Sunday, June 26, 2022

BJSG: Can the Blue Jackets wait on the youth defense?

A compendium of notes, insights, rumours, and what-ifs-what-ifs were gathered during the entire week for the Blue Jackets.

Item No. 1: Defensive Change?

It is widely anticipated that Blue Jackets general manager Jermo Kecklenen will make a trade or two to relieve the glut of NHL forwards on the roster this summer, especially on the wing. There are young players who need a place in the lineup starting next season.

Defenses can also change, but for different reasons.

Only two blue-line spots are set in stone as the busy vibe of the off-season approaches. Zach Werenski is the group’s undisputed leader, a fixture to the left of the top pair. And Vladislav Gavrikov is a rock-solid defender, anchoring the second pair from the left.

Other NHL-level defensemen on the roster – Jake Bean, Adam Boquist, Nick Blankenburg and Andrew Peake – are also intriguing, but they are young and may not be up to standard in the NHL.

PK emerged last season as a heavy, shot-blocking, defensive defender, but the other three are some combination of the smaller and/or lighter.

Although the Blue Jackets are high on all three, there’s a good question here: Would a top NHL defensive corps include Bean (6-foot-1, 186 pounds), Boquist (5-11, 179) and Blankenburg (5-9)? can. , 175), or is it too small?

As one NHL GM noted this week: “Look at both teams playing in the Stanley Cup Finals and if you’re going deep[in the playoffs]you see the importance of having some significant size and muscle back. “

Boquist, 21, scored 11 goals in just 52 appearances this season. That skilled, right-shot defenseman yearns for NHL clubs. But the jacket has strictly instructed him to start adding muscle this summer, aiming (in two or three years) to weigh in at 195 pounds.

The 24-year-old Bean is more of a puck-mover than an offensive contributor. He doesn’t have the high-end shot of Boquist, but he is more efficient defensively. Here again, though, the Blue Jackets want more commitment to an off-season schedule so Bean can win more battles.

And then there’s Blankenburg, 24, who made his way up the lineup and up to the top pair at the end of this season after signing with the Blue Jackets from Michigan.

The Jackets believe that Blankenburg has the same characteristics as established NHL defensemen Tori Krug (St. Louis) and Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota), who play with a spirit and attitude that belies their low frame. We do. Columbus is less concerned about his ability to compete than Bean or Boquist.

A reasonable argument can be made that the Blue Jackets, now a year deep into Kecklenen’s “restart”, should wait to see how their young defensemen develop before deciding whether they have Right mix or not. Jakob Christiansen, Gabriel Carlsen and Gavin Bayreuther could also make their way into the lineup.

Last summer Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (No. 25) will spend a season or two in Corson Seulmenes, Wisconsin. Other defensemen in the pipeline are at least far off the horizon: Stanislav Swozil, Samuel Nazko, Guillaume Richard, Nikolai Makarov and Tim Burney have optimistic prospects.

But waiting for possibilities is more “rebuild” than “restart”, and Kekelenen makes a clear distinction between the two.

It’s something to watch over the next four to six weeks when the NHL’s off-season moves come to an end. Trades made by Keklanen this summer can be used to free up space between forwards. Free agency can provide some size, experience and muscle.

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Either way, don’t be surprised if the blue line gets a makeover this summer, right ahead.

Item No. 2: Dr. Kecklenen

Keklain has been the GM of the Blue Jackets since 2013, but he’s adding a new title this summer.

The University of Tampere, in Tampere, Finland, informed Keklainen earlier this summer that he had been selected to receive an honorary doctorate. Kekalainen earned a master’s degree in business marketing from the school in 2000.

“He sent me a formal invitation and wanted to know if I would accept it,” Kecklen said. “I told him that I would definitely accept it and thank you very much.”

Asked if he should from now on “Dr. Kecklenen,” he joked: “It’s a necessity now, yes. You can just call me ‘Doctor.'”

Kekalainen will be one of 14 honorary doctorates awarded by the university during the weekend of August 12-14. It is an eclectic group, headed by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, actress Elina Nihtila and writer Kimmo Pietilainen.


• There is no cause for concern at this time, but it doesn’t look like a deal is close between the Blue Jackets and pending banned free-agent winger Patrick Laine.

“It’s just one of those things,” Keklain said. “It’s going to take some time, most likely.”

We’re told a number of terms have been discussed, but the bigger challenge will be keeping Lane on a reasonable pay-cap hit.

“They have their own ideas, and we have ours,” Keklainen said. “Our main idea is that we want to fit everything together so that we can have a championship team. We believe in fair contracts, but people have to understand that they want a better team around them as well. A little bit right here There needs to be a compromise.”

• The Blue Jackets signed Liam Foudy to a two-year contract last week, and the most interesting aspect of the deal is the one-sided contract for the second year, 2023-24. Faudi was in the first round (number 18) in 2018, but has yet to establish himself as an NHL player. In 27 games over the past three seasons, he has scored a total of zero goals, five assists and five points.

Keklainen said Faudi stood out last season with AHL Cleveland (7-12-19 in 29 games) before suffering a shoulder injury.

“He was good; he was really good,” said Kecklen. People came and played. He’s doing well, there’s no question about it. He plays with great confidence at the American League level. I think he has a great future ahead of him. That’s why we contracted him. Believe he is going to be a full time NHLer here in short order.

• There could be major changes in the forward and defense, but the Blue Jackets are largely set on the goaltender. Elvis Merzlikins’ five-year, $27 million contract starts next season, and Junas Korpisalo and Daniil Tarasov signed unilateral deals this month.

There was some confusion about why Tarasov, who is considered the organization’s No. 3 and starter for AHL Cleveland, would receive a unilateral deal. Firstly, his salary in the first year of the deal (2022–23) is $750,000, the NHL minimum. Second, as long as he is a minor, his salary will not count towards the Blue Jackets pay limit. And third, it’s fair to suggest that Tarasov could have earned more in the second and third years of the deal—he’s set to attract $1.05 million and $1.35 million, respectively—if he didn’t want the immediate payment. By the third year, that could be quite a bargain.

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• The Blue Jackets showed a facelift late in the 2020-21 season by wearing blue pants with their white (street) sweater during a May 1 game in Carolina. It was a departure from the typical red pants with white top, and was well received by fans, players and the front office. (Who knew so many people were so passionate about the costume?) The jacket appealed to the league to let them use that combo more regularly and was told that a change request was made for the 2021–22 season. It’s too late to do. But 2022-23 was in the game. stay tuned.

• The NHL got a little more fun this week when John Tortorella was hired to bring life back to the Philadelphia Flyers after a year’s hiatus from coaching. Tortorella, who turns 64 later this month, will now coach three of the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division, including the Jackets and the New York Rangers. The Flyers need a lot of work, but they will quickly become more competitive due to the Tortorella’s defensive responsibility and the demands of competitive engagement. Word in Philly is that former Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, who played six seasons under Tortorella in Columbus, gave the Philadelphia brass a scathing review of the coach.

• The Blue Jackets dressing room is undergoing Phase 2 of a major remodel, with the club setting up a temporary room at Chiller North this summer for players living around Columbus. That’s why Chiller will also be the site of this year’s development camp just after the North Draft. Last summer the dressing room got a facelift. The players’ lounge and gym are now being expanded with a second floor, utilizing the space between the dressing room ceiling and the lower part of the stand. Another change is coming at the entrance to the dressing room at the Nationwide Arena. For the organization’s first 22 years, it’s been a bit off the tunnel that leads to the Blue Jacket benches and snow surface. When the project is finished, the door along with the tunnel will be completely ready, Keklainen said.

• Free-agent winger Andrei Kuzmenko has drawn interest from several clubs this summer, and he may be close to a deal. According to reports, he has recently been to Edmonton, Vancouver, Vegas and possibly others. The Blue Jackets will be familiar with Kuzmenko’s game, as he played alongside potential Kirill Marchenko in the KHL with SKA St Petersburg. The Blue Jackets are not on Kuzmenko’s radar, given the depth of the wingers in his outfit.

• Looking for summer reading? “Inexact Science,” by Evan and Bruce Dobigin, explores the six most compelling draft years in NHL history: 1971, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1991 and 2005. It’s full of in-depth dips and funny anecdotes on the lessons learned through Vital. Diamonds in the judgment, big busted and rough. This is what makes every draft so memorable, so full of drama.

(Photo by Adam Boquist: David Kirouk / USA TODAY)

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