Season Preview: Blue Jacket Forwards Attempt to Replace the Offensive Production of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene

By Ben Jandrain on September 30, 2019 at 1:20 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones celebrate with forwards Alexandre Texier and Nick Foligno during Game 4 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Aaron Doster- USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel all left, but the cupboard isn't bare when it comes to forwards for the Columbus Blue Blue Jackets.

Right wing Cam Atkinson is coming off a career-high 41 goals this past season, center Pierre-Luc Dubois has a chance to continue to progress in his third season, Oliver Bjorkstrand is out to prove is a consistent goal scorer, and Gus Nyquist was added via free agency for depth in the top six. 

See, it's not all doom and gloom when looking at the offense for the Blue Jackets this coming season. However, many players will need to take their play to another level in order to soften the blow of the offseason losses. 

Will head coach John Tortorella find a reliable combination of players to lead the way down the stretch in key moments? Or will captain Nick Foligno's words ring true, as the forwards on the ice are "More by committee," on a game-to-game basis. 

Columbus has a nice mix of veterans and up-and-coming players at the forward positions. That being said, a lot of things need to go right for the Blue Jackets to avoid a noticeable drop off in offensive production. 

What's New:

Youth, for starters. At the moment, 20-year-old Alexandre Texier will be tasked with filling Panarin's left-wing spot on the top line. Panarin put up some gaudy numbers during the past season, racking up 28 goals and 59 assists for 87 points. It's safe to say Texier has some rather large skates to fill. The young Frenchman has only played in two regular-season contests to date for the Jackets, despite skating in six postseason games.  

On the fourth line, veteran Brandon Dubinsky will miss some time due to a wrist injury; leaving the door wide open for Jakob Lilja (26), Sonny Milano (age 23), and Emil Bemstrom (age 20) to make the opening-night roster.


It would be remiss to not mention newcomer Nyquist. Nyquist has played in the National Hockey League since 2011 and recorded 40 points or more the past seven seasons. Nyquist and Atkisnon are the only two players 30 or older currently in the Blue Jackets' projected top six.     

What's Great:

Columbus has three lines capable of providing an ample amount of offense on any given night. 

The top line of Texier, Dubois and Atkinson goes without saying. 

The second line has two Swedish playmakers (Nyquist and Alexander Wennberg) and Oliver Bjorkstrand, a player who's shown the capability of being a regular 30-goal scorer.

The third line is most familiar with one another. Center Boone Jenner and left wing Nick Foligno have scored 30 goals in their career, but it's Josh Anderson who's on the rise coming off a 27-goal campaign.  

What's Concerning:

The burden of replacing the production from Panarin, Duchene and Dzingel is the obvious and correct answer here.

Also, don't forget about the power play. No team in the league scored fewer goals on the man advantage than Columbus' 30 last season. This past Friday, the Blue Jackets had three power-play opportunities alone in the first period and 94 seconds of 5-on-3 action in that same span. The result was zero goals, not a good indicator for a unit that must improve.  

What To Watch:

Last week Foligno summed up what a lot with one quote.

"I'm not really worried about where goals are gonna come from. I look around the room and there's plenty of candidates to score goals," he said.

Atkinson is the outlier, scoring 35 goals prior to Panarin suiting up for the Jackets and 41 goals last season.  

After that, it almost feels like a game of scoring roulette when assessing who will bury the biscuit and at what rate of frequency. 

Bjorkstrand got off to a cold start, but looked like a legitimate scorer at the end of the season. Was that a flash in the pan, or a sign of things to come? 

Wennberg has scored 10 goals in his previous 141 regular-season contests. Will lining him up with a talented Swede (Nyquist) be enough for his scoring woes to go away?

Dubois has been spoiled playing alongside Panarin for the bulk of his two years in in the league. Is he good enough to progress offensively, despite Texier's bump to the top line?

There are also forwards whose performances could cause a lot of fluctuation in the top three lines(and beyond). Here's a quick hypothetical: Wennberg struggles mightily at center on the second line. This could cause Tortorella to slot Texier in at center on the second line, move Anderson from the third line to the first line at left wing and demote Wennberg to a third-line winger. 

It's been an offseason of questions for the offense. We'll watch to see the answers to those questions. 

How They Stack Up:

A season ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were 12th in the NHL, averaging 3.12 goals per game. Three seasons ago, the club averaged 3.06 GPG without the services of Panarin.  Tortorella will keep us on the edge of our proverbial seats as he tries to orchestrate the forwards to create an offense that has what it takes to lead Columbus to a fourth consecutive playoff appearance. The odds suggest slight regression. However, there are plenty of players whose respective performances could collectively dispel that notion.  

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