A year after officially starting the rebuilding process, a sense of optimism is growing for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 2022-2023 season is on the horizon, and the team is hitting the ice for the first time as training camp opens.
An exciting pair of offseasons has the Blue Jackets positioned to accelerate their rebuild, and potentially make their return to the playoffs as soon as this coming season.
The most exciting acquisition for the Blue Jackets comes in the form of Winger Johnny Gaudreau. The superstar commonly known as “Johnny Hockey” comes to Columbus on a massive seven-year, $62.5 million contract after playing with the Calgary Flames since he was drafted.
Gaudreau comes to Columbus as a full-blown superstar on the ice. The six-time all-star is joining the Jackets after a season that saw him post 115 points on 40 goals and 75 assists.
In a move that stunned the hockey world, Gaudreau chose the Blue Jackets over the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and a return to the Calgary Flames on the first day of free agency.
Signing Gaudreau was an offseason highlight that not many saw coming. Although, there were some other housekeeping things that needed to get done, too. After a strong second-half of the season, Columbus native Jack Roslovic signed a two-year extension to remain with the Jackets.
While slightly less recognizable, the Blue Jackets also signed a different Calgary Flame in free agency. Looking to get tougher on defense, the team signed Erik Gudbranson to a four-year deal.
Lastly, with all this excitement surrounding the team, there was still one mystery left to resolve. Since his arrival in Columbus, people had questioned Patrik Laine’s interest in remaining with the team long-term. Despite his numerous claims that he wanted to be here, people were still skeptical. Suspicions were finally put to rest when Laine signed a four-year deal to stay with the Blue Jackets.
To make all of these moves work within the salary cap, the Blue Jackets had to trade away Forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken in exchange for third and fourth-round picks.
With the wheeling and dealing of the offseason behind them, the Jackets are looking to put it all together on the ice. The addition of Gaudreau only makes this team more dangerous.
The Blue Jackets will still be young up and down the ice, and this team will sink or soar with their growth this season. After making the team as an 18-year-old, Cole Sillinger is looking to avoid a “second-year slump” and grow into the best centerman on the roster. Fellow first-round pick Kent Johnson will be coming into his rookie season with a lot of hype. The Michigan product played a handful of games at the NHL level last season, but this year will hopefully see him solidify his role with the big club.
On the back end of things, the team is looking for more formidability and stability. Zack Werenski is as good of a defenseman as any other in the league, but the team needs another name or two to step up in that role. Look for some combination of Andrew Peeke, Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, and Nick Blankenburg to play bigger roles this season.
Despite the heavy presence of young talent, there is still plenty of leadership. Captain Boone Jenner is back and healthy for this year, and Wingers Jakub Voracek and Gus Nyquist are still producing well during their 15th and 11th seasons, respectively.
Lastly, the Blue Jackets will once again roll into the season with fan favorite Elvis Merzlikens as their starter. Backing him up will be Joonas Korpisalo.
With an excellent offseason, the Blue Jackets are likely to improve on their record from a year ago, but the growth of their promising rookies will ultimately decide how far this team can go. If players like Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson and Adam Boqvist can take their game to the next level, the Blue Jackets will be set up to compete for a long time.