The Columbus Blue Jackets just played in game 41 of the season against the Boston Bruins, and it was especially memorable because of the overtime win. It also has the team knocking on the door of the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
Given that we are at the halfway mark of the regular season, it is time to take a look at how the Blue Jackers have fared compared to expectations.
The group that had the most to live up to this season was definitely the forwards. After Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene left, the question became who was going to score for the Blue Jackets.
They have been finding goals with a by-committee approach and they have also been limiting opposing teams offensively by winning an abundance of low scoring games.
This method has also allowed plenty of young players to find their footing on a team that will continue to extend their contending window. However, they are currently 28th in the league in goals for, so they do need more from this group - but considering the injuries that have hit them, it needs to be considered a slight success.
Biggest Surprise: Pierre-Luc Dubois
Tied for the team lead in points with Gustav Nyquist, Dubois deserves praise for how he has been able to pick up the slack without Panarin on his wing. Dubois has taken games over consistently. Without Dubois, this team is significantly worse offensively and is without a young leader as well. Dubois is progressing as many had hoped and has the potential to be even better.
Biggest Disappointment: Josh Anderson
This one isn't particularly close. With only four points in 26 games, Anderson has been hampered by a shoulder injury but regardless, Anderson isn't playing up to his massive potential. He will be out for a period of time with an upper-body injury, and if the team truly wants to compete, they will need a player of his caliber to come through and perform up to his potential.
Easily the best part of the team going into the season was the defensemen, while they've been hit by injuries. They have been a stabilizing force and they have made worlds of difference when they needed them to be the backbone of the team.
Biggest Surprise: Vladislav Gavrikov
While Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are leading the way as scoring leaders and also minute eaters, Gavrikov has proven that he is ready for the NHL and that when the team is fully healthy, he won't be coming out of the lineup. It is impressive that he went from the KHL to the NHL with little or no hiccups along the way.
Gavrikov looks like a multi-year pro and not a rookie. Being able to plug and play defensemen like him is a big reason why they have been able to remain in the wild card hunt.
Biggest Disappointment: N/A
You could potentially give this to any number of defensemen for not meeting expectations but in reality, it is more of an incomplete grade as of right now. Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara have been injured so to disparage them would be unfair. David Savard has been steady while not being spectacular. Dean Kukan looked like someone that might make a massive jump this year but has not done so yet. As of right now leaving it as a not applicable feels right.
So far this has been the season of Joonas Korpisalo. The Finnish netminder started slowly but by the end of December, Korpisalo was making a difference in each and every game. Sporting a .913 save percentage in 32 games played, Korpisalo is doing enough for the Blue Jackets to keep them above water. It is a shame that he got injured when he did.
Similarly, it looks like Elvis Merzlikins is finding his groove at the right time. In his last two games started, he has only given up two goals. If he is able to maintain that level that means the Blue Jackets will have one of the better one-two punches in the entire league. Add that to the fact that they're both young, the Blue Jackets may have stumbled across some cornerstone players.
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