When the Columbus Blue Jackets had three first-round picks at the 2013 NHL Draft, it looked like those players would be counted on to help the franchise finally become a consistent Stanley Cup Playoff participant.
The franchise might already be that by the time those guys arrive. Columbus reached the postseason in 2013-14 and won its first two games in franchise history. With president John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in charge, the Blue Jackets have quickly morphed from potential rebuilding situation to potential contender.
There is star-level talent at every position. There are young players with the potential to improve already on the NHL roster. There are exciting young prospects in the pipeline.
It was actually a pretty quiet summer in central Ohio, in part because Kekalainen didn't need a busy one. The biggest item of business remains locking up restricted free agent Ryan Johansen, who can be the first "franchise center" the organization has ever had.
Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Blue Jackets:
Johansen was the most improved player in the NHL last season, and is the prototypical pivot to build the roster around. Kekalainen's big transaction was trading a guy he was going to buy out, R.J. Umberger, for a better player making a similar amount of money in Hartnell.
The second line spent a lot of time together last season, and Jenner seemed like a good fit next to Anisimov. Jenner and Atkinson could help this group take a big step forward.
Hjalmarsson will be an interesting player to watch during training camp; he had a monster season in the Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14. Any of those aforementioned 2013 first-round picks, Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano, could also make a preseason push for a roster spot.
Hartnell in place of Umberger could help the Blue Jackets in the puck possession department, an area where they were one of the most improved teams in the League in the second half of last season.
Murray's first NHL season was very promising, and he could lead the defense corps for years to come. He and Wisniewski fit well together.
Johnson has long been the scourge of the advanced statistics community. Some of his Corsi-for percentage splits (when a player is on the ice with him and without him at even strength) weren't as bad last season as they have been in previous seasons, but for example, Johansen's CF% with Johnson was 45.2 percent and without him it was 54.0. Some of that is a heavy dose of defensive zone starts, but not all of it.
Nikita Nikitin is gone, and either Erixon or Prout looks like the best bet to see regular work. Prout and Savard are right-handed shots, which could play a minor role. Savard could be ready for top-four minutes, in which case Tyutin could slide down and anchor the third pairing.
Bobrovsky did not win another Vezina Trophy, but he did have a strong season and settled in as one of the elite goalies in the League. If Johansen's contract was the focus of this summer, it is a good bet that Bobrovsky's will be next summer when he is a restricted free agent.
Bobrovsky played in 58 games last season, which appears to be about the workload NHL teams are looking for if they have a competent backup. McElhinney, with a .909 save percentage, was just that.
*Restricted free agent
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: CBJ
Undervalued: Brandon Dubinsky -- Last season the center had 50 points and 98 penalty minutes in 76 games. Only Wayne Simmonds, David Backes and Scott Hartnell had more points among players with at least 95 penalty minutes. Among the group of Backes, Simmonds, Hartnell and Milan Lucic, only Backes and Lucic have averaged more than Dubinsky's 0.57 points per game during their career. He's in the elite class for points and penalty-minute production, so draft accordingly.
Overvalued: James Wisniewski -- The defenseman's 51 points last season tied a career high, his 166 shots on goal were a career high, and his 61 penalty minutes and 28 power-play points were the second-most of his nine-year career. During that time he's appeared in more than 70 games twice. There's value here, but be careful.
Sleeper: Cam Atkinson -- If Atkinson can stick as a top-six forward all season in Columbus, a 30-goal season is within reach. He had 21 goals and 40 points in 79 games averaging 15:47 of ice time. With 16 goals and 32 points in Columbus' 41 wins last season, Atkinson has proven to be a vital player to the Blue Jackets and will be relied on for consistent scoring.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
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