Time to Step Up: Five Blue Jackets Who Will Need to Shoulder More of the Load in 2019-20

By Jacob Nitzberg on July 3, 2019 at 1:20 pm
Nov 10, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg (10) celebrates a short hand goal during the second period in the game against the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena.
Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

The mass exodus happened.

What many foresaw for months finally came to fruition on July 1st, when Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky all opted to leave Columbus and sign elsewhere.

With their departures, minutes and roles have opened up, and for a young, talented, hungry team such as the Blue Jackets, this could be very good news.

Here are five Blue Jackets who will have bigger roles to fill this season, and are capable of doing so.

Alexander Wennberg 

Having the talent to be a top-six center in the NHL is a gift only bestowed upon a very select group. 

Wennberg has that talent — but he's only put it all together for a full year one time. In the 2016-17 season, his third full NHL season, Wennberg scored 13 goals and had 59 points as the Blue Jackets' top center.

Sandwiched around that stellar year are four years of lesser play, none more obvious than the most recent campaign. Wennberg saw himself healthy scratched at times, and scored just two goals the entire year.

However, he will have a chance to prove himself this year with the departure of Duchene. With Pierre-Luc Dubois likely locking up the first-line center role, the role of second-line center is up in the air.

Can Wennberg recreate the magic of his 2016-17 season and work his way back into the good graces of head coach John Tortorella?

Alexandre Texier 

Texier flew onto the scene unexpectedly at the end of the regular season, and continued his solid play throughout the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, when the Blue Jackets were matched up against a very physical Boston Bruins team, Texier was thrown off of his rhythm and was almost invisible on the ice.

The Frenchman's offensive game is already at an NHL level, but his defensive game and strength need work if he is to make the club out of training camp and play every game. With Panarin's departure, Texier will be one of many wingers who stands to gain more minutes and opportunities if he can work on the other parts of his game.

It's important to note that Texier is only 19 (!!) years old. He'll turn 20 on September 13th. If you're looking for the future of the Blue Jackets, look no further.

Oliver Bjorkstrand 

There are few players in the NHL who have the sniping capabilities of Bjorkstrand. He scored 11 goals in 2017-18, and increased that number to 23 last season. The Danish winger saw increased power play time, but still managed to score 20 out of his 23 goals at even-strength — an impressive ratio. 

With Panarin gone, a spot will be open on the first line with Dubois and Cam Atkinson. While many have speculated that recent free agent signing Gustav Nyquist will fill that role, a strong training camp and preseason from Bjorkstrand could see him receive serious consideration for first-line minutes. 

With his elite shot, speed, and passing ability, Bjorkstrand has the opportunity to become a star this year. 30 goals is an attainable target.

Can Bjorkstrand, who is just 24 years old, continue his goal-scoring rise?

Elvis Merzlikins/Joonas Korpisalo

Merzlikins and Korpisalo are both listed here because the starting job is still up for grabs. Whoever wins it will certainly have enormous shoes to fill, but both are up to the task.

While Korpisalo's numbers as a backup aren't eye-popping, his numbers as a starter are. When Bobrovsky suffered through an injury-laden season in 2015-16, Korpisalo stepped in as a rookie and played at a high level. He notched a 16-11-4 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.60 average goals allowed. When he gets opportunities as the number one goaltender, he plays up to a high standard.

Merzlikins isn't NHL-proven, but he sure is proven elsewhere. At HC Lugano in the National League (Switzerland), he played 43 games with a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage — numbers very similar to Korpisalo's when starting. At 25, Merzlikins is older for a rookie in the NHL.

Neither goalie has been a starting NHL goalie for more than half a season. Can they overcome their relative inexperience and become a formidable tandem in net?

View 4 Comments