After a promising seven-game intro to the NHL in 2021-22, Nick Blankenburg signed a one-way, two-year, $825k contract with the Blue Jackets. Not bad for an undrafted free agent who has been overlooked his entire career due to his 5-foot-9-inch height. As he enters his second full season in the NHL, here are three questions to ask regarding the 25-year-old defenseman.
Can he stay healthy?
Since entering the NHL, Blankenburg has missed 45 games, including 43 last season, due to injury, per nhlinjuryviz.blogspot.com. Blankenburg's best attribute, the fact that he is unafraid to throw his body around like a 6-foot-4-inch player, is sometimes his biggest fault. It's served him well to this point, as the above paragraph explains, but whether the injuries were due to bad luck, like the ankle injury that kept him out of 27 games, or not, the fact is that he has missed more NHL games due to injury than he's played in. If he can stay healthy, it will go a long way in answering the next question.
Can he cement a spot in the lineup?
It's no secret that the Blue Jackets have a surplus of defensemen heading into training camp. While Zach Werenski, Damon Severson, Ivan Provorov, and Erik Gudbranson are locks to make the roster, Adam Boqvist, David Jiricek, Jake Bean, Stanislav Svozil, and Blankenburg will be competing for the final three spots on the roster, assuming they carry seven defensemen. Does Blankenburg's small body of work give him an edge heading into camp with a new head coach? He's proven to be an effective player when healthy, but with a new pair of eyes this season, he, like every other player on the roster, will have to prove themselves worthy of a roster spot again.
If he's a staple in the lineup this season, what could his offensive output look like?
In 43 games, Blankenburg has scored five goals and 12 assists, which, over an 82-game pace, pro-rates to nine goals and 22 assists. If Blankenburg scores close to this rate, all parties would be extremely happy. In 2022-23, 33 defensemen scored at least 10 goals, so if Blankenburg can produce at his current rate over more games, he'll do well for himself when negotiating his next contract.
Like all players, Blankenburg's health is going to dictate how successful his season is going to be. But if he can stay healthy, he'll do his best to be a full-time player in this crowded Blue Jackets defensive core.