Brandon Dubinsky's Injury All But Guarantees Three Of Jakob Lilja, Emil Bemstrom, Sonny Milano, and Marko Dano Will Make The Blue Jackets Opening Night Roster

By Dan Dukart on September 26, 2019 at 8:05 am
Sonny Milano skates by Tyson Jost
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Call it a break for the bubble guys.

On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets announced the 33-year old Brandon Dubinsky will be out "indefinitely" with a wrist injury that has nagged him for years. At a minimum, he will miss the beginning of the season, and his agent said it "has the potential to be a long-term injury."

While it is clearly bad news for Dubinsky, it opens a door for several players to not just crack the lineup, but make an impact. As we outlined on Monday, the Blue Jackets are likely to keep 13 forwards on their opening night roster, a nod to their impressively build depth on the blueline. And with many bubble players, including Markus Hannikainen, Eric Robinson, Kole Sherwood, etc., already in Cleveland, there are essentially three spots remaining with four players in the hunt: Emil Bemstrom, Sonny Milano, Mark Dano, and Jakob Lilja.

Here is the reason why the Blue Jackets will - or won't - choose to keep each of them on the roster:

Emil Bemstrom


Bemstrom is a plug-and-play option on the power play, with a dynamic one-timer and a knack for scoring goals. When Pierre-Luc Dubois missed practice, he skated on a line with Alexandre Texier and Cam Atkinson. For a club that has lost a lot of firepower since we last saw them, Bemstrom feels like a no-brainer to make the team. If he doesn't, an agreement between the NHL and Sweden will send him back to the SHL - do the Blue Jackets really want to wait another year on Bemstrom?


The 20-year old Swede is a lot of things, but a 4th liner he is not. Even in a "Sam Gagner role" in which he plays 4th line 5v5 but gets PP time, it seems like a misuse of his skillset. 

Jakob Lilja


A former teammate of Bemstrom with Djurgårdens IF, Lilja is the relative unknown in the group, but he's impressed John Tortorella so far in camp. The 26-year old scored twice in Sunday's 5-3 loss in St. Louis, and is considered a strong two-way player. He followed that up with an assist in Wednesday's OT loss in Buffalo. He profiles as a Markus Hannikainen with a bit more upside. 


Lilja is steady, but he has zero NHL experience at age 26, and isn't projected to be much of a producer at this level. He was brought in as organizational depth, but his ceiling is bottom-six winger. Is that a problem? If he makes the club, it will signal that the team is more concerned about playing an honest, hard-working game than replacing goals from yester-year. He doesn't require waivers to be sent to the AHL, which could hurt his case.

Sonny Milano


Meanwhile, if the organization is concerned with replacing goals, it would be a surprise to nobody to see Milano make the opening night roster. Producing at the NHL level hasn't been an issue with the 23-year old, the irony of ironies. It's everything else that has prevented the NY native from cashing in on a career in the NHL. The Blue Jackets are more than aware that if Milano fails to make the team, he'll have to clear waivers to be sent to the Cleveland Monsters - and there's a good chance he's claimed. Would the team really lose their former-first-round pick for no return? It sure seems like the Blue Jackets are at a crossroads with Milano.


Milano's warts are well-documented. He produces at an NHL clip, no question, but like Anthony Duclair, his defensive/decision-making deficiencies are exposed at the NHL level. With just fourth line minutes (apparently) open, Milano doesn't profile as a player willing/able to secure that role. 

Marko Dano


Dano, 24, had his best NHL season as a 20-year old rookie with the Blue Jackets, before the club parlayed that strong play into a trade that helped yield Brandon Saad, and ultimately, Artemi Panarin. His 21 points (8-13) in 35 games is only slightly lower than the 11-13-24 in 103 games played since, with the Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, and Colorado Avalanche. Wait - is this a pro or a con? 

The Austrian winger is hoping a return to Columbus will jumpstart his career, and the club is hoping for someone to secure the remaining spots. Like Milano, he'll have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL, which could help his case to stay on the big club.


Like Lilja, he doesn't bring a ton to the table offensively. It has been - and will continue to be - an uphill climb for Dano to prove that he can bring enough NHL attributes to the table to make him an effective player. Does he have size? No. Can he play center? No. Is he an elite skater? No. Can he produce like Bemstrom/Milano? No. Does he commit brutal turnovers at his own blue line? Sometimes.


At the end of the day, the three forwards that the Blue Jackets select to keep on the roster will tell us a lot about what they want from the team and how they expect to play. If, for example, they keep both Milano and Bemstrom, it means that management and the coaching staff are troubled with the lack of offensive firepower on the club. If they pick both Lilja and Dano, it will signify the re-emergence of a blue-collar team that relies on will over skill. The inevitable combination of the two will show us which direction the club is hedging. 

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