To put it mildly, when it comes to injuries, this was not the season the Blue Jackets had hoped for.
Columbus led the NHL in man-games lost to injuries when the campaign hit the coronavirus pause, and the continuous stream of players to injured reserve has been one of the constant themes of the season.
Yet as head coach John Tortorella has pointed out a number of times this season, there has been a silver lining to that cloud. As the season has gone on, the Blue Jackets have had to turn to players who might not have been expected to play key roles but have used the opportunity provided to show their stuff.
Many of those players now look like they could be important pieces for the Blue Jackets going forward. This week we'll profile those players and compile their highlights in our Building Blocks series.
These seven players are all in their first full seasons with the Blue Jackets and through their play have showed they could key parts of the franchise's future going forward.
Andrew Peeke, Defenseman, No. 2
Stats: 22 GP, 1-2-3, +1, 0.9 PS
Coming into the season: It's fair to say the Blue Jackets liked the potential of Peeke, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft who spent the previous three seasons at Notre Dame. His credentials with the Fighting Irish were strong, as Peeke saw his point totals increase consistently in his ND career and was named team captain despite being just a 20-year-old junior in 2018-19. Peeke turned pro after that campaign and entered the season as a rookie looking to show he belonged at the highest level.
Why he showed he's a building block: Tortorella has said multiple times this year that the organization didn't expect Peeke to be a huge piece of the puzzle this year given his youth and the team's defensive depth, but injuries throughout the season to such players as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and Dean Kukan opened up opportunities that might not have been planned at the start of the year.
On top of that, Peeke showed from the very beginning he was a polished product despite his rookie status, as he was the last cut from the team out of training camp despite the fact the Blue Jackets had eight NHL-level defensemen already on the roster.
Peeke started his season in Cleveland and performed well before joining the Blue Jackets in December thanks to injuries to Werenski and Nutivaara. The rookie played well but quickly had his own injury issue, suffering a broken finger in a game at Detroit in December, before returning -- first to Cleveland and then eventually to Columbus, where he rejoined the regular lineup after Jones' injury in early February.
Coming through juniors and college hockey, Peeke's strength was thought to be the defensive side of his game, and he showed signs of that being the case early in his NHL career. The team's expected goals allowed, scoring chances against and high-danger chances against per 60 are impressive with Peeke on the ice, as he is tops among team defensemen in all three stats.
Peeke also showed his offensive game could play at the pro level as well. He boosted his point totals to three goals and 24 points in his final season at Notre Dame, and he has showcased more comfort going forward and playing with the puck on his stick as he gained his footing at the NHL level. He posted five goals and 16 points in 29 games with Cleveland, showing he could have even more offensive upside.
"He just plays," Tortorella said in March. "He makes some mistakes, but he doesn't let it affect him his next shift. I like his aggressiveness, his physical play under the hash. There are mistakes -- there are some plays where I think sometimes we can get out cleaner -- but this is a young man that we did not think was going to be thrust into this position and get the minutes that he's playing in the situation we're in in the season. I think he's handled himself really well."
What to expect going forward: Peeke is learning on the job but has looked solid from the very beginning of his NHL career. He had some tough moments as time went on during the stretch run -- two goals in a game at Philadelphia in February went into the net off his skates -- but showed poise throughout and was playing his best hockey when the season went into its pause. He's also a right-hand shot, a useful thing to have in a young defenseman. He turned 22 in March and has a lot of hockey left in him, and Peeke looks like someone the team can build around as a solid second- or third-pair defenseman as he grows at the NHL level.