Once a staple of the Blue Jackets’ organization, the Columbus defense will enter the upcoming season with more questions than answers.
The top pairing for the last several seasons of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones will soon be a thing of the past, with a Jones trade likely before the draft and almost certainly before the puck drops in October. Who will man the top line with Werenski this season remains a mystery, but of the current roster, Vladislav Gavrikov is the heavy favorite. Free agency could change that, and so too could the impending trade of Jones, not to mention a potential trade involving one of the three picks the Blue Jackets have in the first round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Here’s what the Blue Jackets blue line could look like for the 2021-22 season.
Zach Werenski: This is simple. Werenski is going to lead the team in minutes, will be one half of the top pairing, and could even have an extra letter on his jersey by the time the summer is over – alternate captain, anyone?
Vladislav Gavrikov: Another easy decision, Gavrikov will be part of either the first or second pairing this coming season. Steady improvement over the last two seasons with the club make him a candidate to join Werenski at the top of the chart, but he’s proven he can anchor the second pairing, too.
Andrew Peeke: After splitting time between Cleveland and Columbus in each of the last two seasons, the time is now for Peeke to prove his worth on an NHL roster. At 6'3" and around 200lbs, he has the size. He's not looked overwhelmed in his 33 career NHL games, and with the log jam of talent on the blue line at least partially cleared, Peeke should settle in to the Blue Jackets third defensive pairing this fall.
First Last: No, this isn’t just a placeholder. There’s no way that the Blue Jackets don’t add a name to their blue line that isn’t currently on the roster. As noted above, it may be part of the return for Jones, part of a deal for one of Columbus’ three picks in round one, or a free agent.
Michael Del Zotto: There is mutual interest between the Blue Jackets and Del Zotto, and the Jones exodus only increases the need for the club to bring Del Zotto back on at least a one-year, one-way deal. It’s unlikely that MDZ goes anywhere but back to the second/third defensive pairing.
Dean Kukan: Sure, there’s a chance Seattle grabs him in the draft. But Eric Robinson is the more likely choice for the Kraken, and probably makes more sense from the Blue Jackets end, too. The team has a surplus of third and fourth line forwards, but not so much with second-to-third pairing defensemen.
Scott Harrington: Ol' reliable, Scott Harrington has one more year left in his contract and he'll very likely see minutes for the team this year. Most of these minutes will be either as a bottom-pairing blueliner or filling in for folks who are injured, but Harrington is set for his sixth season with the Blue Jackets.
Gabriel Carlsson: It’s going to be a statement season for the big, 24-year-old defenseman. He's not done much in his 37 career games with the team, but still has the potential to flourish into an everyday, capable defenseman for the team.
ON THE FENCE
Mikko Lehtonen, Gavin Baytreuther, Adam Clendening, Jake Christiansen