Despite all of the club's off-season turmoil, the Blue Jackets forward group is largely the same. The team has not yet played their first preseason game, but the majority of the offensive depth chart can already be penciled in - if not penned.
In fact, there are 12 players who we can safely say have made the club: Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Brandon Dubinsky, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Markus Hannikainen, Boone Jenner, Riley Nash, Gustav Nyquist, Alexandre Texier, and Alexander Wennberg. 10 of those players are on one-way contracts (meaning they get paid the same no matter if they're in the NHL or AHL), which is why Hannikainen is on this list. As for Texier, it would be shocking for him to not make the team, given what we've seen from him late last season, in the playoffs, and at the Traverse City Tournament.
That doesn't leave much room for challengers. The most forwards an NHL team would ever carry is 14, and that would signify the club would only hold 7 defensemen (plus two goalies = 23 players). But given the Blue Jackets' deep blueline, who can say if the club will end up with 13 forwards/8 defensemen or 14 forwards/7 defensemen.
For now, let's forget that, as this isn't a practice in roster projection. But as the pre-season begins in earnest, here are five forwards that could reasonably make the opening night roster.
1) Emil Bemstrom
Jarmo Kekalainen has been effusive in his praise for the 20-year old Swedish sniper. After leading the SHL in goals as a teenager, Bemstrom is the type of player who could provide instant offense and help a power play that has really struggled. Kekalainen has mentioned Bemstrom by name when discussing the power play, and having him bomb away on the left flank isn't a hard image to picture.
It would surprise exactly zero people if Bemstrom makes the club, and frankly, I'd be disappointed if he wasn't given significant minutes with the club.
2) Sonny Milano
It would not be hyperbole to say that this is Milano's last chance to play in the NHL - at least, with the Blue Jackets. Milano is still a huge wild-card despite having played games in the NHL in the past four seasons. In those 70 regular-season games, Milano has scored 15 goals. Here's the complication with the 23-year old: he can no longer be sent to the AHL without clearing waivers. So if the Blue Jackets decide he's not proven enough to make the team, they'll have to risk giving him up (for free) to any of the other 30 NHL franchises.
Given the departures to Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel, could the Blue Jackets opt for a player that is known for providing instant offense?
3) Eric Robinson
If the answer to the last question is anything other than a reverberating "yes", Eric Robinson could be the beneficiary. Robinson is the anti-Milano, a bottom-six type with speed and size that brings physicality and energy to a team. He failed to register a point in 13 regular-season games last year, which feels like an unfair typo. He'll never be confused with Panarin, but if he can find a way to finish at all, he would be an effective NHL forward.
Robinson would be an uninspiring and unsurprising pick to make the club, and it would further reinforce our expectation that John Tortorella will employ a fast, physical, workmanlike offensive approach.
4) Marko Dano
Dano, the 27th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft by these same Blue Jackets, is at a crossroads in his career. He's been traded twice (from Columbus to Chicago, from Chicago to Winnipeg) and played on his fourth NHL team when the Colorado Avalanche claimed him on waivers when the Jets tried to send him to AHL Manitoba. Like Milano, Dano will need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.
Dano has struggled to create offense in the NHL in every season with the exception of his one year (his rookie year) in Columbus. If he can show well in the preseason, perhaps he could rekindle some semblance of an offensive spark. Crazier things have happened.
5) Kole Sherwood
Like Robinson, Sherwood combines prototypical size (6-2, 214 lbs.) with high-end skating. The New Albany native is a longshot to make the club, but his enticing combination of size and speed, plus his rocket of a shot, allows him to check a lot of boxes. On the other hand, he isn't much of a playmaker, and, unlike Robinson, he isn't what you would call a checking-winger.
He is the classic darkhorse, a hometown kid with NHL upside, who will be fighting an uphill battle to crack a lineup with few spots available.
Next five up: Jacob Lilja, Kevin Stenlund, Trey-Fix Wolansky, Zac Dalpe, Nathan Gerbe