NHL 2017 Season: Columbus Blue Jackets Pre-Season Overview
The Blue Jackets had a promising 2016 – 17 season where they finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, and 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Their division and conference standings are not completely indicative of how well they played, especially considering that they made it to the playoffs, and finished with a record of 50 – 24 – 8.This year, with the motivation of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Blue Jackets are looking to improve the team with new acquisitions, and make it to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Have they done enough in the off-season to ensure that this happens?It’s time to take a look.
Expectations are High for Blue Jackets, Even with Some Key Losses
Just like Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets performed better than expected in the 2016 – 17 season. Renewed interest from fans and analysts means that the team will have more pressure to perform this year. There will be some early hurdles, especially at the start of the regular season as the coaching staff try to determine how much power they’ve lost from their departures. Some of the key departures add up to 55 goals from the 2016 – 17 season, and that’s quite a hit for any team to take. Brandon Saad has left the team to join the Blackhawks, and he was one of Columbus’ most prolific goal scorers. Last season he played in 82 games, scored 24 goals, and made 29 assists. He also scored a goal in the Playoffs, so he’s definitely a talent that the team will miss. Saad referred to his time with the Blue Jackets as “challenging”, and he’s looking forward to a new environment. Another high goal scorer is Sam Gagner, who has left the team to join the Vancouver Canucks. The Blue Jackets management may feel like they missed an opportunity by only securing Gagner for one year, as he had a resurgent 2016 – 17 season that nobody saw coming. He scored 18 goals, 32 assists, and 50 points overall. Like Saad, he’s a player that will be missed when the regular season gets underway. The last of the high points scorers to leave is Scott Hartnell, who will join the Nashville Predators for at least one year. Hartnell played for the Blue Jackets in 28 games last season, scoring 13 goals and making 24 assists, for 37 points overall. He also played in four playoffs games, with no points or assists. Losing these three players from the center and wings means that the Blue Jackets have what is essentially a rebuild ahead of them. The key trades this year are all in the forward positions, which was obviously intended to offset the losses and create balance in the teams attacking ability.
New Players Joining the Forwards
From the Blackhawks the team will gain Tyler Motte and Artemi Panarin, as well as Jordan Schroeder from Minnesota Wild. Schroeder is a promising addition, and with 100 games experience, this will be a good season for him to start demonstrating his full capabilities. He has been injured recently which has somewhat diminished his potential, but he’s going to be a frontrunner for a spot on the starting roster. Speaking earlier this year, Schroeder said that “I was pretty excited about the trade. I’ve never gotten traded before. When I heart it was Columbus, I played for Torts in Vancouver for a little bit. I was kind of hurt all year which was unfortunate but there was some familiarity there. I was excited to move on and go to a place when you know you’re going to get an opportunity to play. The past few years I have grown as a player and more as a person. I’ve learned a lot. I know what I have to do on the ice and just go, work hard and use my speed.”A player that won’t quite need to prove himself is Artemi Panarin. We looked at the players who left the team and all the potential points they would be taking with them; Panarin is a direct response to those losses. In his previous two seasons with the Blackhawks he scored over 30 points, and more than 40 assists per season. He has years of experience in the KHL, and now moving to the NHL his experience is paying off well. Speaking through a translator, Panarin shared his thoughts on the trade, saying that “I didn’t expect it, but I’m glad I’m here. I can play a little bit more with the puck, just kind of express myself on the ice a little bit more.” He wasn’t giving anything away in regard to what he could do in the season. Instead, he said that “We’ll see how the season will go. Beginning of the season maybe I’ll need to make some adjustments, but I just try to find chemistry with my new partners. It’s still in progress.” If his track record is anything to go by, Panarin shouldn’t have any trouble adapting to the Blue Jackets and putting in more strong performances. Tyler Motte spent last year in the AHL, and hasn’t yet played a full season in the NHL. He has shown promise throughout his short career, and now he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself with a competitive team. While it’s not clear if Motte is ready to be on a starting team yet, we will at least get to find out if he is finally ready to step up in the NHL. His current NHL career record is 4 points and 3 assists from 33 games played.
Are The Losses Too Much to Overcome?
Looking at the losses on their own, it would be easy to dismiss the chance of the Columbus Blue Jackets doing well this year. However, there are promising young players who are yet to be promoted, as well as proven veterans of professional hockey, such as Artemi Panarin. Whether they’ll have the same goal scoring potential as last year is still unknown, but it at least looks like this team is going to be competitive, and a return to the playoffs shouldn’t be difficult for Columbus.