With Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, David Savard and now Markus Nutivaara cemented as top defensemen – when healthy – for the Blue Jackets, the fight is on for the last spot on the blue line.
Let's take a look at the three players we think will be battling for the open spot: Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan and Vladislav Gavrikov. You may ask "well, what about Adam Clendening?" Right now, he's going to be fighting to stay in the NHL (at least to start the season).
Harrington has the inside edge on the other two due to playing 73 games for the Blue Jackets last season, and earlier this summer, he agreed to a new three-year deal with the club. At $1.6M per season, it's a tradable contract and if worse comes to worst, then the Jackets could try to sneak him to Cleveland (though he would need to clear waivers); and if not picked up, they would be able to save $1,075,000 on his contract. It would be a shock if Harrington wasn't on the roster at the beginning of the season as the sixth or seventh defenseman.
Another defenseman with an inside edge is Kukan, who has spent the last three seasons bouncing between Cleveland and Columbus. He's heading into the last year of his current deal, meaning this will be an important season for the 26-year-old despite being an RFA at the end of the season.
The newest member of the Jackets' blue line is the big Russian, Gavrikov. He joined the Blue Jackets during the playoff run after his team in the KHL was knocked out of contention. Despite being with the club for a short period of time, he found himself playing in two playoff games against the Bruins and racked up more minutes in those games than Harrington or Kukan. He is the darkhorse of this group because he is a lesser-known commodity, but a strong training camp and preseason could force the club to play him.
Werenski - Jones
Murray - Savard
Nutivaara - Harrington
Harrington likely starts the season as the Jackets' sixth defensemen, but Gavrikov and Kukan will be nipping at his heels throughout training camp and the beginning of the season. If Harrington falters at all, coach John Tortorella will not hesitate to slot either Gavrikov or Kukan into the lineup.
The real question will be whether the Blue Jackets enter the season with seven or eight defensemen on their roster. If they decide to only have seven, then Gavrikov could be the odd man out since he is wavier-exempt, while Harrington and Kukan are not.