Competition Will Be a Driving Force for the Blue Jackets This Upcoming Season

By Ben Jandrain on July 12, 2019 at 8:05 am
Columbus Blue Jackets Joonas Korpisalo prepares to pass the puck at Nationwide Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the regular season in February of 2018.
Aaron Doster- USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in what feels like a while, the Columbus Blue Jackets don't have heightened expectations as they near the beginning of the regular season.

After finally advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Columbus wasn't able to retain its starting goaltender, top center, and leader in points. The Blue Jackets have more questions than answers at the moment, making competition a hot topic as we await the puck to drop.

Here are a few position battles/storylines to watch for regarding competition for the Jackets:

The Battle For The No. 1 Job

The competition between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins to become the starting goaltender for the Blue Jackets is arguably the biggest storyline for the club.

Only 15 days apart in age, these goalies have taken quite different paths to where they're at now. 

Korpisalo has 81 career starts in the National Hockey League, but has seen his sv% go in the wrong direction over the past three seasons. While his statistics have gone in the wrong direction, there is reason to believe Korpisalo will play better with more playing playing time (and a clearer sense of his role).

Meanwhile, the fanfare for Merzlikins has steadily risen, as the highly-touted Latvian goaltender will finally have a chance to prove himself on the big stage in 2019.

Vying For Top Line Minutes

It's not a stretch to say two of the most complete wingers on the current Blue Jackets roster are Josh Anderson and Gustav Nyquist.

Anderson had 27 goals and 20 assists in 82 games last season, while Nyquist put up 22 goals and 38 assists in 81 games combined with the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. 

For what it's worth, Nyquist had an average Time on Ice (TOI) of 17:31 last season compared to a TOI average of 17:01 for Anderson. There may not be an obvious choice as to who deserves to be on the top line, but you better believe there'll be plenty of competition between these two. Anderson has played mostly right wing at the NHL level, but he can play the left side and showed he could play with top players during his time with Dubois and Panarin.

Ice Time at Center

Matt Duchene's departure stings every time the word "center" is brought up.

Pierre-Luc Dubois went from 48 to 61 points in his second NHL season, but still isn't looked to by most as a top center in the league. Still, he's one hell of a hockey player and just turned 21 a month ago.

Boone Jenner spent a nice chunk of last season between Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson–a line that could reunite again. Four seasons ago, Jenner scored 30 goals in 82 games. Despite playing in at least 75 games the past three campaigns, Jenner hasn't tallied more than 18 goals in any of them while the Jackets have steadily made it to the postseason.

Alexander Wennberg is one of the more curious cases in the league. Many of us recall his 59-point campaign just three years back. In the 2018-19 season Wennberg only had two goals and 23 assists in 75 games. Despite his massive drop-off, one still has to wonder if he has the potential to become the playmaker he once was. 

There's no doubt that center is a position of weakness for the Blue Jackets, but there will be plenty of opportunities for these three players to compete for ice time without a clear-cut top guy in the mix. 

The Young Guys 

Jarmo Kekalainen, the general manager of the Blue Jackets, hasn't been afraid to praise the young talent in the Blue Jackets' organization.

"We have lots of good young players coming," Kekalainen said. "We're gonna make sure they get a good opportunity as well."

Translation: Ice time on the line, and plenty of competition. 

Forward Alexandre Texier was able to contribute to the Blue Jackets as a teenager. Despite not playing an NHL game until the final two games of the regular season, Texier made his presence known. Texier buried his first NHL goal against the Senators in the season finale before adding two more in eight postseason appearances. The future is clearly a bright one for Texier. 

Another forward to watch out for is Emil Bemstrom. Bemstrom, who just turned 20 last month, made some noise as a rookie in the Swedish Hockey League and Kekalainen has even mentioned him as a possible power-play contributor for Columbus.

Don't forget Liam Foudy. Foudy was the 18th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. This past season with the London Knights of the OHL, Foudy had 36 goals, 32 assists and a rating of plus- 39 in 62 games.  It's not easy to project what will happen with Foudy, but if he makes the roster, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him steadily get more of an opportunity as the year progresses.   

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