After a stellar regular season and inspired playoff appearance in ’13-14, Columbus took a step backwards last year by finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference, and missing the postseason.
Though there were extenuating circumstances.
The Blue Jackets led the league in man games lost to injury, with 502. Nathan Horton, once the organization’s biggest free agent acquisition, didn’t play a single game before being traded to Toronto while Ryan Murray, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, missed 70 of 82 games while dealing with a myriad of injuries.
Other key players, like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Sergei Bobrovsky all missed extensive time as well. Despite that, there were bright spots — Ryan Johansen continued to post solid numbers, with a career-high 71 points, while Nick Foligno earned himself the club’s captaincy with a 73-point effort, tops on the team.
In the end, though, missing the playoffs proved a damaging blow to the momentum gained by their impressive run the year prior.
Few teams made a bigger splash this summer. GM Jarmo Kekalainen stunned the league by acquiring budding Chicago star Brandon Saad, the 22-year-old power forward that won two Stanley Cups in his first three NHL seasons.
The Saad deal reverberated throughout the league. With him in the fold, Columbus created one of the youngest and most dangerous top lines in the NHL with Johansen (who only turned 23 in July) and whoever their running mate will be, be it Foligno or Scott Hartnell (or, possibly, 22-year-old Boone Jenner).
Elsewhere, the club added some veteran experience and leadership in the form of ex-Bruins forward Gregory Campbell. Kekalainen also re-upped with the likes of Matt Calvert, backup goalie Curtis McElhinney and depth d-men Justin Falk and Cody Goboulef.
At the draft, Columbus was a major player with three top-40 picks, and used them to select Michigan d-man Zach Werenski (eighth overall), Swedish blueliner Gabriel Carlsson (29th) and WHL Portland product Paul Bittner (38th).