The Columbus Blue Jackets gave up a franchise record goals against last season.
As a result, the organization took drastic steps, firing head coach Brad Larsen and replacing him with Mike Babcock. The expectation is that his demanding and organized play style should fix some of what was ailing the club last season. The Blue Jackets didn't stop there, adding Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson, both of whom figure to play in the top four alongside Zach Werenski.
Assuming someone like Erik Gudbranson is firmly on the team but likely not in the mix for that role, we can safely say that the players who will be competing for a larger role are, in no particular order, David Jiricek, Nick Blankenburg, Andrew Peeke, Jake Bean, and Adam Boqvist.
That's a ton of competition, and in the next month, we'll get a lot of answers about what Babcock thinks about several players on the roster.
Blankenburg is waivers eligible, meaning he could go to Cleveland. He was a fan favorite but doesn't have the ceiling of, say, Jiricek, who is also waivers eligible. If those two are in Cleveland, the seven defenders that will be on the everyday roster are more-or-less set in stone. But that's not a given.
Peeke, like Gudbranson, is probably not a great candidate to play alongside Werenski on the top pair, but could be a serviceable mid-pair defender in the right situation. That leaves Bean (more on him later this week) and Boqvist.
It's hard to believe that Boqvist is only just 23 years old, as he's been playing in the NHL since 2019. A first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, the right-handed defender is known for his smooth skating, rocket of a shot, and general high-end offensive instincts. He has two seasons remaining on his contract at a reasonable $2.6M AAV and has posted 22-53-75 in 174 regular-season NHL games.
But in the modern NHL, where virtually every power play features a 4-1 (F-D) alignment, there's really only room for two offensive specialist types. Werenski is a more proficient defender and has the PP1 slot locked down. But can we even say with certainty that Boqvist has PP2? That would mean he's beaten out, in no particular order, Severson, Provorov, Jiricek, and Bean (note: it's not all that unusual for PP2 to go with the formerly traditional 3:2 alignment as they often end up playing 5v5 mid-shift).
Simply put, does Boqvist provide enough of anything that makes him a lock for a roster spot? Is he solid enough to play on the top pairing? If not, does he provide so much offense that his defensive shortcomings are overlooked on a bottom pairing?
There are plenty of routes that could lead to Boqvist being on the outside looking in. For starters, if Blankenburg and/or Jiricek make the NHL roster, something will have to give from a numbers perspective. Both are right-shot defenders, after all. Does Severson gel early with Werenski? If so, that would all but end any competition about the top right-hand shot defender. Does Peeke take a step in the right direction? If so, that, too, could limit Boqvist's opportunity.
Most of this piece has focused on what others will do to impact Boqvist's role. At the end of the day, it's his play that will dictate his playing time. But the math is stacked against him, and with little margin for error and a new head coach who is being tasked with shoring up the defensive structure of the team, it's not hard to imagine Boqvist's best days with the organization in the rearview window.
Boqvist's best bet for a successful season would require an excellent training camp where he shows his natural abilities so high-end that Babcock is forced to keep him in the lineup. And by keeping him in the lineup, he'll likely avoid playing alongside Gudbranson on a 'shutdown' pair. That would give him the inside track to playing alongside Werenski or Provorov. Time will tell if he can make that happen.