As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. 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.
Who are the Blue Jackets thankful for?
Not only is the team captain first among the team in goal-scoring, but he is first in scoring among all Columbus forwards. If Jenner is set to continue his offensive pace for the rest of the season, he is set to clear his career record in both goals and points.
While high-priced players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine continue to struggle early in the season, Jenner is picking up their offensive slack in a big way. Not only has Jenner been getting it done on the offensive end, but his defensive play has been solid this year as well.
Currently sitting at 56.1% faceoff percentage in nearly 500 draws, Jenner also carries at 51.0% Corsi For percentage, as well as a 91.0% On Ice SV%, both of which sit higher than his career averages. It has been a tough start to the year for the Blue Jackets in the standings, but their team captain is by far and away their most stable and consistent player each night.
What are the Blue Jackets thankful for?
An improved defensive core.
After finishing last season at 31st in the NHL in terms of GA/G, the General Manager of Columbus, Jarmo Kekäläinen, swung two big trades to dramatically improve the defensive depth for the Blue Jackets. In only three days, Columbus acquired Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils in a sign-and-trade, while also acquiring Ivan Provorov from the Philadelphia Flyers in a three-team deal.
There is still a lot of time left in the season, but in the same GA/G statistic, the Blue Jackets have managed to jump up nine spots, allowing goaltender Elvis Merzlikins to play more comfortably between the pipes. Not only has their defense improved, but Provorov, along with defenseman Zach Werenski, sits third and first on the team in scoring, respectively.
Unfortunately, Severson will find himself on the team’s injured reserve for a total of six weeks due to an oblique injury, and rookie defenseman David Jiricek is experiencing some growing pains in his first full season with the team. Nevertheless, thanks to the big moves made to upgrade the blueline last offseason, the Blue Jackets defensive core is much improved from where it was just a season ago.
What would the Blue Jackets be even more thankful for?
More production from their star players.
This season, one of the most glaring issues in Columbus is the lack of production from both Gaudreau and Laine, who are making a combined $18.45MM until the 2026-27 season. As we are now in December, the two have only combined for eight goals and 20 points, much lower than what should be expected out of both of them.
Gaudreau, for his part, has managed five points in his last five games but only scored eight points in his first 20 games before that. Laine, who is one of the more natural goal-scorers in the NHL, has scored three points in his last five games, only managing a total of four points in his previous 10 games. The Head Coach of the Blue Jackets, Pascal Vincent, sent a serious message to Laine only a few weeks ago, making him a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.
Now playing in their 22nd season as a franchise, the Blue Jackets only playoff series victory came back in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, where the team relied heavily on star talent such as Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois. If Columbus is hoping to return to contention, although it will likely not be this year, their star players must lead the way.
What should be on the Blue Jackets holiday wish list?
More draft picks.
On paper, if the Blue Jackets can get their star players clicking again, this team has the depth to compete in the Eastern Conference playoff race as soon as next year. Unfortunately, aside from Gaudreau, Columbus has historically had a difficult time recruiting free-agent talent, meaning they will have to improve this team via trades and the NHL Draft.
Last year, given the strength at the top of the draft, the Blue Jackets “settled” for Adam Fantilli with the third overall selection, who otherwise would have been the top player available in several other drafts. At this year’s draft, there is similar talent at the top of the class, and Columbus looks poised to once again have a top-10 pick.
Sitting at 27th place in the league and last place in the Metropolitan Division, the Blue Jackets should be one of the featured sellers at this year’s trade deadline, with plenty of teams looking to improve their lineup. Columbus will almost certainly look to move out at least one defenseman and could look to seriously thin out their surplus of bodies in the forward core as well.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.