Chalk this up under “things I didn’t expect to write in 2018.”
Markus Hannikainen has definitively played his way into the everyday lineup for the Blue Jackets. And in the process, he's forced the demotion of Sonny Milano, and, at least on Tuesday, Oliver Bjorkstrand.
It's been a struggle out of the gate for many of the Blue Jackets 'skill' type forwards, and Bjorkstrand and Milano are just part of the short list. But it's surprising to see a forward with a career-high of six points taking ice time away from players that are supposed to be key cogs.
The Finnish-born Hannikainen has never averaged more than 10 minutes of ice time per game until this season, where he's averaging 10:14. He's also starting 55.3% of all of his shifts in the defensive zone, the highest percentage of any Blue Jackets winger.
He's also been noticeable on the offensive side of the puck. He has just two assists – both of which were primary assists that came against Detroit – but both were beauties.
I'm not suggesting he's the next Elias Pettersson, but consider that he has more offensive production than Milano (0-1-1, 8 games) and just one less point than Bjorkstrand (1-2-3, 14 games) in half the games.
Sonny Milano's play and his contract status allowed the club to send him to Cleveland without him having to clear waivers. Bjorkstrand, who would require waivers (and likely wouldn't clear), has been in the doghouse as well. He played just 5:33 in Sunday night's overtime loss in Anaheim. I had to look up if he was even rostered.
This can be thought of in one of several ways: Bjorkstrand, like many scorers, is notoriously streaky. His slow start isn't ideal but it's not like he's his season is necessarily doomed. Milano, despite the seemingly constant struggle to breakthrough at the NHL level, could use his time in the AHL to play a big role and strengthen his confidence, while the coaching staff reiterates playing the right way.
And Hannikainen, who came into the season with virtually no outside expectations, could see his stock continue to rise. At 25, he's no longer a prospect, and the time is now for him to become an NHL regular. Remember, he's played just 54 regular season games in the NHL and seven of those have come this year. Hannikainen is a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer, and the Blue Jackets will have decisions to make.
The way he's been playing so far this year, it seems likely that the Blue Jackets will opt to keep him around in the future.