When thinking about who can be the best player on the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2023-24, a few come to mind.
As the prize of free agency one year ago, Johnny Gaudreau is the best player based on the whole body of work. In terms of points (74) and assists (53), there was no one better, and even with the number of games played (80, tied for the most with Andrew Peeke), he was as dependable as they came for the injury-riddled Jackets.
You know what you're going to get from No. 13.
Kent Johnson embarked on the scene in Apr. 2021 and as he looks to elevate his game to the next level, this year should be his best yet as he enters his second full NHL season.
Can he record at least 60 points?
Adam Fantilli is a rookie so we'll keep the expectations in check but one can imagine the potential and how soon he realizes it.
Kirill Marchenko might be the best pure goal scorer on the team, probably outside Patrik Laine. Like Johnson, Marchenko enters his second full NHL season and looks to build upon a historic rookie campaign in which he set the franchise record for goals by a rookie (21).
As for Laine, there seems to be untapped potential yet for him in a Blue Jackets sweater.
An NHLer for seven seasons, three of those already with Columbus, Laine's tenure has been an injury-riddled mixed bag. And the good news is he's still only 25 years old.
Over a span of 156 games for the Blue Jackets, Laine has pretty nice-looking offensive numbers (129 points, 58 goals, 71 assists), even though he has not played more than 56 games in a season since the trade to the Blue Jackets in 2020-21. Laine played 46 games of the 56-game 2020-21 season, 56 games in 2021-22, and 55 games in 2022-23.
The last time Laine played at least 60 games was in 2019-20 (68) and he played all 82 games each of the two seasons before that, including 73 in his rookie season in 2016-17.
So staying healthy is half the battle. If he can get a full season, or close to it in 2023-24, you'd think the offense would be even more off the charts.
Despite the struggles to stay on the ice over the last few seasons—and that does include being away from the team due to his father's death in 2021-22 so it's not fair to blame it all on injury—he's still been able to find the back of the net with the type of regularity you'd expect.
Since the 2020-21 trade that brought him and Jack Roslovic over for disgruntled star Pierre-Luc Dubois, Laine and Roslovic are 1-2 in points for the Jackets. While Laine has 129 points, Roslovic is only six behind. At first, this seemed surprising as we recently wrote about Roslovic's inconsistencies, but it also makes sense considering the roster overhaul over the last few years.
After Laine and Roslovic, players like Oliver Bjorkstrand (101 points—46 goals, 55 assists—between 2020-22) have since departed and Boone Jenner is the next closest (106—57-49).
The overall goals and scoring numbers aside, you know how invaluable Laine can be when he's on one of those automatic goal-scoring stretches.
15 goals in his last 15 games?! Yeah, you could say Patrik Laine has been on a bit of a heater... pic.twitter.com/ZqZpQt4u2l— NHL (@NHL) March 5, 2022
Such as when he had 15 goals in 24 games and 21 goals in a 39-game span between January and March of the 2021-2022 season.
For the first time in his career that season, he was a point-per-game player and has been a 0.83 point-per-game player over his Blue Jackets tenure, second only to Gaudreau (0.93) last season.
Last year, Laine was limited to eight games and two goals between October and November before breaking out for seven goals and 12 points in 12 December games.
He really found chemistry with Jake Voracek two seasons ago, but considering the offensive tools Laine displays, you feel good about the linemates around him now like Gaudreau, Johnson, Marchenko, and then Fantilli coming into the fold.
Though Laine hasn't been able to stay fully healthy during his Blue Jackets tenure so far, he's certainly been one of the more productive and impactful players on the ice for them. He's exactly the type of guy you like having on your team and the feeling is mutual as Blue Jackets.com's Jeff Svoboda wrote.
"I just like being here, so I just decided to come (to Columbus this off-season) earlier," Laine said. "I've been enjoying it so far. I wouldn't come here two and a half months early otherwise. It's cool. I like it."
If he can play closer to 75 games this season, might we finally see Laine close in on, or surpass 40 goals?
Suppose things could change or alter the scene if he's getting to dabble at center so maybe he becomes more of the facilitator in that role.