The future continues to look bright for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and this time it's not for anything happening at Nationwide Arena.
The Cleveland Monsters, the Blue Jackets top affiliate and member of the American Hockey League, are off to an 8-3-4 start on the 2021-22 campaign — and there are a few players that may travel south on Interstate 71 before too long.
The Monsters picked up their third consecutive win Sunday with a 6-5 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs' affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. Cleveland scored 13 goals in those three games, with center Brendan Gaunce scoring three times in that span and adding three more assists. With seven on the season, Gaunce leads the team in goals.
While impressive, the 27-year-old Gaunce may be stuck on 118 career NHL games (all with the Vancouver Canucks) for a while, pending injuries to the Columbus band of centers. Liam Foudy and Josh Dunne would be potential options in that case, as well, though neither has put up the numbers Gaunce has this season. Foudy, who has no regular season goals with the Blue Jackets but did notch an NHL goal in the playoff bubble in 2020, has four goals, four assists, and would likely have the first chance with Columbus.
One player who should have the eye of the big-league team, though, is the player who had the overtime game-winner against the Marlies: defenseman Jake Christiansen. The 22-year-old blue liner held his own this fall in training camp and exhibition games, and is earning himself a chance at a call-up with his play in Cleveland. Christiansen has four goals and ten assists for a team leading 14 points, and also leads the time in plus/minus at a +7. For a team that has scored exactly as many goals as they've allowed (45), that number is telling.
Another player to watch is Trey Fix-Wolansky, who recently returned from an ACL injury, returned to the lineup last week and has two goals and an assist in three games. Winger Tyler Angle, who had 24 points in 23 games last season, is also worth watching and leads the team in assists with 12.
Between the pipes, the split between Jean-Francois Berube and Daniil Tarasov has an early winner — Berube has a .933 save percentage and is allowing just over two goals per game (2.09), while Tarasov sits at .884 and 3.20. Remember though, Tarasov is still adjusting to the North American style of hockey and has allowed only one goal per game in two of his last three starts.
Despite the early success, the Monsters are already in a distant second in their division. The Utica Comets — affiliate of the New Jersey Devils — are a perfect 13-0-0 to start the season, the best start in AHL history.
Cleveland will look to continue the hot streak with two more against the Marlies as part of a home-and-home that starts Friday in Cleveland.