Cole & Yegor.
Chinkahov & Sillinger.
No matter who you put first, these two recent 1st round picks (Cole Sillinger this year, Yegor Chinakhov last year) have made impressively strong cases to crack the opening night lineup for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With camp underway and the preseason starting Monday, here is version 4.0 of the roster predictions.
One tweak here from previous versions: with the season nearing its start, these predictions no longer include trades or signings. Also, previous versions were based on the entire roster, this one is the active roster. In other words, injured players do not make this list.
|LW: Patrik Laine||C: Jack Roslovic||RW: Jake Voracek|
The Blue Jackets opened camp yesterday with Sillinger playing between Patrik Laine and Jake Voracek on the top line, but there is no reason to believe that the 18-year-old will be Columbus' top line center this season. That day will come (and hopefully it's a potent 1 and 1a combination with fellow first-round draft pick Kent Johnson), but it won't be October 14th. Jack Roslovic, steadily improved last year, still has to have the inside track at the top spot. Once Max Domi returns from his injury, which could be as soon as November, Roslovic's play will likely determine who slots in between the sniper (Laine) and his creative hand (Voracek).
|LW: Gustav Nyquist||C: Boone Jenner||RW: Oliver Bjorkstrand|
The only line where everyone on it was with the team last season, Columbus' second line features three two-way players, a crafty goal-scorer, a gifted hockey IQ, and (potentially) the next captain. This would be the most veteran line on the team and could give the team big minutes late in close games.
|LW: Eric Robinson||C: Alexandre Texier||RW: Yegor Chinakhov|
Yegor Chinakhov is proving that he deserves a spot on the NHL roster, and if he's going to play in Columbus, the Blue Jackets can't give him 4th line minutes. Therefore, Chinakhov takes a spot on the third line. It lets him see more ice time, to the tune maybe about 12 minutes per game, and it lets him play with with Eric Robinson and Alexandre Texier. It feels like a "prove-it" type season for Texier, but he just turned 22 and has not had stability since debuting in the NHL late in the 2018-19 season. Robinson is someone the organization thinks is ready to shine, and this will be his best chance yet to do so.
4th Line & Two Healthy Scratches
|LW: Gregory Hofmann||C: Sean Kuraly||RW: Emil Bemstrom|
|S1: Kevin Stenlund||S2: Josh Dunne|
Expecting to see Sillinger here? For the same reason that Chinakhov is on the third line (minutes), Sillinger starts the season in Cleveland. Why throw him out to see 8-10 minutes per night? At just 18, he's two years younger than Chinakhov, and playing center carries more of a learning curve at the NHL level than wing does. Sillinger will almost certainly debut with the Blue Jackets this season, but not in less than a month. Give him big minutes in Cleveland, let him develop his game, and don't rush him.
In the meantime, Sean Kuraly is just about locked in as the fourth line center. It's a clog after that, but the edge goes to Gregory Hofmann and Emil Bemstrom for now. Bemstrom will have a chance to move up in the lineup if his potential becomes a reality. Hofmann, Kevin Stenlund, and Josh Dunne - with guys like Justin Danforth also in the hunt - could become a bit of a revolving door for that 12th spot.
Defensive Pairings & Two Healthy Scratches
|LD: Zach Werenski||RD: Adam Boqvist|
|LD: Vladislav Gavrikov||RD: Jake Bean|
|LD: Dean Kukan||RD: Andrew Peeke|
|S1: Mikko Lehtonen||S2: Scott Harrington|
Not a long of change here. The top four names are a lock to make the roster, with Zach Werenski and Vladislav Gavrikov locked into their spots. Adam Boqvist still seems to have the inside track to play with Werenski on the top line, and Jake Bean is an underrated talent. Andrew Peeke should see a full season to prove he was worth a high second-round pick, and Dean Kukan gets the edge (for now) over Mikko Lehtonen and Scott Harrington, who both are in the arena on opening night, but in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Between The Pipes
|Starter: Elvis Merzlikins||Backup: Joonas Korpisalo|
Elvis Merzlikins' five-year contract extension has made it very clear who the team sees as their number one goalie. Joonas Korpisalo will start the season with the team, but it's tough to envision a scenario where the time is split as evenly as it was last season. The good news for Korpi? He's likely to be dealt to the first team that is a contender with an injured goalie, with a chance to earn big bucks of his own when he's an unrestricted free agent after the season.