Twelve forwards, six defenseman, and two goalies.
All important to the team? Absolutely.
All equal components to success, though? Not exactly.
When teams make a deep run in the playoffs, they usually do so by having not only their star players come up large, but almost always by having an unexpected name come up big throughout the season and into the postseason.
Last season, rookie goalie Jordan Binnington put the St. Louis Blues on his back halfway through the season, and that season ended with their first Stanley Cup.
This season, the Tampa Bay Lightning righted their wrongs and were the champions of the most unusual season in NHL history. They had a cast of star players, sure, but Alex Killorn was an unsung hero of the team. He scored 26 goals in 68 games after never having a 20 goal season in his first six seasons - all playing in more than 68 games, and missing only 14 games in those six years. He added five more goals this postseason, more than Tyler Johnson and Anthony Cirelli, amongst others.
Who does that need to be in the 2020-21 season wearing a Columbus Blue Jackets sweater? These are not the five best Jackets, or the five Jackets who must be the best. These are the five players whose contributions to the team will have a crucial impact on how far Columbus can go.
#5: Alexandre Texier
Unless the Blue Jackets go out and get a top line winger, coach John Tortorella has hinted that Alexandre Texier is going to get first crack at playing on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois. Texier was limited during the regular season because of a back issue, and had six goals and seven assists in 36 games. He gets credit for playing well in the bubble - but let's keep in mind that he had only four points (all assists) in the ten postseason games. If it's not Tex, you're looking at Gustav Nyquist, Boone Jenner, or Nick Foligno as potential other options. Good players, but not top line guys on a contending team. Texier will need to shine and prove that he can be what we've all seen glimpses of in the last year and a half - especially last postseason, when he *did* score some playoff goals.
#4: Dean Kukan
The strength of the Blue Jackets is going to be their defense. Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard, and Vladislav Gavrikov is one of the best defensive quartets in the league today. But they can't be out there for the entire game, and it's imperative that the Blue Jackets not let their third defensive pairing become a liability. Dean Kukan is going to anchor the third pair, likely playing alongside youngster Andrew Peeke. Neither will need to be perfect, but if Kukan plays to his potential, it will make a strong defense stronger. Kooks has the potential to be an under-the-radar strength for Columbus this season.
#3: Max Domi
Columbus fans should be more excited about this than the replies section on Twitter indicates. Domi can score (45 goals the last two season), he has great vision (71 assists the last two seasons, and that only tells part of the story), and he's a fantastic skater. Alison Lukan took a deep dive into Domi's game, and the analytics prove his value. He's not perfect - Domi has pedestrian defense and isn't going to excel at faceoffs, but the signing of Mikku Koivu - who can win them against anyone in the league and plays a good defensive game - helps offset those negatives.
#2: Pierre-Luc Dubois
Fun Fact: Between the regular season and bubble play, Pierre-Luc Dubois had 12 multi-point games. The Blue Jackets didn't lose any of them in regulation. They were 9-0-2, and the 12th game was the five overtime thriller to kick off the Lightning series. With the postseason that he had, Columbus' best-kept secret is a secret no more. Smart teams are going to strategize around him, and he'll need to grow even more this season than he did in his first three to become the elite NHL player that he's on the cusp of becoming. This isn't quite a "As PLD goes, so goes the Jackets" situation - but it's close.
#1: Joonas Korpisalo and/or Elvis Merzlikins
Goaltending is important. Wild, right?
There is uncertainty in who will be between the pipes for the Blue Jackets when the season starts, but regardless of if it's Joonas Korpisalo, Elvis Merzlikins, or a combination of both (Korplikins has a good ring to it, no?), it would be a good bet to say that it's unlikely to be a position that Columbus has to be concerned about. After a rocky start, Mezlikins was dazzling in the second half of the season. Korpisalo was named to the All-Star team in his first year as a starter, though didn't play due to a torn meniscus.
The Blue Jackets already have a strong blueline in front of them, and that'll help protect the goalie no matter who it is. For Korpi or Elvis, it'll come down to making all the saves they should make, and then making some of the saves they shouldn't make. They did that for the most part in the 2019-20 season, and only the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins allowed fewer goals than the CBJ did for the season. If the goaltending this season is as good as it was last season, the added firepower on offense will be beneficial. If the goaltending this season can be a little better than it was last season, the added firepower on offense could send the Blue Jackets deeper than they've ever been.
(By the way, on a complete side note: they're both hiliarious.)
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