The Columbus Blue Jackets ended their preseason with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. With the loss, the Blue Jackets finished with a 4-2-2 preseason record.
What did we learn about this team during these eight games? I’m glad you asked. Let’s dive in and discuss.
The Lineup Is Not Set, Not Even Close
This preseason was an opportunity for players to either make an impression or show they can handle a particular spot in the lineup. While some players impressed, some were clearly overwhelmed. And some showed that they are not ready for a full-time role in a particular spot.
For example, the role of top-line center could be a revolving door. Alex Texier got to play between Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek on Saturday night. The Blue Jackets hope Texier can rise up and secure a prime spot. His preseason has just been ok though.
This is going to force the Blue Jackets to plug and play at the most important forward position to start the season. Perhaps they continue to allow Texier the opportunity to play there. But Boone Jenner saw some time there and could fill in. Max Domi, who returned to game action Saturday night, is going to stay on the wing for now according to head coach Brad Larsen. Jack Roslovic didn’t play between Laine and Voracek during the preseason. Perhaps the team will look at this possibility.
The key takeaway here is that top-center center position could see a rotation especially early in the season to see if someone can grab a hold of the opportunity. But that’s not the only position in flux. The defensive third-pair is wide open.
Friday night in St. Louis, all of the bubble contenders on defense played. It was a struggle for the most part. The two that did show well, Mikko Lehtonen and Gavin Bayreuther, got to play Saturday night. Andrew Peeke played Saturday also. Lehtonen’s misread led to the Penguins’ tying the game in the third period. He lost the man who eventually scored the goal.
So how do the Blue Jackets handle this one? No one outside the top-four has clearly separated themselves. There’s an argument now to be made to keep Bayreuther up. But that would mean others would have to be waived. With Monday’s 5 P.M. eastern deadline coming quickly, they have to decide which defensemen to keep. No matter who they keep, expect a rotation here as well. Once the roster is finalized, we’ll dive deeper into the defensemen discussion. Stay tuned for News & Rumors Monday.
Powerful Power Play?
On a good note, the power play showed very well during the preseason. The Blue Jackets are enjoying the benefits of Voracek’s playmaking in the early going.
Voracek is one of the league’s premier playmakers of the last few years especially at even strength. He brings a certain calmness to the unit that allows his teammates to get in position to succeed. Teams have to respect what Voracek can do with the puck.
The Blue Jackets are showing they have players who are dangerous on the man advantage when given the chance. Laine will draw double teams on his own since opponents do not want his shot to be unleashed. That will leave others open or with a one-on-one battle.
The other thing that was encouraging here was the number of calls the Blue Jackets were able to draw. They had 25 power play chances in the eight games, an average of over three per game. That’s a marked improvement from recent results when they’d draw just over two chances per game, one of the worst in the NHL. They also scored seven power-play goals, a conversion rate of 28%. This includes three power-play goals against Detroit this past week.
You wouldn’t expect them to keep a 28% clip up all season, but it’s reasonable to expect an improvement from recent seasons. This alone will keep the team in more games. And then if they can get more chances on the power play, that gives them even more opportunity to score and stay in games. We’ll see if this can keep up in the regular season.
Good & Bad From Youngsters
This preseason proved that there was quite a mixed bag of results amongst the young Blue Jackets’ players. It is cause for both excitement and worry.
Let’s start with the good. Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger each had a good preseason. Both certainly made a strong case that they deserve to make the opening night roster. Larsen even admitted that he was impressed with Sillinger after the game Saturday.
Whether or not they make the roster now, this is great news for the Blue Jackets that they were able to play this well at such a young age. We’ll know by Monday afternoon if they made it. I think they will. They’ve been that good.
Sillinger played perhaps his best preseason game Saturday night against the Penguins. He was good at faceoffs. He was good at being in the right position most of the time. And if it wasn’t for a good Tristan Jarry save at the second period horn, he would have scored too.
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Chinakhov didn’t get to unleash his shot as much, but he showed he’s no slouch at other areas of the game. He made the right reads. He was defensively responsible. He’s showing that he can be a playmaker too.
Both players were given every opportunity to perform and they did. The decision now comes down to where the team thinks the best destination is for their development. With Domi seemingly ready to play, does that bump one of them from making the roster? I don’t think so. Here’s why.
The Not So Good
While Chinakhov and Sillinger shined, others were inconsistent or looked overwhelmed. Several players were expected to take the next step. While each had some moments, it’s fair to wonder about what their future might hold now.
Let’s start with Liam Foudy. Here’s an example of a player where the team was hoping to see that he’s ready for a full-time NHL role. This preseason showed he’s not ready yet. He was barely noticeable in the games he played.
I still believe in the player and what he might become. But the fact that both Chinakhov and Sillinger passed him on the depth chart should worry you. Foudy is not as far along and now we have to wonder what could be next. He doesn’t need waivers to get to Cleveland. With Domi possibly coming back, that crowds the forward ranks even more.
If he ends up in Cleveland, he’ll get every opportunity to continue to develop. He needs to regain the form he had in the Toronto bubble when he was noticeable and dangerous. I just haven’t seen that player recently.
Gregory Hofmann is another who I was expecting big things from. While he’s not a young player, he’s still new to the Blue Jackets. The fact he didn’t play Saturday could indicate he’s on the outside. But he did have some decent moments. The only way I see him making it is if they decide Chinakhov and Sillinger need to start outside the NHL.
And then there’s Emil Bemstrom. He got on the board during the preseason and has showed more confidence. But again, if you’re passed up by Chinakhov and Sillinger, that should tell you everything you need to know. He’s been inconsistent. Larsen has said they need to see that consistency from him.
It looks like Kevin Stenlund will fall short. Despite the size and the fact he can play center, he hasn’t done enough to break through the logjam of forwards. And Peeke is interesting. He’s been more physical and is right-handed, but really hasn’t separated himself in a way I thought I’d see by now.
In The End
In the end, we still have a lot of questions. Some of this will be sorted out when they announce their opening night roster. But those questions will carry over into the regular season.
Even if a player doesn’t make the opening roster, they could be depended upon later in the season to contribute. It will be up to them to stay ready and respond when their number is called.
If we learned anything at all, it’s that we should be prepared for a variety of lineups throughout this season. If you play well, you’ll stay in. Otherwise, lots of guys will be waiting for their turn. The Blue Jackets will not hesitate to make changes if someone isn’t performing the way they need to.
It all starts Thursday. Just be prepared for a lot of changes game-to-game.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.