Analysis: Cleveland Monsters' Key Contributors Propelling Blue Jackets to New Heights

By Dan Dukart on November 13, 2017 at 10:15 am
Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski and forward Sonny Milano

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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When the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters won the Calder Cup in 2015-16, it marked the first banner-raising moment for the Blue Jackets franchise.

At the time, many around the game speculated that the roster iced by Jared Bednar's club could have a large impact at the NHL level, similar to Mike Sullivan's AHL Penguins the year before.

Fast forward to 2017, and that Monsters team's impact is significant. 

It had been a while since one team dominated the AHL playoffs the way the Monsters did in that memorable (and quick) run, ultimately capped off by Oliver Bjorkstrand's AHL record third overtime goal of the postseason. 

The club posted an absurd 15-2 record, the best playoff record/winning percentage since the AHL went to the four-round postseason format in 1996. In each of their four playoffs rounds, the Monsters built 3-0 series leads. They were unbeaten (5-0) in overtime games.

The contributions came from the crease on out. Anton Forsberg posted a 9-0 record during the run. Zach Werenski, fresh off his two-year stint at the University of Michigan, was dynamic, and was third on the team in playoff scoring with 14 points, despite having played just seven regular season AHL games to get his feet wet.

Oliver Bjorkstrand took his game to new heights. His six game-winning-goals in a single postseason tied an AHL record, and his 10 goals led the AHL in playoff scoring. Lukas Sedlak, after a pedestrian regular season (18 points in 54 games), announced himself to the organization with 16 points in 17 playoff games. He made the Blue Jackets roster just a few months later.

Josh Anderson had 12 points in the run, Markus Hannikainen had 10, and Sonny Milano had eight. Joonas Korpisalo went 6-2 and lost the net to Forsberg. Think about that! 

The list of players with big contributions is seemingly endless. Six of the AHL's top 10 playoff point scorers were on the Monsters roster. 

Just a few years later, the Blue Jackets sit squarely in a playoff position, aiming to make the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the franchise's tortured history.

The impact made by the Monsters alumni is impossible to miss when examining the Blue Jackets lineup.

Josh Anderson leads the club with six goals, and is followed closely behind by Bjorkstrand and Milano's five apiece. Tied for fourth with Cam Atkinson is Werenski.

Milano is tied for seventh on the team with eight points, Anderson tied for sixth with nine, Werenski is fourth with 10 points, and Bjorsktrand third with 11. 

Though Anton Forsberg is no longer with the organization, that sterling performance in the Calder Cup playoffs was seen as proof of his NHL potential, and the Blue Jackets were able to trade him and Brandon Saad to the Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte.

The Blue Jackets aren't just being aided by their AHL-champion core, but buoyed by it. It's hard to imagine where this team would be without the contributions of these players.

Per Corsica, Lukas Sedlak leads the team in CF% (5-on-5) with an absurd 59.83% of shot attempts coming from Blue Jackets sticks while he's on the ice. Werenski is fourth (57.82), Milano seventh (55.22), and Anderson eighth (54.26). 

Per NaturalStatTrick, Josh Anderson leads the team in high-danger scoring chances, being on the ice for 66.67% of 5-on-5 scoring chances in "high danger" areas. Milano sits at third with 63.16%. Bjorkstrand and Milano sit at 57.86% and 56.86%, respectively. 

In both of these examples, simply being above 50% of shot attempts or HDCF indicates that a player is driving play in the right direction, which, over the long run, is obviously a good thing. That players are dominant - not just hanging - at the NHL level, clearly bodes well for the future. 

You'll often hear coaches say that teams must "learn how to win," and there's some truth in it. For nearly two decades, the Blue Jackets failed to learn how to win, but these Monsters alumni have proven that they know how to win - no matter the level.

Since the AHL championship win, the Blue Jackets have played in exactly 100 regular season games. In those games, the club is 60-31-9, a far cry from any 100-game stretch in the franchise's earlier years. 

With so many Calder Cup-winning graduates who are used to winning, the new era of the Blue Jackets should be a welcome sight to Columbus fans.

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