It’s time for potential to rise to the top.
Last time out we talked about Patrik Laine’s impact and ability to be one of the best goal-scorers not only on the Columbus Blue Jackets but in the NHL. His impact is felt when he's right, healthy, and in turn, scoring a lot of goals.
That led to the thought of who can directly impact the Blue Jackets on the ice the most.
Guys like Johnny Gaudreau certainly fit the bill as the main free-agent acquisition a year ago to excite the fan base and reenergize the team on the ice. You know precisely what you're getting in Gaudreau.
At least 20 goals and 70 points. That's modest. Hopefully, 30 and 80, especially as the talent around him grows.
After big free agent signings, the success that drives the team is the core pieces you draft, cultivate, and ultimately bring up to the majors to provide that nightly impact.
A top-five draft pick two years ago, Kent Johnson can be that guy for the Blue Jackets this season.
The exciting but challenging aspect that teams like the Blue Jackets find themselves in is being littered with high-end prospects and rookies filled to the brim with potential and they now have to put it all together at the most challenging level.
Young players are acclimating to the league and have a high ceiling but are also in some respects, unknowns. Unknowns about their game, the way they adjust, and whether they can ultimately live up to the hype and perform on a consistent basis.
That includes Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Adam Fantilli, Kirill Marchenko, and others.
Earlier in the year, we talked about the challenges that rookies and young players must embrace if they're going to make it in the NHL.
All those pieces jelling and coming together to prop one another up. That's the hope and the plan. And though there's never 100 percent certainty, it's the correct blueprint to ice the best possible team.
A little bit of luck but a lot of high-end talent to form a foundation.
The usual suspects like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche come to mind with deep cornerstones in place at numerous positions. They run deep from top to bottom and have Stanley Cups to back that up. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are trying to squeeze as much out of their respective core now that made them so great a decade-plus ago.
Up-and-coming teams like the Seattle Kraken, with reigning Calder winner Matty Beniers (57 points, 24 goals, 33 assists), come to mind as the next potential great player and team. The rookie scoring race was fun to watch in 2022-23 with Beniers, Wyatt Johnston, Matias Maccelli, and Mason McTavish.
Taking that back to the Blue Jackets, though Marchenko earned some Calder votes, and Johnson didn't garner even one, they each had a case to make.
Marchenko set the franchise record for goals by a rookie (21) in only 59 games. Johnson became the third Blue Jackets rookie to record at least 40 points last season and there's a strong chance, expectation even, that he takes the next step to challenge as one of the best players on the Blue Jackets. With more confidence and more minutes last season, we saw the on-ice production begin to take off and become more consistent for Johnson.
Assuming health, why shouldn’t 60 points be the baseline floor for what Johnson can post this season?
He's another one that could play on the wing or find time at center. Maybe he's on the first line with Gaudreau and Laine and perhaps he's on the second line, even playing with the newcomer Fantilli.
What if Fantilli could score in the 50-60 point range?
David Jiricek should be on the team this season and with the Blue Jackets' additions already in Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov on the blue line, Jiricek shouldn't have to play out of position or too high in the lineup just yet, unlike when last year's injuries necessitated an emergency call-up to the team.
While there isn’t a guarantee or specific timetable as to when potential becomes legitimate impact at the NHL level, it's an exciting process to watch bear out and wonder aloud what the ceiling can be for so many high-end prospects.
NHL Network recently ranked the Blue Jackets with the second-best pipeline in the NHL so the pieces are there. The Athletic's Scott Wheeler and Corey Pronman listed the Jackets as clear-cut draft winners in separate pieces, with Pronman handing out an 'A' grade. Now it's time for it to come to fruition.