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Puck Drop Preview: 2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets

2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets.

2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets

2021-22 Season

Welcome the New Boss

The first year under a new coach is always worth watching, and Year One under Brad Larsen was no different. After five seasons of John Tortorella, Columbus decided to promote from within to replace the veteran bench boss. It’s odd to say, but given the upheaval in the previous off-season, the coaching change, and the numerous injuries – and COVID protocol absences – throughout the year, finishing 19 points out of a playoff spot wasn’t too bad.

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We Have Youth And… Youth

One of the league’s youngest teams had ten rookies start debut in 2021-22, including both top picks from the 2021 entry draft. Cole Sillinger was a revelation, playing most of the season as an 18-year-old. He had sheltered minutes, but still brought in 16 goals and 31 points in just under 14 minutes per game.

A Little Help, Here!

The Blue Jackets youth showed at its worst on defence. Zack Werenski anchored the blue line, most frequently with new arrival Jake Bean or Andrew Peeke. Werenski was playing for the first time since signing a massive new deal that kicks in this season. That added pressure didn’t help, as he tried to be everything, everywhere, all at once whenever he was on the ice. Bean and Peeke had played 44 and 33 NHL games respectively, so that choice was understandable. Adam Boqvist, Werenski’s third most frequent partner, had all of 76 games under his belt.

The Blue Jackets defence clearly missed Seth Jones and David Savard. They weren’t exactly saved by their goaltending, either, as starter Elvis Merzlikins finished with a mediocre .907 save percentage. Joonas Korpisalo was even worse, at .877. But that’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg question if we’re looking to allocate blame.

Not All Bad

Patrik Laine missed a lot of games early due to injury, but he scored at a point-per-game pace for the first time in his career. Jakob Vorachek returned to the team he started his NHL career with and settled in to lead the team in scoring. The Blue Jackets finished 28th and 29th in offence in the previous two seasons before jumping up to 14th last year. Best of all, the season was begun with lowered expectations, signalled by the trades of Seth Jones and David Savard.

Young players mostly worked out, and despite the sieve-like goals against numbers, they were fun to watch. It’s easy to sell the potential of an exciting young team.

2022 Offseason

Well. Speaking of exciting, landing the single most coveted free agent in recent memory certainly qualifies. Johnny Gaudreau shocked the hockey world by eschewing the Calgary Flames in favour of the small-market Blue Jackets. While his seven-year, $68 million deal isn’t small, by most accounts he left as much as $30 million on the table. This is a seismic change for the Ohio team, long accustomed to being ignored by major free agents.
Not only does Columbus have an exciting – and yes, still young – team, they have 2021-22’s second-highest scoring player on a seven-year contract. That he chose them can make the Blue Jackets a destination team – IF they can start making the playoffs with regularity. It cost them the price of their second-highest scorer to make cap room, but it’s hard not to see the move as an upgrade.
They also brought in veteran right-side defenceman Eric Gudbranson. Given the difficulties of their young defence last year, the team should be able to make use of him. They will be missing a solid bottom-six forward in Alexandre Texier, who will stay in Europe for personal reasons for at least one year. So what do these few changes do to the 2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets?

Lineup Projections


Johnny GaudreauBoone JennerPatrik Laine

Gustav Nyqvist – Jack RoslovicJakub Voracek

Eric RobinsonSean Kuraly – Kirill Marchenko

Kent JohnsonCole SillingerYegor Chinakhov

Top Six

The addition of Gaudreau does amazing things to the forwards available in Columbus. Despite playing full seasons in 2021-22, Nyqvist and Vorachek spent very little time on the same line. This year, that should change to make a ridiculous “second” line. The Blue Jackets are hard-pressed to match the talent on the wings with their centres this season. As a result, if Kent Johnson shows well early? He may well get a chance between the veterans.

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That’s for the future, though. To start, Roslovic is almost certain to get the nod between the 33-year-old veterans. The only problem with the trio is convincing someone to shoot. All three tend to think pass first, so if the production isn’t flowing either Voracek or Nyqvist could swap up beside Jenner.

And that’s quite the top line to join. Laine is famous for his shot, of course, but Jenner gets it on the net too. Gaudreau is coming off his first 40-goal season and will no doubt want to build off that number. Again, a mix of the top six wouldn’t surprise.

Bottom Six

The third line projected here isn’t in place strictly because of their talent. Going with a traditional third line, based around defence, Kuraly and Robinson are probably going to do the dirty work for this team. Marchenko is in as a wild card, on the team because of the unique position of Russian players coming from the KHL. His age and experience playing against men give him a leg up, despite never playing in North America. He’s got good speed and knows how to find his own end, but it’s going to be very hard to displace any of the wingers ahead of him.

Our fourth line is all about potential – and protection. Chinakhov didn’t have a sterling rookie season, but if he takes a second year on the fourth line alongside Sillinger and Johnson they will be a handful. That’s three smart, skilled players who shouldn’t give up the puck easily. Call it a fourth line all you want, the opponents will need to know when it’s on the ice.

Just off the ice, Justin Danforth has his work cut out for him if he wants to improve on his NHL games played count. The 28-year-old rookie from 2021-22 was there when it mattered, and will most likely be the first man called. Emil Bemstrom and Liam Foudy are likewise close but waiting their turn.


Zach WerenskiAndrew Peeke

Vladislav GavrikovErik Gudbranson

Jake BeanAdam Boqvist

Top Four / Bottom Pair

Andrew Peeke is – or should be – a shut-down defender. He and Gavrikov were the Blue Jackets primary short-handed defenders. But, given his age, should he be trusted in the top pair with Werenski? It’s a serious question, given how he fared at even strength in 2021-22. But frankly, Columbus lacks choice, he can move the puck reasonably well and skate fast enough to pair with Werenski.
We’re putting Gavrikov and Gudbranson together as the shut-down pair that Columbus lacked last season. It’s how Gudbranson is used most effectively, and while Gavrikov has some offensive skill he’s probably best used here as a defensive specialist. Someone has to get the puck to the forwards, and he can do that well enough. It’s a role he mostly played with Peeke, and the veteran Gudbranson is better suited to it.
That leaves a wild card pair of Bean and Boqvist. Bean is more of a two-way player than Boqvist, but neither is the player you put out to protect a one-goal lead. One goal down, on the other hand, and they would be a very dangerous pair. They aren’t much of a physical presence, but if they can get the puck, it’s getting out of the zone and on a counterattack quickly.
The seventh spot is likely filled by 28-year-old Gavin Bayreuther. He got into 43 games with Columbus last year and is versatile enough to play either side as needed.


Elvis Merzlikins

Daniil Tarasov

After last year’s disastrous showing, the only way Tarasov doesn’t take over the backup job from Korpisalo is if he hasn’t healed up from February’s hip surgery. Tarasov signed a three-year deal for just over $1 million per season in June, while Korpisalo is on his last year. They won’t want to lose Korpisalo for nothing, but is any team desperate enough to take him off waivers?

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Merzlikins is going to play mentor to the goalie of the future, whether he wants to or not. He has five years remaining on his new deal but needs to rebound from a down season. This will be his fourth season in the league and he should have enough experience to bounce back. A more experienced defence and a high-scoring offence should combine to keep the pressure off.

Players to Watch

Johnny Gaudreau

Like anyone in the league won’t be watching “Johnny Hockey” in his new home. He probably won’t reach the highs of 115 points this year – a line with three 40+ goal scorers is tough to match. Another 40-goal season is certainly possible, though, especially if he’s shifted onto our pass-heavy second line.

Elvis Merzlikins

An early comeback for their starting goaltender will stop him from looking over his shoulder all season. Even if Tarasov outplays him for bursts, the team is unlikely to turn to a rookie as their full-time starter. His contract gives Merzlikins some protection, but the bottom line is that if the team wants to compete this year, he needs to perform. And if he does, they will.

Prediction for 2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets

A season where the end is in little doubt by December is unlikely to repeat itself. There are a few teams who finished ahead of the Blue Jackets last year who go into this season with some doubts. Whether those teams fall enough – and Columbus improves enough – to make the playoffs reality is far from certain. They aren’t the only team in the Eastern Conference that looks better before the season starts.
We’re going to say no, they don’t make it. Yet. They will close the gap considerably, and maybe make bettors nervous, but the 2022-23 Columbus Blue Jackets with fall short for one more year.


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