Welcome to part three of a line-by-line breakdown of the Columbus Blue Jackets depth chart as it stands in mid-July.
A few weeks ago, we established that the fourth line should be relatively easy to piece together. The third line? Much less so. That the third line became such a muddy practice continues to illuminate itself higher in the lineup.
So, who are the players most likely to fit the second line for the Blue Jackets?
Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Adam Fantilli, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier
The good news is that the center position is somewhat binary. It seems likely that Boone Jenner will likely be the incumbent as the club's 1C, at least, for now, so the next question is easy: Does Fantilli start the season as the club's 2C? If yes, that would mean that the path to cracking the lineup would be more difficult for someone like Roslovic. If not, he, or maybe Johnson or Texier, is the solution.
Marchenko had an excellent rookie season and figures to play right wing in the top six. Johnson, who also showed well in his first season in the NHL last year, should continue to develop on the wing. He may eventually become a center, but there's less urgency for that today than there was when the season ended (hello, Mr. Fantilli).
On the surface, that seems cut and dry. Fantilli (18) centering Marchenko (22) and Johnson (20)! But I'd be surprised to see head coach Mike Babcock start the year with three young players. If Fantilli does get the 2C slot, I would imagine he would be shielded by some veteran presence. Perhaps that's Roslovic or someone like Laine.
Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinakhov, Emil Bemstrom, Justin Danforth
This list of players has one thing in common: they are coming off regrettable 2022-23 seasons. New coach, new vision, new player? We'll see. I have a hard time believing Sillinger can make the jump straight into the second line, but then again, if he had missed most of last season (like Danforth), I would have thought he was ready after his rookie season. So who knows?
Chinakhov and Bemstrom are similar in that both would need to just stand out so significantly in a training camp setting to justify leaping the players mentioned in the above blurb. But the talent is there. Danforth just has something about him that I think Babcock is going to treasure. And when it becomes clear that the fourth line is comprised of Eric Robinson-Sean Kuraly-Mathieu Olivier, I wouldn't be shocked to see Babcock elevate Danforth in the lineup. Is the second line too rich? Almost certainly. That's why it's a longshot.
The Last Word
The pragmatist in me has a hard time justifying an infant line of Johnson-Fantilli-Marchenko, but I would love to see them get a shot in the preseason. Then again, it's not like Laine or Roslovic are defensive dynamos that would be able to somehow protect the kids. And, if we learned anything last year, it's that Marchenko and Johnson are offensively ready to produce now. So maybe it's not all that farfetched, after all. When discussing the third line, I alluded to Texier being a versatile piece that can play basically any position in the lineup. I think that may serve him well when it comes to this line.