Are The Columbus Blue Jackets Too Small On The Wings?

By Dan Dukart on April 25, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Justin Danforth celebrates with Adam Boqvist and Johnny Gaudreau
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets could conceivably head into the 2024-25 NHL season with the following wingers: Johnny Gaudreau, Kent Johnson, Gavin Brindley, and Justin Danforth. All are either under 6'0" or under 190 lbs., or both.

And while that may be an arbitrary cut-off, it's worth noting that, per EliteProspects, the average NHL team's height and weight in 2023-24 was 6'1", 198 lbs. The Blue Jackets rank in the bottom 10 for average weight, which is only made more notable by the fact that the Vegas Golden Knights, who bullied their way to the Stanley Cup last season, came in the largest. The smallest team, the Minnesota Wild, missed the playoffs.

On the margins, it's not a problem to have an undersized player or two in the lineup. Gaudreau has shown that he's an effective playoff performer. And while players like Brindley and Danforth are on the smaller size, nobody is questioning their will, toughness, and general intensity. You can with with guys like that. It's also worth noting that there are plenty of forwards (many of whom are wingers) who would count their size as an asset, including Dimitri Voronkov, Boone Jenner, Adam Fantilli, Kirill Marchenko, Patrik Laine, Mathieu Olivier, and Sean Kuraly. Others, like Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinkahov, Alexandre Texier, and Alexander Nylander, are essentially league-average sized. 

Watching the playoffs, though, it's notable that teams like Colorado added size to their bottom six, with the additions of Yakov Trenin (6'2", 201 lbs) and Brandon Duhaime (6'2", 200 lbs). So the question really becomes, how many small players are tolerable in a lineup? Is four, literally half of your wingers, too many? Probably. 

The offseason is only barely underway, so there's plenty that can change between now and October, but I can't help but wonder about two of the players initially mentioned: Johnson and Danforth. Johnson, 21, is an RFA. In 130 NHL games, he's tallied 22-37-59. He's shown flashes of excellence but has disappeared for stretches. Part of that is life as a young player, and this is a huge offseason for him. He'll need to show that he is the long-term answer at 2LW. Danforth, meanwhile, has one year remaining on a contract paying him $1.1M. That's pretty rich for a fourth-line player, and I wouldn't write his name in Sharpie. Brindley, for example, could take his spot as a younger, cheaper option. 

We still don't know where the Blue Jackets will pick in the upcoming draft, but we know it's a top-six pick. A recent big board shows Russian winger Ivan Demidov, 5'11", 168 lbs, listed second, and Canadian winger Berkly Catton, 5'11", 163 lbs, listed eighth. It would surprise me if the club went to either of these players given the composition of their current roster, especially given the depth of sturdy defensemen and centermen in the same range - though it's certainly a possibility depending on their internal rankings. 

The last point worth mentioning here is that size is overrated if a player doesn't utilize the asset. Laine, and Marchenko, for example, come to mind as two players who should be more difficult to play against. Marchenko showed improvements as a forechecker last season, but neither of them is particularly difficult to play against, and that makes their above-average size less valuable than someone like Brindley/Danforth, who play bigger than their listed weight. And smaller players like Brad Marchand and Jonathan Marchessault are elite players who perform at their best in the playoffs. Size isn't everything. 

As a new GM comes in and scours the lineup and the league, it will be interesting to see if this enters the calculus. The eventual GM may come from a long playoff run, where time and space are at a premium due to the size and speed of the competitors, so it may be top of mind. 

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