Evaluating the Columbus Blue Jackets Defensive Depth

By Sam Blazer on July 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm
Scott Harrington moves the puck up ice and keeps it in the offensive zone.

Aaron Doster-USA Today Sports

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have arguably the top defensive pairing in all of the NHL. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are going to be mainstays on the backend for a very long time. It is an enviable position for the team. They've never had such talent on their blueline, ever. 

Taking a look at where the rest of the lineup shakes out from here is tough. The rest of the top four including two of Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and David Savard makes for a young and mobile group. They can put up points with the best of them while also keeping the puck out of their own net. Filling in below them is tough because they set such a standard.

Murray at this point has shown that he cannot play a full season without being injured. He has had different injuries and isn't necessarily prone to one injury or another; it just means they will need to fill in for him. That doesn't even include the number six spot on defense that is the most up for grabs spot on the entire roster. 

The Contenders

Tommy Cross, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Adam Clendening and Scott Harrington will all be vying for two to three spots depending on the roster construction of the team. 

The most intriguing part of it is that they are almost all left-handed shots. Clendening is the lone exception. Carlsson will still be waiver eligible but Cross, Kukan, Clendening, and Harrington will not. That will put the Blue Jackets in a tough spot depending on how they handicap the players.

Harrington is solid with nothing too fancy to his game. He is the definition of steady, and that will be appealing to the team. Kukan is more mobile and emulates the roving defensive core very well. He feels like a natural shoe-in. They would likely be the only options to move up and play higher in the lineup if given a chance.

Clendening is still reasonably young at 25 and has experience putting points up in the league. He would elevate a minor league defensive core immediately. He would be more than serviceable as a stop gap in the NHL. 

Cross and Carlsson are where it gets interesting. Carlsson has shown flashes, and as a former first-round pick he will be afforded all of the opportunities in the world. He has the bits and pieces but will likely need more seasoning. Cross is a finished product you know what he will be. He puts up points in the AHL, and he has very little experience in the NHL, he wouldn't be a bad candidate to consistently ride the pine if needed. The better option may be putting them in the AHL and allowing both to play consistently. Let Cross lead the way for the club and will enable the team to learn from his solid play.

Long Shots

Dillon Simpson, Doyle Somerby, Jacob Graves, Blake Siebenaler, and Ryan Collins make up the next level of players that may be given a chance. All of them except Siebenaler are big and rely on their size. Collins and Siebenaler can skate well, but they aren't well rounded enough to put it together. 

Simpson, Somerby, and Graves have put up low AHL point totals. Simpson has time in the NHL, and it wasn't particularly successful. It is tough being a larger defenseman in hockey when you can't skate well. Even more so with how the game is changing. You have to be positionally successful to make up the difference. None are at that level yet. It makes the drop off for the Blue Jackets organizationally quite steep.

The only other player of note in the pipeline is Andrew Peeke. He will be playing for Notre Dame next season. Peeke has shown signs of brilliance, as you've seen multiple times in the article, he will need seasoning as well.  After that, the other players are multiple years away from making a difference. It is a position of need moving forward.

If injuries become an issue on the back end, the Blue Jackets could have problems playing the style of game they are used to playing. They don't have the players in the organization to pull it off. The pursuit of similar players should be a priority in the years ahead.

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