Last week, we opened up the first installment breaking down, line-by-line and pair-by-pair, the candidates, and the ensuing roster battles for each slot for a crowded Columbus Blue Jackets roster. The fourth line was a relatively easy place to start, as there are relatively few viable options. That changes today with the third line.
So, who are the players most likely to fit that billing for the Blue Jackets?
Dmitri Vorkonkov, Yegor Chinakhov, Cole Sillinger, Jack Roslovic, Emil Bemstrom, Alexandre Texier
As we established, the Blue Jackets' fourth line will likely be comprised of Sean Kuraly, and two of three of Mathieu Olivier, Eric Robinson, and Justin Danforth. That leaves a huge opportunity for a plethora of players to fill in on the third line.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it's hard to say with 100% confidence which of these players will actually fill the void. Voronkov left a solid job in the KHL, and in my estimation has the inside track to start as the club's 3C. Sillinger, who struggled mightily last season to produce offense, could easily slot there, too. And Roslovic, who has top-six talent but replacement-level consistency, could be an offensive option for an otherwise defensive-minded line.
The wing options are even more competitive, with each player having plenty to prove. Texier, for example, was arguably the club's top forward in 2021-22 before playing last season in France. Can Bemstrom show that he can provide enough to stick at the NHL level? And Chinakhov flashed at times last year but lacked consistency.
Again, I wouldn't write any of these names in sharpie.
Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, Liam Foudy
These options represent both ends of the promotion/demotion spectrum. For Foudy, it would show that he's too valuable to leave out of the lineup, and would also suggest that he is better suited for top-nine work than a fourth line. I doubt that happens, but then again, where else might he slot? For Fantilli, it would portend an easing-in policy, where he can find less taxing minutes against more inferior competition. And while I doubt it happens, perhaps Mike Babcock will want someone as gifted offensively as Johnson to give the opposition more to think about lower in the lineup.
Eric Robinson, Justin Danforth
As mentioned in the piece about the fourth line, it's likely that one of these two players will be a healthy scratch on a given night. But I suppose there's also a universe in which both players are deemed by Babcock to be indispensable. In such a scenario, one could be elevated to the third line. I wouldn't hold my breath, though.
The Last Word
Texier and Roslovic are the wildcards here, in the sense that they could probably sneak higher up the lineup, but those spots are even more hotly contested. Texier seems like the most likely candidate to stick on the third line, given his adaptability. Nothing would surprise me with Roslovic; I could see him being waived/bought out, traded, scratched, or playing here or even higher in the lineup. Sillinger and Chinakhov are both waivers-exempt, which is good for the organization and bad for them. Bemstrom cleared waivers last fall, and I just don't know how he makes it through training camp. Last year was probably his best chance to make a name for himself, and he didn't capitalize. Now add back Texier, Voronkov, Fantilli, etc., and all of the healthy players, and it's just not tenable.
Something like Sillinger-Voronkov-Texier, with Roslovic filtering in and out of the lineup, seems like a possibility. This would mean players like Chinakhov and Bemstrom would be sent to the minors. The club was reluctant to try to pass Foudy through waivers a year ago but may have no choice but to try this season. Obviously, some sort of consolidating trade would be of appetite to the Blue Jackets' front office, but with so few dollars available around the NHL, that may not be a possibility.