Coming off what was undoubtedly their best season in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets now must deal with the aftermath of Jarmo Kekalainen’s all-in bid. Of course, mortgaging an entire draft for one playoff run wouldn’t have been as risky of a play if Kekalainen was able to retain some of their impending free agents. With Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Sergei Bobrovsky all leaving for free agency, Columbus could be relegated to the basement of the Metropolitan Division.
Kekalainen couldn’t have possibly replaced all the talent he was losing, but the Jackets were surprisingly stagnant in the off-season. Their key additions were limited to:
- — Gustav Nyquist (UFA): Signed a four-year, $5.5M AAV contract.
While all their UFAs walked, Columbus did re-sign some key restricted free agents:
- — Re-signed Joonas Korpisalo (RFA): Signed a one-year, $1.15M extension.
- — Re-signed Ryan Murray (RFA): Signed a two-year, $4.6M AAV extension.
- — Re-signed Scott Harrington (RFA): Signed a three-year, $1.63M AAV extension.
- — Re-signed Sonny Milano (RFA): Signed a one-year, $0.874M extension.
There is no replacing the offensive production Panarin and Duchene brought to the team, or the stability Bobrovsky gave them in goal. Columbus is a much worse team on paper this season, and it’s hard to imagine them returning to the playoffs in April.
While Nyquist is a legitimate top-six forward, he is quite clearly no Artemi Panarin. Given how Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson struggled away from Panarin last year, it’s hard to be optimistic about this first line. The two of them posted a dreadful 36.33 CF% and a 40.16 SCF% at 5v5 without Panarin in 2018-19. It was a dramatic drop-off from the 55.06 CF% and 57.36 SCF% they enjoyed with the Russian superstar, and it does not bode well for their production this season. The depth of this forward group is looking thin now that Columbus no longer has the luxury of rolling with Boone Jenner and Alexander Wennberg as their bottom-two centres.
Cam Atkinson (LW/RW)
- — Panarin leaving is a dagger to Atkinson’s shot volume. With the main driver of his line now gone, Atkinson will have a hard time getting anywhere near the 295 shots he posted a year ago. His on-ice SH% (11.3%) is also due to take a hit, but the opportunity he’ll see on this depleted roster will keep him fantasy relevant. Expect to him to return to around a 30G-30A pace, more than serviceable out of a player with LW and RW eligibility.
Pierre-Luc Dubois (C)
- — Dubois was already due for some regression even before Bread left. The 15.5% SH% and 12.2 on-ice SH% he enjoyed were always going to be tough to replicate. It’s hard to imagine him building on his shot volume without Panarin, but at 21-years-old, he is still getting better. It would seem a best-case scenario for Dubois would be a return to the 60-point club, far from ideal for a player with only centre eligibility.
Josh Anderson (RW)
- — Anderson enjoyed a career-year in 2018-19, potting 27 goals to go with 20 assists across a full 82 games. He did most of that playing away from Panarin, so it seems reasonable Anderson could flirt with 30 goals again this year if he receives a promotion to the top line. His underwhelming assist totals leave him on the fringe of fantasy relevance, save for banger leagues.
Oliver Bjorkstrand (LW/RW)
- — Not a player I’m crazy about going after on draft day, but Bjorkstrand could be in for a breakout season if Torts decides to let him loose. He scored 23 goals and added 13 assists in 2018-19 despite playing just 12:20 a night. I’d hesitate to roster him in standard leagues until we get a better idea of how he’ll be utilized, but the upside is there.
Gustav Nyquist (LW/RW)
- — Nyquist has always been more of a passenger at 5v5, so I’m more than skeptical of his ability to fill-in for Panarin on the top line. The 30-year-old has topped 54 points just once in his eight-year career, and he hasn’t scored more than 22 goals since the 2014-15 season. With little upside and an unstable floor, best to avoid Nyquist this season.
Boone Jenner (C/LW/RW)
- — Jenner should only be considered in the deepest of fantasy leagues. The triple position eligibility is nice, but the 35 points he’s averaged over the last few seasons leave a lot to be desired. His hit total dipped below 200 for the first time since 2014-15 last season, limiting his value in banger leagues.
Nick Foligno (LW/RW)
- — Given his ATOI of 17:42 from last season, I wouldn’t expect the roster turnover to lead to a spike in ice time for the captain. Foligno has now endured back-to-back sub-40-point seasons and has topped 20 goals just twice in his 12-year-career. He should only be considered in the deepest of leagues.
For everything this team lost in the off-season, they still have one of the stronger blue-lines in the league. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better top-pair than Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. The two of them will need to carry the load both offensively and defensively for this team. Players like Murray, David Savard, Markus Nutivaara and even Harrington give the Jackets a lot of depth on the backend.
Seth Jones (D)
- — Jones is a dynamic player that should continue to be an elite fantasy option. His sky-high usage and consistency at 5v5 give him a very stable floor. His power-play production could take a slight-hit with Panarin leaving, but Jones will be relied on to contribute a lot offensively, which should lead to a spike in shot volume. He registered just 184 shots last season after throwing a whopping 249 on goal the year before. You could do a lot worse than ending up with Jones as your top defenseman on draft day.
Zach Werenski (D)
- — Like Jones, Werenski will be an integral part of the Blue Jackets’ offense in 2019-20. I’d expect to see a slight jump in shot volume and ice-time, making Werenski one of the safest bets to score double-digit goals from the backend. His goal-scoring makes him a premium fantasy blue-liner, but his ceiling is capped by his relatively low assist totals.
With Bobrovsky gone, Korpisalo is the uncontested number one in Columbus this season. The one-year contract extension he signed speaks volumes about Columbus’ confidence in Korpisalo moving forward. 25-year-old Latvian native Elvis Merzliknis is Korpisalo’s most likely backup.
Joonas Korpisalo (G)
- — Thought to be Columbus’ goalie of the future for some time now, Korpisalo’s development has taken a step back over the last two years. He’s finished two straight seasons with a .897 SV%, leading to a lot of doubt over whether he can handle a full starter’s workload. 2019-20 will be a telling season for Korpisalo, but without any real competition for playing time, Columbus will have no choice but to be patient with him.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|C. Atkinson (34)||S. Jones (37)||C. Atkinson (62)||C. Atkinson (7)||Z. Werenski (16)|
|J. Anderson (27)||Z. Werenski (33)||P.L. Dubois (56)||N. Foligno (5)||C. Atkinson (15)|
|P.L. Dubois (24)||P.L. Dubois (32)||S. Jones (50)||P.L. Dubois (4)||S. Jones (14)|
Blue Jackets in the DFO Top 300
- 75 — Seth Jones (D)
- 87 — Cam Atkinson (RW)
- 97 — Zach Werenski (D)
- 133 — Pierre-Luc Dubois (C)
- 171 — Joonas Korpisalo (G)
- 196 — Josh Anderson (RW)
- 207 — Oliver Bjorkstrand (LW)
- 209 — Gustav Nyquist (LW/RW)
- 263 — Boone Jenner (C/LW)
- 269 — Nick Foligno (LW)
- 294 — Alexandre Texier (LW)
|3||CAROLINA HURRICANES||41-30-11||93 PTS|
|8||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||37-35-10||84 PTS|
The 2019-20 Blue Jackets are a shell of the team we saw last season. Panarin leaving alone might be too much to overcome, let alone Duchene and Bobrovsky too. The team is not without its upside, but given the competition, it’s hard to project them to finish above any other team in the Metropolitan division.