Columbus Blue Jackets Off-Season: Dynamic Defenseman

As the Columbus Blue Jackets are preparing for what is hoping to be a positive summer, and on the heels of getting the third overall pick in the upcoming draft, there’s one thing that can be looked back upon with a sense of hope, the blue line. Last week we took a look at the goalie situation in Columbus, which you can read by clicking here, and this week we are looking towards the dynamic duo on the first pairing, the possibilities of the second and third pairings, and the future of the blue line. Stay tuned next week as we’ll be moving further up the ice to do the same for the ones putting the biscuit in the basket.

Columbus Blue Jackets Off-Season: Dynamic Defenseman

The Columbus Blue Jackets went through a very obviously tough season this year, and the blue line is no exception to that. However, when you objectively look at each area of the organization, they’re the ones that draw the most excitement moving forward, and rightly so. Players like Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and even players who have not yet  put on a Blue Jackets sweater, like Zach Werenski, are dynamic young talents and are truly reason to have hope for the future. As Coach Tortorella himself said on multiple occasions, you’ve got to build from the back to build a contender.

The Negatives

There are some pretty obvious negatives to point out when looking back on the season, and the blue line carries their fair share of them. For one, the play from some of the veteran core was either seriously inconsistent, or consistently sub-par, and that’s not something the Blue Jackets organization can carry the weight of. The obvious statistic you could point to for a good point in the inconsistency, and sub-par play, would be the fact that they gave up the second most goals in the league at 248, but that’s down to more than just the play of the defensemen. If you look deeper than the thin sheet of bad baseline stats, primarily tarnished by the first third of the season, you will recognize there truly is a bright future for this aspect of the Blue Jackets organization.

Sometimes singling out players is not necessarily something you want to do, but sometimes it just needs to be done. One of the most disappointing performers of this season was Jack Johnson, who ironically was second on the blue in terms of time on ice, sitting at 24:10 TOI/GP, just 17 seconds less than Seth Jones for the season. Despite being one of the highest in TOI/GP on the blue line, his point production didn’t match up. Johnson had six goals and 14 total points on the season, albeit in only 60 games, which was less than the 20 Jones had in the 41 games he played in Columbus, the 25 points that David Savard had in 65 games, and the 25 that Ryan Murray was able to put up. He was also the worst on the Blue Jackets blue line, in regards to plus-minus, with a -16 for the season.

The second name that pops up in the category of disappointments isn’t because he had a bad season necessarily, but rather that he under-performed in regards to the amount of money he’s earning each season, is Fedor Tyutin. He made a whopping $5 million last year and is set to make another $4.75 in the upcoming season, both carrying a cap hit of $4.5 million, which is a rough one for someone splitting time between the second and third pairing of the blue line. Despite the cap hit currently there, Tyutin is a reliable defenseman and should be valued as such in Columbus.

Positives

Despite the attitude of some pockets of the fan base out there, the blue line is something that can be talked about with pride and a hope for future All-Stars. There are positive notes to the season in regards to Ryan Murray, the addition of Seth Jones, and the future prospects of the defensive core as well. It became more noticeable throughout the season that the young defensemen took to the teachings of John Tortorella and started to tighten up the back and right the ship, making for positive notes going into 2016-17.

The first thing to take from this season, without any optimistic bias, is the healthy and productive season that Ryan Murray had. Coming off the back of a season where he only played in 12 games, Murray played in all 82 games for the Blue Jackets and was able to chip in four goals and 25 points in the process. These aren’t necessarily numbers to write home about, but for a young defenseman playing his first full season they are a massive step in the right direction. Another impressive point to take is that 11 of his points on the season came from the power play, an area where Columbus is in dire need of help.

The biggest positive point on the season, and many of the Blue Jackets fans out there would happily agree with this assessment, is the arrival of Seth Jones. Jones played in just 40 games for the Blue Jackets this season and was able to rack up more points than anyone on the blue line other than Ryan Murray and David Savard, who played in 82 and 65 games respectively. The play of Jones goes far beyond the numbers, and is surely the reason why he lead the entire team with 24:27 TOI/GP, and rightly so. At only 21 years young, Jones is sure to be a defensive stalwart for years to come in Columbus.

The Implications

Although the contract of Tyutin is a tad too large for the amount of time he plays, there does not look to be too many departures from the blue line come 2016-17. The defense looks to be fairly set, with the possibility of a few additions through promising prospects being the only foreseeable difference next year. The only possibility of freeing up space would be to try and shop a player like Tyutin or Prout, but that is unlikely in the current situation. Expect much of the same next year.

Names To Watch

Zach Werenski

Werenski was the first round pick, eighth overall, of the Blue Jackets in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He has had an impressive career leading up to signing his ELC with the Blue Jackets towards the end of last season. He’s spent the last two years playing at the University of Michigan (cue the collective groan from Columbus fans), and was nothing short of impressive during both of them. During his Freshman season he had nine goals and 25 points in 35 games for the Wolverines. He also played at the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he had one goal and one assist in five games for the United States. Moving into his Sophomore season he improved a massive amount and had 11 goals and 36 points in 36 games, which was good for second in the nation among blueliners. He represented the USA at the WJHC again and had two goals and nine points in seven games, as he was named captain as well.

For a full scouting report from our scouting department click here.

Dean Kukan

Kukan is a relatively unknown prospect for most of the Blue Jackets fans, but impressed in the small sample of games he appeared in this season. Kukan was able to get a call-up this season to the Blue Jackets due to his impressive play on the blue line for the AHL-affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, where he had three goals and 13 points in 33 games this season. In his eight games for the Blue Jackets this season he wasn’t able to get a point, but his +/- of plus-eight was impressive, to say the least. Kukan is already representing Switzerland at the senior level and had two assists in 13 games for his nation in 2014-15.

Gabriel Carlsson

Carlsson was the first round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, who took him 29th overall. He has spent his entire career playing in his native country of Sweden, where he played for Linkoping HC for the last three years. Despite being an exciting prospect defensively, he was able to put up the modest number of nine points in 45 games for Linkoping last season. He isn’t projected to be an elite two-way defenseman, but has shown himself to be more than capable shutting down forwards on a consistent basis. For a full scouting report on Carlsson, click here.

Stay tuned to www.lastwordonsports.com and @LWOS_CBJ on twitter as we venture up the ice to cover the forwards next week!

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