It’s now that magical time of the year when the NHL regular season begins, marking the only time during the calendar year when baseball, football, and hockey are on at the same time. The beginning of hockey season also brings a new and likely improved Blue Jackets team to Columbus.
Losses and gains throughout the offseason will play a vital role in the success of the Blue Jackets throughout the 2017-18 season. The largest offseason move came when the Jackets traded forward Brandon Saad to the Chicago Blackhawks, the team from which he was originally acquired. Saad returned to Chicago, bringing with him backup goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round draft pick.
Columbus received forwards Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, and a sixth-round pick. Panarin is the same type of dyamic goal-scorer as Saad was, but will most likely fit the Columbus offense and play style better than Saad.
— Artemi Panarin (@9Artemi) August 31, 2017
Aside from Saad, other notable losses in the offseason include veteran forward Scott Hartnell and center William Karlsson. Hartnell signed with the Nashville Predators, and Karlsson was taken by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in their expansion draft upon entering the NHL as a new franchise. Still, the Jackets have plenty of talent from last season returning to the ice.
The Columbus forward lines are a decent mixture of experience and youth. Eight starters out of 12 were originally drafted by Columbus, signifying a successful player-development method. Captain Nick Foligno returns with other veterans, such as Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, and Matt Calvert. They are joined by the likes of Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg, both of whom renewed their contracts with Columbus for the 2017-18 season. Also expected to start is promising rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois.
— ColumbusBlueJackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 11, 2017
On defense, much of the picture is the same as last season. The young first line pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is supplemented by the veteran pairing of Jack Johnson and David Savard, the young and talented Gabriel Carlsson, and the hardened starter Ryan Murray.
Perhaps the most positive element to come out of the first week of the season is the breakout of rookie Sonny Milano. In his first three regular season games, Milano scored four times, including an overtime goal on Oct. 10 to seal a Columbus victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Blue Jackets will need to play competitive hockey in order seriously contend for the Stanley Cup. Last season, a bold playoff run was snuffed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would go on to win the Stanley Cup. In the time that has passed since their Cup win, though, the Penguins have lost many of the players that were integral in their win. Though Pittsburgh is still likely to make it to postseason play, Columbus is better prepared to engage them and come out ahead.
The NHL season has it’s ups and downs, but Columbus fans should not be afraid to expect great things from this year’s team.