The Acquisitions Of Max Domi and Mikko Koivu Allow Other Blue Jackets Forwards To Slot Into Appropriate Roles

By Dan Dukart on October 12, 2020 at 1:20 pm
Max Domi plays against the Detroit Red Wings
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In trading for Max Domi and signing free agent Mikko Koivu, the Columbus Blue Jackets have done well in addressing and upgrading at the center position.

For years, the Blue Jackets have been looking to upgrade at center, realizing the strength of the position among other teams in their division (Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia) and elsewhere in the Eastern Conference (Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto). 

Pierre-Luc Dubois took a major step in his development this past season and, if/when he's signed, should be penciled in alongside Domi as top-six centers. Alexander Wennberg, who was mercifully bought out last week, was supposed to be a top-six center, but his lack of offensive production prevented that from materializing. 

Boone Jenner, who has filled in admirably at center for several years now, will be able to play a) lower in the lineup and b) on the wing, where his forechecking prowess can be on full display for the first time in years.

It should be said that losing Josh Anderson is a serious blow. When healthy, Anderson can impact the game in a way that few around the NHL can match, and there's no doubt that the Blue Jackets are a better team with him in the lineup. With that said, the Blue Jackets just completed a playoff campaign without his services. Put another way, a team that vanquished the Toronto Maple Leafs and played more-than-admirably against the eventual-Stanley-Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, where they lost all four games by one goal, just added a second-line center without losing a piece from their lineup.

Domi was underappreciated in his final days in Montreal. He's a prolific driver of play, is elite in rush and in transition, and is a difficult player to defend against. And while his defensive metrics leave something to be desired, the thought is that Domi will be somewhat shielded by the stifling 1-2-2 neutral zone forechecking system that the Blue Jackets deploy.

When the next season starts, the Blue Jackets will be able to go down the middle with Dubois, Domi, and some combination of Koivu, Riley Nash, Kevin Stenlund, and Mikhail Grigorenko. Eventually, the thought is that Liam Foudy and/or Alexandre Texier will make the move from the wing to center. And let's not forget Jenner, who could easily slot in at center in a pinch. Needless to say, the club has options and depth. Equally important, nobody is punching above their weight class. 

In many ways, Koivu is a direct replacement for Wennberg. He'll be asked to kill penalties, play in the bottom six, and chip in some offense (Note: he's a better offensive player and faceoff man than Wennberg). As such, it's not hard to envision Koivu on a defensive third line with Nick Foligno and Jenner, or perhaps a speedster like Foudy, who can make up (and then some) for Koivu's lack of footspeed. And while the intent is to play Koivu at 3C, another option would be to lower him to the fourth line alongside Nash and, say, Eric Robinson, while allowing more offensively-minded players (Stenlund?) a chance to flourish. 

Using 2019-20 time on ice (TOI) figures as a reference, it's easy to see how Columbus could deploy their centers in 2020-21. A season ago, Dubois averaged 17:56, Domi 17:06, Koivu 15:34, and Nash 11:51. Assuming a 60-minute game, Dubois would play 18:00, Domi 17:00, Koivu 15:00, and Nash 10:00. That's a fair assumption, and again, nobody would be tasked with doing something out of the ordinary.  

Regardless of the roster composition that John Tortorella and his staff choose to deploy, the larger point is that Domi pushing Jenner away from 2C and to 3LW is a major boon for both the second and third lines.

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