The end result of the Columbus Blue Jackets' defensive play last season was letting up a record-setting 258 goals. One of the biggest issues that led to this terrible result was the lack of toughness and physicality amongst the blue line. The 2022-23 version of the Blue Jackets will look to be much improved in that area.
- New Additions
One of the ways Columbus decided to address this issue is by adding new players with a reputation for outmuscling the opponent.
- The biggest addition in this category would be former Calgary Flame Erik Gudbranson. The 30-year-old defenseman is now playing for his fourth team. He may not be the most gifted defender, and he may be slowing down (evidenced by his personal record of 42 giveaways set last season). But he is still physically imposing at 6-5 222 pounds, and he still has the tenacity and strength to put the hurt on opposing players. He was a perfect fit for a defense that was soft and lacked size.
- The club also added David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk in the first round of the draft, this summer. Now, it is possible that one or both of these defensemen don't see the ice for the CBJ this season, but it is looking likely that Jiricek will at least see the ice at some point this year. Mateychuk's strengths are much more on the offensive side, but it is also likely that he sits for a year or two before taking the ice in Nationwide Arena. Jiricek though will most likely play and he is billed as a two-way defender who is known for his strong play on the blue line. He will have a learning curve to start out, but he should quickly contribute to the effort of shoring up the defense.
- Nick Blankenburg is technically not a new addition, but he did only play seven games at the end of last season. He did enough to earn an extension, however, he should grow a lot this season and his contributions should be felt more as he will likely be with the Jackets for most of the season. He may be the seventh man or spend a little time in Cleveland, but he will undoubtedly get some playing time with the first team. Blankenburg is small but fearless and very aggressive. He will increase the stoutness of this defense when he is on the ice.
- Mathieu Olivier is not a defender, but he was brought in as a depth piece to help increase the toughness of the forward unit. If the forwards are stronger and more inclined to help on defense, it makes it that much easier on the blue line.
- Progression of Current Defenders
The new pieces should help, but the current pieces are also young and inexperienced, for the most part. So it stands to reason that several of them will grow defensively. Players like Peeke and Gavrikov did pretty well in that zone last year, but they will be looking to take the next step. Players like Bean and Boqvist will be looking to get much better on defense. They are talented on offense but need to be much improved on the side of the ice they get paid to play on.
The Blue Jackets might not be world-beaters on defense, but they are hoping to be far better in that area. Have they done enough this offseason to make a marked improvement? Only time will tell.