It would be silly to extrapolate anything about the NHL's preseason, but I think it may be safe to conclude that Johnny Gaudreau will change the dynamic surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets offense.
A season ago, the Blue Jackets set a franchise record for goals scored in a season, and Gaudreau finished fourth overall in MVP voting while posting a silly 40-75-115 (G-A-PTS) stat line.
Turns out, his skills translate just fine, and he was dynamic playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins' de facto JV team in the club's split-squad preseason game on Sunday night, posting 0-3-3 in 17:24.
Each of the three assists showcases the type of plays that make him such a dangerous player. Here's the skinny on each of them:
Zone Entry Off The Rush
The Blue Jackets should benefit from Gaudreau's ability to gain the offensive zone with possession. He's a puck transporter, and giving his team an offensive zone possession (as opposed to a dump and chase, for example), gives the club more opportunity for dangerous chances.
One order of Patty Bomb coming up! Peeke hits Laine with the cross ice pass for the goal to make it 2-0! pic.twitter.com/8q4mNySY9b— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 26, 2022
Andrew Peeke starts the play by giving it to Gaudreau in the middle of the ice. Once Gaudreau gains the blueline, he kicks the puck wide to Patrik Laine, who, for all of his offensive gifts, puck transporting is not one. Laine one-touches it back to Peeke, then gets lost in coverage. Peeke makes a brilliant seam pass and Laine's finish is textbook.
Bonus: After Gaudreau carries the puck into the zone, he takes his route right to the front of the net, dragging defenders and eyes with him. That allows for Laine to find the soft spot behind the play.
Power Play Quarterback #1
The Blue Jackets' power play should become more dangerous overnight with the addition of Gaudreau. Manning the half-wall on the right flank, Gaudreau can be a threat in many ways. He can shoot from a dangerous spot, pass to the point, pass to the middle (more on that in a moment), or pass to the low player.
Scoracek crashes the net on the power play to jam home the puck to make it 3-0! pic.twitter.com/nOetTEz2JJ— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 26, 2022
Here, Gaudreau freezes the defense before slipping a pass to Jakub Voracek, who sets up shop by the net. Voracek, a sublime playmaker, makes a dangerous pass to Justin Danforth in the slot, then cashes in on the rebound as soon as it presents itself.
Voracek had previously held the spot that Gaudreau manned in the game. If he can show himself to be valuable as the low player, it could make for a strong power play.
Power Play Quarterback #2
As evidenced by the above power play goal, some of Gaudreau's magic is his ability to draw defenders' eyes to him. He mesmerizes defenses, slowly bringing them out of position before laying a pass to the right teammate at the right time.
2nd of the night for Danny on the power play! Jackets lead 5 - 1! pic.twitter.com/43wPUbydKl— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 26, 2022
Here it happens again, this time on a sublime centering pass to Justin Danforth, who had himself a game with two goals. He couldn't be standing in a more dangerous position, in the middle of the slot with a screen in front of the net. Gaudreau feathers a pass, and Danforth unleashes a rocket to the top corner to build on their lead.
Gaudreau's first game in the union blue went about as well as it could have gone. The only problem? It's preseason, and it's not going to register when the history books are written. Still, I'd prefer him and the offense clicking to the alternative. But the real test will come on October 12, when the Blue Jackets open up the regular season against the Carolina Hurricanes.