About a week ago, our Jacob Nitzberg wrote an article arguing that Liam Foudy should be on the postseason roster.
He made convincing points. Even with an influx of healthy bodies returning to the lineup, Foudy's elite speed, versatility to play wing or center, and his penalty-killing prowess make him a compelling option in a bottom-six capacity.
One hesitation would be his lack of experience, but we've seen John Tortorella give inexperienced players a surprising amount of leash in prior situations. Gabriel Carlsson played all five playoff games in 2017 after playing just two regular-season games that season as a rookie. Alexandre Texier followed a similar pattern, playing in the final two games of the 2018-19 regular season before playing in eight post-season games last April and May. Carlsson was 20 at the time, Texier was 19. Foudy is 20.
If I were in charge of #CBJ lines out of the break:— Daniel Dukart (@WowDanGoodPoint) May 27, 2020
F1: Texier - Dubois - Bjorkstrand
F2: Nyquist - Jenner - Atkinson
F3: Foligno - Nash - Bemstrom
F4: Robinson - Foudy - Anderson
Healthies: Wennberg, Stenlund, Gerbe. F4 is something I've been day-dreaming of for months
It's been a bit more than a week since I put out the following tweet. Since then, I've had a fair bit of debate - internally and externally - about the projected lineup. Most people agree that lines 1-2 are set, with the odd (and I do mean odd) argument from some that Alexander Wennberg is the answer at 2C.
Where it gets tricky is the bottom of the lineup. Simply put, the Blue Jackets have more NHL forwards than spots. In fact, they have way more forwards than spots. The proposed healthy-scratch "line" of Wennberg, Kevin Stenlund, and Nathan Gerbe evidences an unprecedented level of depth never seen in Columbus. Oh, and that also assumes players like Devin Shore, Stefan Matteau, and Jakob Lilja don't make the cut. Is it really right to think that Foudy will get the nod over all of these players?
The more I've sat on it, the less I can bring myself to believe my own tweet. Foudy has every opportunity to have a bright future with the club, and I expect him to make the NHL roster out of next season's training camp. But, assuming a healthy lineup (that is quite an assumption: Josh Anderson is far from a given to play. Who's to say that injuries won't be plentiful in a bizarro-world training camp? Also, what about that global pandemic?), is he really the answer over a guy like Gerbe?
After a season like Gerbe had, it'd be hard to imagine Tortorella taking him out of the lineup. This is a guy who went from an AHL fixture to signing a two-year extension in Columbus worth up to $1.5M with an AHL base salary of $500,000. The Blue Jackets don't have a history of overpaying by 5-7x for AHL players. They see him as an NHLer, or at least, they paid him like one.
What about Wennberg? It feels like he was more lives than an alley cat, but he's still an NHL-caliber player. Even though Tortorella sat him for the entire first-round sweep over Tampa Bay, he played in four of six games against Boston in the second round. I was encouraged by his recent play on the wing, where he looked to have some chemistry with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Emil Bemstrom. But with a healthy lineup, there's a slim chance that either Bemstrom or Wennberg would get a chance to play with Dubois. Even at the center, Wennberg provides a level of stability that the coaching staff would prefer over the discomfort of breaking in a 20-year old with two games of NHL experience.
Did Stenlund do enough this year? The Blue Jackets may prefer someone with his size and shot in the lineup. He probably provides more of a spark offensively than Gerbe, and certainly provides more than Wennberg. Again, his versatility to play wing and center helps. How about Eric Robinson? Isn't Robinson just a more established Foudy at this point? Would the coaching staff really play both of them in the same lineup? On the same line?
At the end of the day, coaches seek to maximize utility in their lineups. Gerbe provides a spark that few other players on the team can match. Wennberg, for all of his deficiencies, is an above-average penalty-killer who can defend well. Stenlund brings an element with his size and reach that Wennberg, Gerbe, and Foudy can't match. With a healthy lineup, is Foudy really going to get a nod over these players? I'm beginning to think no.