The odds of projecting the Columbus Blue Jackets opening night roster is roughly that of hitting the lottery.
The United States sold $89.7 billion dollars worth of lottery tickets in 2020.
With that in mind, here's a first look at what the Columbus Blue Jackets lineup may look like when the puck drops in front of a sold-out (probably) crowd at Nationwide Arena in October.
Oh, but a few “house rules” first:
- Players on the roster as of today are not guaranteed a spot on the opening night roster. (This means you, Seth.)
- This projection includes trades, free agent signings, and other roster moves. (Sam Reinhart, c'mon down!)
- This projection is for a roster at full health and wellness. (Lookin' at you, Domi!)
|LW: Patrik Laine||C: Sam Reinhart||RW: Oliver Bjorkstrand|
Patrik Laine finally gets a center he can have some fun with in Columbus, when the Blue Jackets acquire Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart in a trade that sends Joonas Korpisalo, Liam Foudy, and Gabriel Carlsson back to Buffalo. (Columbus gets a draft pick in the deal, too.) Reinhart is only 25, and has scored no less than 22 goals in each of the last four seasons. He's highly unlikely to return to Buffalo (he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to be a part of their insanely long rebuild), and the Sabres need goalie help. The Blue Jackets may not be on the doorstep of Lord Stanley, but they're miles closer than the Sabres. Reinhart gets a chance to center two talented wingers in Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand. This is a line that could entertain nearly 20 minutes of ice time per night.
|LW: Boone Jenner||C: Max Domi||RW: Cam Atkinson|
We know these guys. Two long-time Jackets centered by Max Domi, when he's healthy. All three had some consistency issues in the pandemic-shortened season, but all three are proven NHL players and there's no reason to believe the ship won't be righted by time October rolls around. (Or, in Domi's case, late November?)
|LW: Alexandre Texier||C: Jack Roslovic||RW: Gustav Nyquist|
The cool, calm presence of Gustav Nyquist was sorely missed last season, and probably was not talked about enough. Gus is back this year after missing all of last season with shoulder surgery, and not a moment too soon: pairing him with the 24-year-old Jack Roslovic and even-younger Alexandre Texier will give both kids a chance to learn and develop, and all things considered, this is a pretty decent 3rd line for a team that isn't expected to do much this season - especially if Texier becomes the player he's supposed to be.
|LW: Gregory Hofmann||C: Justin Dowling||RW: Kevin Stenlund|
Gregory Hofmann could be a guy to watch this year for the Blue Jackets. He's had success with HC Lugano of the Swiss league, and it's going to be fun to see if his offensive prowess can transfer to the NHL. Kevin Stenlund has been under-the-radar decent for a couple of seasons now, but the name who gets first crack at the 4th line center row? Justin Dowling, currently of the Dallas Stars. How? See below.
|LD: Zach Werenski||RD: Esa Lindell|
|LD: Vladislav Gavrikov||RD: Dean Kukan|
|LD: Michael Del Zotto||RD: Andrew Peeke|
Seth Jones is on the way out, as he's told the team he is not going to re-sign at this time. That leaves a big hole atop the blue line, and the Blue Jackets fill that hole when Jones is traded to Dallas as part of a package that brings defenseman Esa Lindell to Columbus. (This is where the Blue Jackets get a little depth at center too, with Dowling, as noted above.) Pairing Andrew Peeke with Michael Del Zotto offers a veteran presence for Peeke, and the team will need the good version of Dean Kukan with a projected enhanced role.
Between The Pipes
|Starter: Elvis Merzlikins||Backup: Matiss Kivlenieks|
With the above trade of Joonas Korpisalo to the Sabres, the path is cleared for Elvis to become the guy in Columbus. Matiss Kivlenieks takes a path similar to Korpi a handful of seasons back and becomes the #2 guy.
The Healthy Scratches & "What About So-And-So?!"
FORWARDS: Emil Bemstrom gets some playing time, but is a healthy scratch to start the season. Yegor Chinakhov is going to be an NHL player; it does no good to have him toil between the 4th line and the AHL. Look for him to be a top guy in Cleveland with the Monsters this fall. Mikhail Grigorenko, Zac Dalpe, and Ryan MacInnis are unrestricted free agents who do not return to the team. Stefan Matteau, another UFA, comes back on a two-way deal and plays sparingly, with many trips up and down I-71. Nathan Gerbe makes $750,000 a year (again) to be available to the Blue Jackets, and if needed, provide the grit that only Gerbe can. Eric Robinson plays for the Kraken after Seattle selects him in the expansion draft.
DEFENSEMEN: Scott Harrington returns for a sixth season (!) with the Blue Jackets, playing in a role similar to that of years past: healthy scratch, but around and serviceable when other guys are banged up. Mikko Lehtonen showed a little bit of something in his brief stint with the team last year, but, it's not enough to bring the UFA back into the fold. A couple of depth signings happen here, as well, and the team gives Gavin Bayruether another one-year, two-way deal to help as part of that.