The Columbus Blue Jackets will surely look different this fall than they did this season, and John Tortorella's departure is only step one in what could be a busy offseason.
The Seattle expansion draft, the three first-round picks that GM Jarmo Kekalainen has at his disposal, and several large pending contract negotiations (Seth Jones, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski) could all loom large in determining the direction of the franchise. It's too early to say what the roster may look like when the Blue Jackets next hit the ice, but here are five players that didn't play for the Blue Jackets in 2021 that could make an impact next season:
Let's get the obvious one out of the way. Chinakhov, the Blue Jackets' first-round pick in 2020, won the Gagarin Cup as a rookie in the KHL. His strongest asset, his shot, is NHL ready. Is the rest of his game? Time will tell.
The 20-year old will have an opportunity to make the club out of training camp, and it will be fascinating to see what type of opportunities (top-six?) he will have in training camp. But remember, his contract status implies that he could be sent to the AHL without having to clear waivers.
Tarasov may or may not be NHL ready, but the Blue Jackets are likely to trade one of Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins this offseason. Both are UFA after next season, and it's foolish to believe that the Blue Jackets will be able to continue with both of them sharing the net for the foreseeable future.
Matiss Kivlenieks, 24, may be the odds-on favorite to be the backup, or the club could bring in a veteran netminder to backup whichever goalie the Blue Jackets keep. But Tarasov, 22, has the higher ceiling, and though he's played in just four AHL games, he could be the solution by the time the fall rolls around.
The Blue Jackets recently signed the 28-year old to a one-year, one-way contract at $750k that expires after next season. Danforth, who is listed at 5'9", 185 lbs, has never played a game in the NHL, and in fact as recently as 2017-18 was primarily playing in the ECHL. But after finishing 6th in the KHL in scoring (23-32-55 in 58 games), the Blue Jackets saw enough to pounce.
Like Danforth, Hofmann is a 28-year old European import who has yet to play a game in the NHL. The Blue Jackets traded for his rights in February, and he remains unsigned, though the expectation is he will sign a one-year, one-way contract soon now that his EV Zug team won the championship in Switzerland's top professional league. Hofmann is known for his speed, and will likely compete for a spot in the Blue Jackets' bottom six.
I know what you're thinking; Nyquist isn't a new player. That's true, but he didn't play a game for the Blue Jackets in 2021, and I think the average Blue Jackets fan may underrate his importance. In 2019-20, Nyquist finished second on the club in points with 15-27-42 in 70 games, trailing only Pierre-Luc Dubois. He's a veteran presence who can play in all situations and, put simply, makes the team better. Is Nyquist, who will be 32 when the next season starts, still a significant difference-maker? It's hard to say, but whoever the next coach is will be happy to have the player that Tortorella called "a stabilizer" at his disposal.