Returning From Injury, Justin Danforth Has The Potential To Be A Fixture In New Coach Mike Babcock's Lineup

By Ed Francis on September 11, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Justin Danforth is a versatile forward who could slot in on a nightly basis under new head coach Mike Babcock.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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It's not a spoiler.

But it feels like more than just a prediction that Justin Danforth has high potential to see an elevated role under new Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Mike Babcock.

Let's get this out of the way first: the 30-year-old forward has an extremely limited sample size. Danforth has played just 51 games in his NHL career and his sophomore season last year was cut short just six games in as a result of a torn labrum. 

In that time, though, he did prove himself to be efficient: Danforth's 12 goals and 5 assists in 2021-22 (45 games) and 2022-23 (six games) would put him on pace for 19 goals, 8 assists, and 27 points over a full 82 game slate — and that's based off an average of just 12:40 of ice time. Twenty-goal scorers who are getting third-to-fourth line minutes are typically the calling card of successful teams.

Would he score 20 goals over a full season, or 25-30 if he were seeing a few more minutes per night? It's doubtful, and the small sample size is an important factor when it comes to determining Danforth's (or any players) statistical ceiling. Figuring out the type of player someone is, though? That can be figured out much easier — and Danforth fits the type of player Babcock is looking for to a tee.

“What we’re going to do is try to have two 200-foot players on each line,” Babcock told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic. “What I mean by that is having another guy (other than the center) who can play down low."

While traditionally suited as a right winger, Danforth brings the versatility of being able to slot in at either side of the wing or up the middle. That checks a Babcock box. 

Babcock's coaching tactics have historically relied on skill and puck possession, as well as a focus on making smart plays at both ends of the ice and staying out of the penalty box. 

That checks more boxes for Danforth, who was a steady hand while on the ice over the last two seasons. In those 51 games, he had 15 takeaways compared to just two giveaways and collected only 10 penalty minutes compared to 26 drawn. Again, the sample size is small — but it is a promising indication and puts at least a speck of data behind the intangible of determining the work ethic of a player. 

When Danforth spoke with our own Coby Maeir last fall, he spoke on his willingness to do what it takes to maintain a spot in the lineup.

"I can play up and down a lineup and I bring energy but also, I'm not scared to go to the dirty areas where the goals are scored," said Danforth.

"I know I'm an NHL hockey player and I feel that the confidence is there."

Whether or not Danforth makes waves in a crowded training camp and preseason will ultimately determine where he starts the 2023-24 campaign, but if he's the same player we saw prior to the torn labrum, expect Babcock to like what he sees.

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