Welcome to another edition of the Last Word on CBJ Roundtable. For this installment the Blue Jackets team at LWOH will be talking about the 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets, expectations, players who could break out and some who could regress, and looking forward to where Columbus might end up closer to the end of the season.
The Last Word on CBJ team is led by LWOH’s managing editor/CBJ team manager Nic Hendrickson (@RedArmyNic). He is accompanied by one of the editor’s, Sean Merz (@DasBrontosaurus), Blue Jackets writer Marina Ferguson (@marinafergs), and the newest addition to the team, Tori Wernsman (@ToriWernsman)
Last Word Roundtable: 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets, Expectations & Predictions
Who is the player you’re most excited for, and why?
Nic Hendrickson: Zach Werenski. No matter how you look at him, Werenski looks to be an elite defenseman. He already has the recognition in Columbus, and he’s starting to get it across the league. His Relative Corsi-For% of 4.0 was good for fourth on the Blue Jackets (third for players with 41-plus games), which is less than surprising.
Sean Merz: Alexander Wennberg. I’m a bit of a Wennberg homer at this point, but I really love his game. Clean, incisive passing and hard to get off the puck. I think he’s going to flourish with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson burying his passes. And if he can shoot more, he’ll also be the beneficiary of their passes as well.
Tori Wernsman: I’m excited to see Gabriel Carlsson over a bigger sample size. I think with time, and more ice time, he can push himself into a similar role to someone like David Savard. Solid defensively, but doesn’t contribute much offensively.
Marina Ferguson: I’m definitely most excited about Panarin. Following the trade, all we heard from the critics was “but how will he perform without Patrick Kane?” I think he’s going to excel with the Jackets. Him and Wennberg are going to make for an amazing duo, and having Atkinson with them isn’t going to hurt either. Chicago got him going, but Panarin is going to be a superstar in Columbus.
Breakout candidate for 2017-18
NH: I know, I sound like a broken record here, but I’m saying Werenski for a second straight answer. There is every reason to believe that Werenski has the hockey IQ, ability, and physical attributes to be a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy. It’s unlikely he’ll finish in the top three, but he could certainly get some recognition.
SM: Oliver Bjorkstrand. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the guy, but I think he puts it together over a full season this year.
TW: I’m going with Bjorkstrand. Last year was definitely disappointing with him being sent down fairly early. He had flashes of brilliance, so I believe he’ll have a breakout season. The main problem last year was him being easily knocked off the puck, so hopefully he got a bit stronger in the off-season.
MF: Pierre-Luc Dubois is going to surprise people. While playing at wing isn’t what management envisaged for him, there’s no doubt the kid can score at wing. He proved himself at camp and now he’s ready to prove himself at the NHL level. I think he’ll be one of the top scoring rookies in 2017-18.
Most likely to regress from 2016-17 performance
NH: Josh Anderson. This isn’t to say that Anderson doesn’t have the ability, but there are multiple factors that could see him regressing towards the high fourth line/rotation third line winger he likely is. The numbers show he had a good deal of puck luck (103.3 PDO, highest on the Jackets), which doesn’t play in his favor. The contract dispute will also have an impact physically, as he’s already back in Cleveland for a conditioning stint.
SM: Sergei Bobrovsky. Granted, the guy is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but I have a feeling I can’t seem to suppress that he won’t live up to last season’s stellar performance. Then again, I’d trade that for a good playoff showing any day.
TW: Brandon Dubinsky. He looked fine during preseason, but I think last season was our first glimpse of his regression. He’s certainly not the second line center that this team can rely heavily on anymore.
MF: As much as I enjoy his antics, I think Dubinsky is on the decline. He had 41 points last season and I really don’t see him passing the 40-point mark again this season. He seems to have recovered fully from his off-season surgery, but that fact of the matter is that he’s just getting older. While he’s still a big part of the team’s identity, he certainly won’t be a big part of the score sheet.
Most exciting storyline to watch in 2017-18
NH: Exciting is such a subjective word. While it might not be the most “sexy” topic, I am excited to see if Bobrovsky can maintain his form from last season. It’s highly likely he regresses, which is fine, but it will be interesting to see how much he regresses.
SM: The obvious answer here is how Panarin fits in. He’s new to the squad but has looked to sync with his linemates in preseason. If he keeps that up, he is looking at a very good season indeed.
TW: There are multiple storylines to watch this season, especially as the year goes on. The one I think is going to be interesting is having Dubois on the wing. He played on the wing during preseason, but with the Jackets taking him for the purpose of playing at center, you never know if he’ll stay there. I’m sure he’ll get some time at center, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
MF: The Jackets are going to be looking for redemption this season. Winning only one playoff game after the best season in franchise history isn’t something they took lightly. Columbus are going to come out this season determined. Last season was about proving that they’re good. This season is going to be about proving that they’re great.
Expectations for the Blue Jackets in the Metro
NH: I’m pegging Columbus to finish second in the Metro. Just like everyone else, I have Pittsburgh finishing first. The Penguins are in need of a true third line center with the departure of Nick Bonino, but that isn’t enough to see them drop off significantly. The reason I have the Jackets over the Capitals is that Washington’s depth is shockingly thin. The top three is going to be a swing of a few close games, but second seems like the most feasible finish for the Jackets.
SM: Realistically, second or third, maybe even a wild card if they start slowly. This team still has to prove that it can make the playoffs more than once in a row.
TW: Pittsburgh is still going to win the Metro, in my opinion. I don’t think Washington got significantly worse, but took some steps back for sure. They’ll definitely still make the playoffs. With that being said, I think the Jackets finish second or third in the Metro, finishing roughly about the same as last year in the division.
MF: The Metro is the Blue Jackets division for the taking. The window for Washington is all but close, and I think the Penguins off-season losses are going to hurt them more than they realize. Teams like Carolina are on the rise, but it’s going to be few more seasons until they’re a serious threat for the division title. I’ll say that the Jackets will finish second, behind the Penguins, as a safe prediction. But there’s no reason that they can’t win the division.
Prediction for the season
NH: As stated before, I see them finishing second in the Metro. I do think Bobrovsky experiences regression, relative to his standards, but I think he is taking a similar lesson from the playoffs from last year like he did from the 2015-16 season and he’ll show up come the postseason to win the organization its first ever series. How their injury list at that point is going to determine if they’re a second round exit or if they can challenge for the Eastern Conference.
SM: The Blue Jackets return to the playoffs and are once again matched up with the Pittsburgh Penguins due to the terrible structure of the NHL playoff system. This time it goes to seven games, and Bobrovsky finally plays like he belongs there. The Jackets win their first ever playoff series.
TW: There surely won’t be another 16-game winning streak, but I’m expecting them to be more consistent throughout. As I said in the last question, I think they finish second or third in the Metro. With more experience I think they’ll be more competitive in the playoffs. Could we see our first playoff series win? It’s definitely not outside the realm of possibilities.
MF: Seth Jones said that the Blue Jackets want to win the Stanley Cup this season. Will that happen? I don’t know. Could it happen? Absolutely. I think the time is right in terms of competition and that the Blue Jackets have the team right now to challenge, but I won’t get carried away. I do think this is the season the Jackets finally win a playoff series. I think they’re going to have a fantastic regular season, and hopefully the made the adjustments to transfer that to the playoffs.
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