It's going to be a big year for Andrew Peeke.
The 6'3" Notre Dame product will have to fill a much, much bigger role this season. Peeke only appeared in 11 NHL games last year, spending most of his time on the taxi squad or with the Cleveland Monsters.
However, that's very likely to change. Michael Del Zotto and Mikko Lehtonen are both unrestricted free agents, and the Blue Jackets have yet to re-sign either of them. When you combine that with the very high chance that Seth Jones is traded before the season begins, the Blue Jackets will only have five defensemen under contract for next season (unless they acquire a defenseman in the Jones trade or elsewhere). Those five defensemen are Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, and Gabriel Carlsson. Notice a theme there?
They're all left-handed.
Peeke has 10.2(c) status this offseason, which essentially means he's an RFA but cannot be offer-sheeted by other teams because he hasn't played enough seasons in the NHL. Assuming Peeke agrees to a deal with the Blue Jackets, that will give them six defensemen under contract for the 2021-22 season. Peeke will be the only right-handed one.
Using Money Puck's expected goals for metric, we can look at how Peeke fared playing with some of the defensemen under contract with the Blue Jackets next season. He didn't notch any minutes with Werenski or Carlsson.
- Peeke-Harrington: 46.7% xGF
- Peeke-Gavrikov: 46.2% xGF
- Peeke-Kukan: 33.3% xGF
The team numbers across the board last season weren't pretty. Only three defensive pairings with more than 50 minutes played together had an xGF% of 50 or higher: Del Zotto and Kukan (52.4%), Gavrikov and Jones (51.5%), and Carlsson and David Savard (50.0%).
With Jones gone, Zach Werenski will be the club's unquestioned number-one defenseman. He'll quarterback the first power-play unit, but he still needs someone to play next to him. Peeke is certainly a candidate for that role, as his right-handedness gives him an advantage. It's tougher to play two left-handed defensemen on the same pairing, but John Tortorella elected to do that for the majority of last year despite having Peeke at his disposal.
No matter which pairing Peeke starts the year on, he'll be with the Blue Jackets from day one. It's a big opportunity for the third-year defenseman to show the league why the Blue Jackets drafted him in the second round at #34 overall in 2016.