By Jacob Allen
Hopes are high in the state capital this year, and not just for the Buckeyes. Last season, coming off only their second playoff year, the Blue Jackets fell nine points short of the postseason. They did, however, finish the season by winning twelve out of their last thirteen games, and they hope to ride that momentum into this season.
Adding a boost to those hopes is the addition of left wing Brandon Saad, who was acquired in a trade over the offseason from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Saad, only 22, has already won two championships with the Blackhawks. The team also signed rugged center Gregory Campbell, who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011. These two are expected to provide some much needed playoff experience for a team that has never advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
Last season Saad, a native of Pittsburgh, scored 23 goals and added 29 assists while playing with all-star talent in Chicago. But don’t expect a large drop-off, as he is expected to play with 2015 All-Stars Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Each player had career years last year while playing with each other for the majority of the season. Johansen collected 26 goals with a career high 71 points, while Foligno, who was named team captain over the summer, had a career high in goals with 31 and points with 73. Columbus hopes that adding Saad to an already great line could make it one of the best in the league.
Let’s not forget the rest of the team, however. Two wingers that each scored over twenty goals last year in Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson could flank solid two-way center Brandon Dubinsky on the team’s second line. The Jackets also have some good young talent among the bottom-six forwards, with 22-year-old Swedish center Alexander Wennberg, 22-year-old power forward Boone Jenner, and gritty 25-year-old Matt Calvert all capable of scoring at any time. Veteran forwards Jared Boll, Rene Bourque, David Clarkson, and Campbell will round out the forward group and should make an impact physically while providing occasional offense.
Defense is considered to be the weak spot of the team, but still has the pieces to contend provided they stay healthy. Ryan Murray, the former second overall pick, played in only twelve games for the team last year, and he may be their best defenseman. David Savard and Jack Johnson look to provide some offense to the blue line again this year. Savard scored 11 goals while adding 25 assists while Johnson had 8 goals and 40 points last season, and both scored 3 times while on the power play. 32-year-old Fedor Tyutin is the elder and leader of the defense, and he is vital on the penalty kill. The group will be rounded out by three 25-year-olds, in Kevin Connauton, Cody Goloubef, and Dalton Prout.
Finally, you can’t talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets without mentioning Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky, entering his fourth year with the team, has been instrumental in turning around a franchise that was mediocre for the first decade of its existence. Last season he went 30-17-3 while recording two shutouts. He has won thirty games in each of the past two seasons, and won 21 in 2013 in only 38 games. He has constantly been at the top of the leader boards in goals-against average as well as save percentage since joining the team, and may be their most valuable player. Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney went 12-14-2 last season, and can provide solid help when needed, but he can’t replace Bobrovsky.
This season this very young Blue Jackets squad needs many things to go their way. Mostly they need to stay healthy, as they led the league in man games lost last season with 502, which was a team record. They can’t afford this again, especially to crucial players like Bobrovsky, Murray, Jenner, and Dubinsky, each of whom missed significant time last season. They need the defense to play above themselves and secondary scoring from the third and fourth lines. If they could do these things you can expect to see the Columbus Blue Jackets have their best season of all-time.