Columbus Blue Jackets 2019-20 Rewind
Leading scorers: Oliver Bjorkstrand (21 goals); Pierre-Luc Dubois (49 points)
The franchise’s 20th season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even before the season paused, the Blue Jackets were in the Metro playoff mix. Despite losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus remained competitive and saw strong seasons from Bjorkstrand, Dubois, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and new addition Gustav Nyquist. Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins also did a fine job in goal replacing Bob, with Elvis being named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team.
Due to the expanded Stanley Cup Playoff format, the Blue Jackets played into the summer and topped the Maple Leafs in five games in the Qualifying Round. Their run came to an end in the First Round at the hands of the eventual champion Lightning, which saw the opening game of the series needing five overtimes.
3 Most Interesting Columbus Blue Jackets
• Pierre-Luc Dubois: The 22-year-old forward played himself on to many people’s radars with his playoff performance after scoring 10 points in 10 games — even though they should have been paying attention since 2017. As of Monday, he remains an unsigned restricted free agent. Kekalainen said he’s confident that a deal will get done by the start of training camp next week. He’s proven to be a reliable scorer and one the GM can build his franchise around. Once the distraction of contract negotiations is gone, he can continue developing into an elite first-line center.
• Jarmo Kekalainen: His team was written off after losses in free agency in 2019, but his players rallied and played above expectations. The departures weren’t as great this offseason, but that same core will be expected to rise again in a new division. Kekalainen’s charges will play in the Central Division this season against the Lightning, Stars, Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Predators, Panthers, and Red Wings.
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This could be an interesting season with a number of veterans approaching unrestricted free agency next summer, including captain Nick Foligno. A poor start could mean bodies moved out by the April 12 trade deadline. But the GM has stocked the prospect cupboard with the likes of Liam Foudy, Kirill Marchenko, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Tim Berni, Daniil Tarasov, and Andrew Peeke in the pipeline. A firesale isn’t in Kekalainen’s plans, and should the Blue Jackets be in a playoff spot or in the mix for one at the trade deadline, you can expect him to be bold to improve his team.
• Max Domi: On his third team in four seasons, Domi’s offensive touch returned to him during his two years in Montreal. In 153 games with the Habs, he scored 45 times and recorded 116 points. He’ll be relied upon to keep up the scoring as the team’s second-line center. A good puck-mover and creator in the offensive zone, he could be the answer to what was missing down the middle for Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are in a tough division, and with 21 of their 56 games against Tampa, Dallas, and Carolina, points will be hard to come by. Those other 35 games? There are points to be had against those teams. Outside of Nyquist and Nick Foligno, their top six scorers are all under 30 years of age and developing together. A step forward is expected from their young core, and both goalies showed their abilities during the regular season and playoffs.
There’s every reason to expect the Blue Jackets to find themselves fighting for a Central playoff spot. The button’s John Tortorella has pushed has worked, and the franchise has embraced the “us against the world” mentality when there have been plenty of doubters.
The goalies were both above .920 in even strength save percentage with Merzlikins in his first NHL season and Korpisalo appearing in a career high 37 games. They’ll both need to be strong again in a short season, especially with a schedule featuring seven back-to-backs. But if things derail, a sell-off could take place as six players could become UFAs. The core will still be there for the future, it would just be the secondary scoring/depth needing a freshening up.
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.