The future is bright for the Blue Jackets.
After an offseason that has seen them succeed in almost every facet imaginable (excellent draft, trades, contract extensions, and free-agent signings), they are poised to have a great next few years.
Jarmo Kekalainen shares the same sentiment, and it's one he discussed with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic on the Front & Nationwide podcast. Kekalainen is particularly pleased with the selections of Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger, who he sees as potential stars.
"When we had the fifth overall pick, we felt that we were in the position to get a potential number-one center for our future, and we also thought that we had a really good chance of getting Cole Sillinger at 12," Kekalainen told Portzline. "I think both players can be good centers in the National Hockey League...they make plays. They have good hockey sense. They have the ability to get to the middle of the ice, score goals, and create offense."
That last sentence is key. Recently, the Blue Jackets have struggled to find players that can make a difference down the middle of the ice. After Pierre-Luc Dubois was traded, they had a rough go of it. In free agency, they brought in Sean Kuraly, but he's not expected to be a big point-producer. Jack Roslovic is currently their number one center.
"We really felt confident, although nervous, from the sixth pick to the 11th, that we were going to get both of those players," said Kekalainen. "When we did, we felt like it was a home run for us. Both of those players were very high on our list, and we like them a lot for many different reasons. While they both can create offense, I think they are two different players, which gives us a nice mix. Kent Johnson is a highly-skilled, playmaking offensive talent. Cole Sillinger can produce offense as well...he plays the game the right way. He plays physical, plays hard. He's hard to play against, and at the same time creates a lot of offense. We saw a little glimpse of that when he scored four goals in the Team Canada scrimmage."
Johnson and Sillinger are both a few years away from the NHL, but it'll be exciting to watch their development in the meantime.
There will also be some development to watch on the Blue Jackets roster. In the last couple of weeks, the Blue Jackets made waves by dealing Seth Jones, the 31st overall pick in 2021, and a 2022 sixth-round pick to Chicago. They got quite the return haul, acquiring Adam Boqvist, the 11th pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (Sillinger), a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The Blue Jackets flipped that second-round pick to Carolina in exchange for defenseman Jake Bean. Boqvist, Bean, Andrew Peeke, Vladislav Gavrikov, Zach Werenski, and Dean Kukan will make up one of the youngest blue lines in the league for Columbus next season. When it's all said and done, Boqvist could become a star in his own right.