A lot of hockey analytics lovers have been using the word “unsustainable” this season, but they don’t speak on how the depth of the squad being pivotal to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ success this season. Players like David Savard, Sam Gagner, Markus Nutivaara, and Lukas Sedlak have played a big part this season, and will continue to.
Dangerous Depth Pivotal to Columbus Blue Jackets’ Success
The Blue Jackets are undoubtedly having the most successful first half of a season in franchise history. Some may attribute this to their relatively unsustainable, at least into future seasons, shooting percentage. Sitting at 11.1% on the season, the Blue Jackets are second only to the New York Rangers in this category.
From the viewpoint of a hockey realist, most would admit that it’s likely higher than it should, or will, be. 12 of the 16 teams currently in playoff positions so far this season sit somewhere between 8.9-9.9% on the season. So to think the Blue Jackets will regress is likely. But even if they do, the depth they have on hand will keep the Jackets faithful sleeping soundly at night.
Savard has always been a serviceable NHL-level defenseman, but has come into his own this year. Before we delve into the statistics and analytics, you have to notice how strong he’s been in battles on the boards. He brings with him an air of composure on the puck, and he’s solidified himself as a top four defenseman for one of the best back ends in hockey.
He’s rarely lost any battles on the boards, which can partly be attributed to his size and strength, which is something the Jackets struggled consistently with last season. He’s looked in tip-top shape, and has been smart on the puck as well.
Unsurprisingly, the analytics continue to show just why Savard is second only to Jack Johnson this season in ice time. In even strength Corsi-for percentage, Savard comes in at 52.05%, also second among defenseman, only second to Zach Werenski (52.28%). This also puts Savard in the top third on the team in that category as well.
You would have to be clairvoyant to have guessed that Gagner would have this kind of impact on the Jackets this season. When Columbus signed him on a one-year/$650,000 contract many were thinking he’d slot into a fourth line to improve the depth.
Despite Gagner spending a fair amount of his time on the ice either on the man advantage or the third line, he’s been crucial to the Blue Jackets’ success this season. In 38 games this season he’s already almost doubled his point total from last season, 30 points this season compared to 16 last year, in 15 less games played.
On top of that, he’s slotted into a role on the man advantage that has made him lethal. Sitting in between the face-off circles during the powerplay has supplied him with an ample amount of chances. Because of this role he’s playing he has six powerplay goals, tied for the most in his career, and 14 powerplay points, just three shy of his career best.
These powerplay numbers currently see him sitting in the top-25 in the league in powerplay scoring. Some of the names around him include Connor McDavid, Shea Weber, Ryan Johansen, and Nikita Kucherov. This truly shows how great he’s been this season on the powerplay.
Another name that was, like Gagner, surprising to see in a Blue Jackets sweater this season is Sedlak. Despite the fact that he was a mainstay for the Cleveland Monsters last season, very few people had him seeing this kind of time this early in his career. In 54 games last season for the Monsters, “Sedsy-Cat” had 14 goals and 18 total points.
Now one thing has to be said, he’s not by any means a prolific scorer for the Jackets. But when you take into account that the fourth line last year consisted of players like Jared Boll, Gregory Campbell, and Rene Bourque, you start to realize the blatantly obvious step up in quality with Sedlak on the ice.
In his first season in the NHL thus far, 36 games to this point, Sedlak has three goals and nine points. Compare this to the 11 points Campbell had in 82 games, the three Boll had in his 30 games, and the eight points Bourque had and it becomes ever more apparent why the depth has been the key to the success Columbus is having.
On top of the improvement Sedlak has brought to the scoring of the bottom six, he has also been proven to be solid by analytics. Sedlak currently sits at 53.87 in Corsi-for percentage, putting him all the way up to second on the entire team, trailing only fan-favorite Brandon Saad (55.56%). He’s been a fantastic addition this season, and players like Sedlak are exactly why Columbus currently sits comfortably in a playoff position just under halfway through the season.
Nutivaara, like the aforementioned Sedlak, was another surprise to make the team out of training camp this season. Last year he played for Karpat in the Finnish-based Liiga, his home country. The 22-year old defenseman had a solid season for Karpat, and added 22 points in 50 games. Good numbers for someone not exactly known for being an offensive-minded defenseman.
In his first season with the Blue Jackets he has played fantastic on the third pairing with Ryan Murray. In 38 games has scored his first career goal and has added five assists along the way.
Aside from the numbers, he’s looked to be a very smooth skater, is good in battles on the boards, and his composure is that of someone much older than 22. With a pocket of fans out there criticizing Murray, Nutivaara has given those fans something to look forward to when the third pairing jumps onto the ice.
Sustainability Into The Future
Although the high shooting percentage and the stellar powerplay numbers won’t last forever, there’s still reason to believe this success is sustainable. The Blue Jackets have a solid core of mid-aged scorers, some veterans sprinkled in, a Vezina candidate in goal, and a youth to believe this season is sustainable at all ends.
For Jackets fans everywhere, playoff hockey looks all but certain come April 12th.