As the holiday season approaches, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for as the season heads past the one-quarter mark. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What are the Blue Jackets most thankful for?
A rock-solid scouting staff.
There hasn’t been a ton to celebrate in Columbus over the past few months. The team watched several of their best players leave for greener pastures (or sandier beaches) this summer and have now struggled through the early part of the season en route to a 11-14-4 record. The hopes that Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski could take the next step and keep them competing for a divisional playoff spot have been dashed so far, as the offense and goaltending have desperately missed Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky (at least the one that played for Columbus).
There is reason to be hopeful for the future however. Players like Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom and Andrew Peeke all selected outside of the first round, have made contributions in the NHL this season, despite each being under 22. The team’s most recent first-rounder, Liam Foudy, is one of the most dynamic skaters in the CHL and has a good shot at representing Canada at the upcoming World Juniors. If Columbus decides to hang onto their picks, or even collect some new ones, their staff have the skills to rebuild this pipeline quickly.
Through all the noise and disappointment, the Blue Jackets best defenseman has quietly logged huge minutes for the team while still being one of the best at both ends of the rink. Jones may not be having the best season of his career, but is a stabilizing presence for the organization that can be relied upon every night.
With an excellent contract that keeps him under control through the 2021-22 season, Jones can still be the core of whatever GM Jarmo Kekalainen tries to build in Columbus.
What would the Blue Jackets be even more thankful for?
A few more saves.
It’s not that Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have been dreadful this season, it’s just that neither one is well suited to be a starting goaltender in the NHL right now. The former had played in 90 NHL games before this year and hadn’t been very effective since the 2015-16 season, while the latter had only been really tested against players of this caliber at the World Championships. Merzlikins had always shown quite well at international competitions, but the grind of the NHL is a much different animal.
Blaming a pair of goaltenders with such little experience for the struggles this season would be foolish, but getting an extra save or two would certainly make things look a lot better.
What should be on the Blue Jackets’ Holiday Wish List?
A draft lottery horseshoe.
If Kekalainen and head coach John Tortorella were speaking honestly, they probably would admit that the team isn’t going to win the Stanley Cup this season. While the St. Louis Blues showed everyone to not give up at this point in the year, the Blue Jackets are only three points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and 13 points out of a divisional playoff spot. It would be an incredible story if they were to turn things around, meaning they may soon end up focusing on the upcoming draft instead.
Columbus doesn’t have their second- or third-round picks thanks to the Ryan Dzingel and Ian Cole trades, but could very well end up as sellers at the deadline to recoup some of those lost assets. A draft lottery win would certainly be something to celebrate and build around moving forward.
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