The Columbus Blue Jackets Have Plenty Of Options At The Bottom Of The Lineup

By Dan Dukart on August 23, 2021 at 1:20 pm
Emil Bemstrom celebrates a goal
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets have more players than roster spots.

By signing free agents Sean Kuraly, Gregory Hofmann, Justin Danforth, and Zac Rinaldo, as well as giving an extended look to top prospects Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger, the Blue Jackets have a plethora of options at the bottom of their lineup.

Even with Max Domi out of the lineup to begin the season, to say nothing of other potential injuries, it's not difficult to imagine a top-six with Jakub Voracek, Patrik Laine, Gus Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Jack Roslovic, and (probably) Alexandre Texier.

But the Blue Jackets have far more options than six players for the six 'available' spots left. Aside from the aforementioned free agents and prospects, the club also has some players, like Boone Jenner and Eric Robinson, that you can write in sharpie on a lineup card. Others, like Kevin Stenlund, Liam Foudy, and Emil Bemstrom, are in the mix for the last remaining spots. 

Then there are the AHL guys, like Nathan Gerbe, Joshua Dunne, and Brendan Gaunce. It's unlikely they make the team out of training camp, but could help in a pinch.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the top-six listed above, Jenner, and Robinson, and Kuraly are all healthy for the start of the regular season. That leaves just three spots left for some combination of Hofmann, Danforth, Rinaldo, Foudy, Stenlund, Bemstrom, Sillinger, and Chinakhov. 

If I had to bet, Rinaldo won't be a lineup regular, and there's no real compelling reason to rush Sillinger, especially since he can play at the AHL level this season. Stenlund, Foudy, and Bemstrom have all been around for at least one season, and perhaps their 'experience' gives them an upper hand over someone like Chinakhov. On the flipside, Chinakhov's high ceiling may make him a more appealing option for a team that is likely to undergo some growing pains. 

The wildcards include Hofmann and Danforth, who have both never played in the NHL but are too old at 28 to be considered prospects. Will their extensive playing experiences help or hurt them when compared to a Foudy or Chinakhov? The organization signed them with the expectation that they could, at least theoretically, contribute at the NHL level. But that was before bringing in other options. Is there a scenario where both Danforth and Hofmann are playing games while prospects like Foudy and Chinakhov are on the bench?

Lastly, where does Bemstrom fit into the puzzle here? In reality, there hasn't been much difference in terms of actual production between Bemstrom and Texier, but there is a perceived gap between the two of them. This could be a make-or-break year for Bemstrom, who has struggled to lock down the top-six role he needs to secure in his first two seasons in the NHL. At just 22, time is on his side, but for how much longer?

Many of these players are likely to play significant games this year, either by way of opportunity or injury. And having more players than roster spots is a good problem to have. On the other hand, it's hard to say with conviction that we know what to expect from a handful of these players, and that alone should make training camp worth watching.  

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