The Columbus Blue Jackets are an organization that has been, as is obvious, seriously mismanaged over the years. But with the fan base finally starting to realize that Jarmo Kekalainen and company know what they’re doing, there’s real reason to hope for the best. Optimism is no longer accompanied by a sense of delusion in The Buckeye State, and the young players offer many reasons as to why.
Columbus Blue Jackets Look To Youth For Hope
There’s been a buzz about the organization for roughly the last year, maybe partially due to the lack of playoff hockey. The buzz has been primarily around the youth that is starting to shine through the cracks that is the Blue Jackets lack of depth. With a general manager who has made his name in hockey as a scout, the sky is the limit.
You could go on all day about Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski, but they aren’t the only names to get excited about for the Columbus faithful. Players like Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, and Joonas Korpisalo offer glimpses of what could be a very strong depth chart come two to three years time.
The most well-known of the young forwards in the prospect pool ready to step up is the Danish sniper. Bjorkstrand spent much of last season lighting up goalies in the AHL, where he 29 points in 51 regular season games and then proceeded to be lights out in the Calder Cup Playoffs with 10 goals and 16 points in 17 games. His stellar play was one of the main reasons why the Cleveland Monsters eventually won the Calder Cup.
Bjorkstrand isn’t just a sniper though, as he has a deep arsenal of tricks and skills to boast about. He is just as good of a playmaker as he is a scorer, and because of this has found himself on the Columbus roster for opening night tomorrow against the Boston Bruins. He will likely spend much of the season on the third line, probably with the likes of Scott Hartnell on the other wing and either Alexander Wennberg or Sam Gagner, likely the latter, at center.
Oliver Bjorkstrand again! Called bank. 2-0 #CBJ
— Mark Scheig (@THWMark) October 8, 2016
Despite the fact that many hockey writers and reporters out there aren’t talking about Bjorkstrand much, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider him a dark horse for the Calder Trophy. If all goes the Danes’ way this season, he could have himself a solid season and cement himself as a fan-favourite within the Fifth Line faithful.
Everyone was baffled when the Blue Jackets opted to take Dubois over the Finnish-born Jesse Puljujarvi, but it seems that the preseason has done enough to kill any talk of that being a mistake, at least for now. Dubois has shown what he can do with the big boys during the preseason, as one of the concerns was whether he could hang physically with some of the more menacing defenseman in the league, but he doesn’t seem to shy away from contact when needed.
On top of the fact that Dubois has shown a willingness to get in the dirty areas of the ice, he has shown a bit of fire as well, which coach Tortorella values highly in his players. During the preseason game against the Nashville Predators he was seen having a back-and-forth with former Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen, even showing his willingness to drop the gloves in the process.
Now that his physicality is no longer in question by any of the fans of the Blue Jackets, the focus shifts to what will be done with Dubois this season. As of now, he hasn’t been sent back to the juniors, but it’s highly unlikely he spends the entire season with Columbus. Tortorella may opt to use the nine-game stint that he’s allowed to give Dubois, and the rest of the league, a taste of what the future has in store. Look for Dubois to be back in the juniors soon, rather than playing on the third and fourth lines for Columbus.
When you’re talking about young players who are going to make an immediate impact upon arriving with the Blue Jackets, look no further than Werenski. The second defenseman on the roster that comes from the University of Michigan, the first being Jack Johnson, is looking more and more likely by the day to be a top-four defenseman right now.
There’s no doubt that Werenski is a solid defensive blue liner, but the biggest thing about him is his ability to contribute offensively as well. Last year for the University of Michigan, Werenski played in 36 games for the Wolverines and scored 11 goals and 36 points in the process, impressive numbers from a defenseman that was only 19 years old. He made the jump to the Monsters as well and, alongside Bjorkstrand, was a major reason why the Monsters went all the way. In 17 playoff games Werenski had five goals and 14 points as he helped to propel the Blue Jackets affiliate to greatness.
As he has been able to showcase during his NCAA, International, and short professional career, Werenski is a very intelligent hockey player with great vision. Along with his great hockey IQ, he is also a great skater that can keep up with the best of them. Due to these traits, and a great work ethic, Werenski has put himself in the talks for a Calder Trophy candidate. The sky is the limit with Werenski and you shouldn’t be surprised to see him on the second pairing almost all season.
There’s not much that can be said about the young goalies that Blue Jackets fans aren’t already fully aware of. Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg will both be starting their 2016-17 seasons down with the Cleveland Monsters, but this isn’t a bad thing.
Due to Sergei Bobrovsky playing exceptionally well in the World Cup of Hockey for Team Russia, he’s come into season in good form and cemented himself as the unchallenged number one goalie. Because of that, and the coaching staff trusting in Curtis McElhinney, the two young Scandinavian netminders will get tons of time in between the pipes for Cleveland.
At this point, whether or not some of the fans trust in Bobrovsky (or more appropriately, the health of his groin), it is pivotal for the two young goalies to get time in net. This is something that will not, and should not, happen for the Blue Jackets if they are to improve on the 34-40-8 and the lack of playoff hockey.
The Future Is Bright
The term of having a bright future is a cliche one, and one that many Blue Jackets faithful have beaten to death. Despite the longstanding sense of optimism, usually accompanied by disappointment not shortly after, there are plenty of reasons to believe that a positive trend is in the cards for the Blue Jackets in the very near future. When you have a prospect pool to boast like that of Columbus’, keep your optimism, because the sky is the limit!