2023-24. B. Final season stats: 81gp, 12g, 48a, 60pts, -27, 22PiMs, 160sog. . Johnny Gaudreau 2023-24 grade:

Gaudreau started slowly, but I still give him a strong passing grade here. This team was a mess to start the season, and that's not all his fault. Sure, he could have been better. That's why it wasn't an "A". Once he got on track, he produced offense entirely on his own, leading the team in scoring, a full 18 points ahead of the next forward.