When it comes to special teams, the Blue Jackets struggled mightily last season.
The power play was fifth-worst in the league at 15.38%. The penalty kill was better but still came in at 21st out of 31 teams as the unit killed off 78.95% of penalties. To make things more interesting, eight of the 15 players who averaged the most time on the penalty kill last season are no longer Blue Jackets. With that in mind, the unit is going to have a different look. Seth Jones (#1 in TOI), David Savard (#5), Cam Atkinson (#6), and Nick Foligno (#8) will all play elsewhere.
Here's how I project the Blue Jackets penalty kill units to look on Opening Night.
PK1: Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov
Sean Kuraly will take face-offs for the first unit, and he brings extensive penalty-killing over from his days in Boston. His presence allows head coach Brad Larsen to split up Kuraly and Boone Jenner, which gives each unit a gritty center who will win more than 50% of his faceoffs. Kuraly is strong defensively and had the second-highest average TOI on the penalty kill among Bruins forwards last season. Robinson can create short-handed opportunities with his speed.
The left-handed duo of Werenski and Gavrikov will man the ship behind Robinson and Kuraly. They're the two best defensemen on the roster, and that'll be reflected as they anchor the first penalty kill unit.
PK2: Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Mikko Lehtonen, Andrew Peeke
Gone are the days when the penalty kill is exclusively a job for third and fourth-liners. Brad Marchand, Pavel Buchnevich, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, and Sebastian Aho all played significant roles on their respective teams' penalty kill units last season. With that in mind, Bjorkstrand should see time on the penalty kill. He's one of the Blue Jackets' best offensive threats, but he also excels defensively. He'll be paired with Boone Jenner, who is excellent at winning face-offs.
On the blue line, Lehtonen can provide a stabilizing presence, while Peeke offers a big body that's still learning the ropes of the NHL game.