Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers are insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around till the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on the Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets
The 2017-18 season, while not as successful as the one before, was a solid one for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They earned another playoff berth, the first back-to-back playoff appearances in franchise history, playing the Washington Capitals in the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite making the playoffs again, they were unable to make it out of the First Round yet again. They took a 2-0 lead, but would lose the next four games in a row and would fall to the soon-to-be Stanley Cup Champions.
Before the playoffs came around they experienced spells of good play, both as a team and from individuals. The Blue Jackets finished 45-30-7 on the season, finishing fourth in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.
In regards to individual performances, one name stands above all else for the Blue Jackets, and that is Artemi Panarin. Panarin finished his first season in Columbus with 27 goals and 55 assists for 82 points in 81 games. Panarin led the Blue Jackets in all three of these categories. He also tied Seth Jones for most powerplay goals, with seven, and was third in time on ice per game, clocking in at 20:07 per game.
Panarin wasn’t the only Blue Jacket that had a good season though. Seth Jones continued to develop and show just how good of a defenseman he is. Jones would finish the season with 16 goals and 41 assists. His offensive ability combined with him being a shutdown defenseman would result in him finishing fourth in Norris Trophy voting.
Other names that had good seasons would be Pierre-Luc Dubois, who finished fourth in points with 48 in his first season in the NHL. Another name to be included would be Zach Werenski, who would continue to show he is not a flash in the pan and would finish with 16 goals and 21 assists in 77 games.
The off-season was a fairly busy one for the Blue Jackets. There were some players that left in free agency along with some new names that will undoubtedly be on the roster come September 17th when the Blue Jackets open the 2018-19 season against the Buffalo Sabres.
There were some notable departures from Columbus, including fan-favorite Matt Calvert. Calvert was allowed to become an unrestricted free agent and would eventually end up signing a three-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche. The other significant departure was Jack Johnson, who signed a five-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The departure of Johnson and Calvert was followed up by Ian Cole, Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu. The trio would end up signing deals with the Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings and Letestu is on a PTO with the Florida Panthers and hoping to earn a roster spot by impressing at training camp.
The off-season was not solely marked by the departures for Columbus. The money they freed up resulted in the organization being able to re-sign multiple younger names and important players. This includes re-signing Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Along with re-signing the three mentioned above, they brought in some fresh legs as well. They added to the defensive depth with the signing of a young blueliner in Adam Clendening (two assists in five NHL games, five goals and 30 assists in 59 AHL games in 2017-18) as well as depth on the offensive end with the arrival of Anthony Duclair (11 goals, 12 assists in 56 games in 2017-18).
The biggest name they brought in was that of Riley Nash. Nash, 29, is coming off the back of his best ever season. Nash scored 15 goals and added 26 assists in 76 games for the Boston Bruins in 2017-18 and is expected to make some noise as a middle six forward for the Blue Jackets, an area where Columbus needs to improve to take another step forward in 2018-19.
Artemi Panarin – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner – Riley Nash – Josh Anderson
Extra: Anthony Duclair
Zach Werenski – Seth Jones
Gabriel Carlsson – Ryan Murray
Players to Watch
Columbus has multiple players to watch in 2018-19, but all for very different reasons. This could make for either an exciting or disappointing season.
The first name to watch in 2018-19 (and yes, we are aware that this is an already overplayed story) is that of Artemi Panarin. Blue Jackets faithful and the organization alike will be hoping that Panarin eventually commits his future to Columbus, although this is becoming an ever unlikely occurence. None the less, this is a story to follow.
One of the other names to keep an eye on is Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois had a strong rookie season and has left many hopeful that he can continue to improve on that this season. Dubois has found himself in the favor of both head coach John Tortorella and the Fifth Line faithful, and there is plenty of reason to expect Dubois to continue to impose himself on the opposition and continue to move his way up the time on ice leaders sheet.
The last name to keep an eye on is that of Gabriel Carlsson. Carlsson is a big-bodied shutdown defenseman that has shown flashes of promise, albeit briefly. Carlsson has a serious chance at cracking the Jackets roster regularly, and this would be a great time for him to do just that to give Columbus an even deeper blue line corps than they already have.
Columbus, if they can keep ahold of Panarin, should easily finish inside the top three in the Metropolitan Division and comfortably secure a playoff spot. That, however, is a big question mark on the season. The return in a possible trade for Panarin would need to add depth scoring and a top six forward to make it a justifiable return.
Regardless of the result of the Panarin situation, Columbus should be in the Wild Card spot race. Finishing top eight in the Eastern Conference is certainly not a tall task for a team with this much talent on the defensive end and a top-notch goaltender in Bobrovsky.