Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season was the best in history for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They experienced the second best single season winning streak in NHL history, and the longest in the salary cap era. They received stellar play from just about everyone.
Despite this, they couldn’t replicate their stellar regular season play into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vezina Trophy-winning Sergei Bobrovsky went missing, and the men in front of him did little to help against the Penguins.
And with Columbus keeping much of their core intact, and adding a few important names to the mix, the 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets might be the dark horse team heading into this season.
Coming into this off-season there were a lot of questions on what direction the Jackets would head after the best season in their history. The contract of former forward Scott Hartnell was one of the biggest questions. With Hartnell being bought out it afforded Columbus more cap space and flexibility, and they made multiple smart moves with it.
They recently re-signed number one center Alex Wennberg, and extended the contracts and re-signed multiple prospects. To name a few, there was Alex Broadhurst, Zac Dalpe, Joonas Korpisalo, Dean Kukan, and Kevin Stenlund.
Aside from the players brought back, there were a few that have left as well. For instance, Columbus traded away prospect Dante Salituro for depth forward Jordan Schroeder. This wasn’t their last trade, or their biggest; they sent Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg to Chicago for Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte, with each team receiving a pick from the other as well.
While many may be sad to see Saad head back to Chicago, acquiring an arguably elite goal scorer is pivotal to taking another step forward for the organization. The other two names, Motte and Schroeder, will add more depth to the bottom six.
2017-18 Predicted Line Combinations
Artemi Panarin – Alex Wennberg – Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson
Other options: Tyler Motte, Sonny Milano, Jordan Schroeder
The bottom six will have a couple of well-known, but still fresh players. Bjorkstrand played in 26 games last season, scoring six goals and adding seven assists, and looks ready to have a full-time spot with Columbus in 2017-18.
Another name that many fans and the organization is high on is Hannikainen. It would not come as a shock to see Hannikainen start on the third line this season, and also equally unsurprising if there is a rotation of the bottom two left wings between Motte, Calvert, and Hannikainen.
Another new name to the NHL is that of Dubois. After a disappointing start to the season for Cape Breton in the QMJHL Dubois was traded to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, and seemingly found his feet again. Dubois had 15 goals and 22 assists in 28 regular season games for the Armada to finish the year. He also score over a point-per-game in the playoffs.
Many are hoping the big bodied forward can live up to expectations, and he looks ready to challenge for a roster spot this season. While his physicality would be useful on the fourth line, Dubois would flourish on a skilled line. With Hannikainen and Bjorkstrand on the wings for him, this could be a fast and furious third pairing for the Blue Jackets.
Seventh Defenseman: Ryan Murray
Unsurprisingly, there is very little change to the defensive pairings for the upcoming season. The only change is dropping Murray down to the seventh defenseman and pairing Nutivaara with shutdown defensman Gabriel Carlsson.
There is only a small sample size of Carlsson, but when taking into account what he did in Europe before coming to the Blue Jackets, he could easily become a top four shutdown defenseman. His stay-at-home style will help Nutivaara, a defenseman who likes to move the puck and skate out of his zone a lot more than Carlsson.
While Murray will still very likely get around half a season of games, he is at the point of his career that he has to earn what he’s given. He has had brief, very brief, glimpses of promise, but has proven to be both inconsistent and injury prone. Look for John Tortorella to make the transition towards the younger, more defensively sound, Carlsson.
With Bobrovsky coming off the back of his second Vezina Trophy, Columbus will be looking to lean on him once again in 2017-18. With Korpisalo showing flashes of brilliance in both a starting and a backup role, another season behind Bobrovsky as his protege will help to further his development into a possible starter in the future, whether in Columbus or elsewhere.
Players to Watch
As stated above, Dubois has high expectations to live up to. Starting with being taken third overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, a decision that was questioned by much of the Fifth Line faithful, and coming off the back of an inconsistent season in the QMJHL, Dubois looks hungry to prove he is an NHL caliber forward. His physicality, and his ability to play both on the wing and in the center of the ice, is going to give him a positive in the book of head coach Tortorella.
Hannikainen is a somewhat unknown commodity to many Blue Jackets fans. What has been seen has been widely accepted as a promising forward making big strides in the right direction. Hannikainen could be the unknown player to have success this season, much like Sedlak had last season.
Another name that comes with a question mark, Carlsson has some serious upside. He isn’t ever going to light up the stat sheet, but he makes up for it by ensuring the other team can’t either. With a long reach, smart play in the defensive zone, and a physical style to compliment his 6’4″, 191-pound frame, Carlsson can hopefully provide much needed stability to the bottom pairing.
Player on the Rise
After just one season in the NHL Werenski has proven himself to be a fantastic talent. The Blue Jackets organization aren’t the only ones high on him; NHL Network ranked him in the top 20 defenseman in the league and top 50 players as well. Look for Werenski to continue this upward trend into elite company.
Players on the Decline
Dubinsky might not make this category if his contract wasn’t so bad. He is still a solid second/third line center option, but his contract makes it tough to argue for him. Now 31 years old, Dubinsky likely still has a few years left in the tank, but his best days are undeniably behind him.
Murray makes this category for a very different reason than Dubinksy. With age still on his side, the only thing declining with Murray is his stock. Even without the injury issues he has had in his career, he has been inconsistent, at best. And with players like Carlsson, Dean Kukan, and multiple other names making a case for themselves, the window for Murray to make his mark in Columbus is quickly closing.
2017-18 Season Prediction
There is plenty of room for optimism for the Blue Jackets heading into the season. With the addition of Panarin, the recent re-signing of Wennberg, and younger names emerging, this could be another great season.
If Bobrovsky can keep his level of play even slightly below last season, and Korpisalo can find consistency in the backup role, the defense should be strong again. And with a shoot-first forward in Panarin, something the Jackets have been sorely lacking, the offensive production could see a jump as well.
Look for the Blue Jackets to challenge for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, likely finishing second or third. If last year’s playoff lesson is learned, the Jackets could easily win their first ever playoff series.