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A (very) early look at the Blue Jackets roster

Columbus has added Gustav Nyquist to a deep group of forwards

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

For as long as hockey has had lines, fans have loved to talk about line combinations.  

These kinds of things are probably a bit overrated. After all, head coach John Tortorella often says all his players should be able to play with anyone, and he's not afraid to mix up lines during games in even the best of times. 

At the same time, it is always fun this time of year to tinker and look ahead, so we'll do just that today with a look at what the Blue Jackets opening day roster could look like now that we're more than a week into the free agency period. 

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen has added veteran scorer Gustav Nyquist to the mix and might not be done tweaking the team roster heading into the 2019-20 season. Earlier this summer, we broke down the whole organizational depth chart, and now seems like a good time to look ahead and see just where things stand for the Blue Jackets at this point.  

The actual lineup isn't tremendously important, as this is more a look at where things stand depth-wise than a look at the exact lines that will take the ice. 

Forwards 

Gustav Nyquist-Pierre-Luc Dubois-Cam Atkinson 

Alexandre Texier-Alexander Wennberg-Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Nick Foligno-Boone Jenner-Josh Anderson 

Riley Nash-Brandon Dubinsky-Markus Hannikainen 

Others in the mix: Eric Robinson, Jakob Lilja, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Emil Bemstrom, Kevin Stenlund, Kole Sherwood, Liam Foudy, Sonny Milano 

Again, remember, the exact lines don't matter a ton, but for right now we kept the Foligno-Jenner-Anderson combination that paired so well together a year ago and just slotted new acquisition Nyquist in with Dubois and Atkinson in Artemi Panarin's vacated spot. 

It's not a tremendously different look than last year's Blue Jackets squad, with five 20-goal scorers on the squad in Atkinson (41), Dubois (27), Anderson (27), Bjorkstrand (23) and Nyquist (22). That means the top line -- again, in this exercise -- combined for 90 goals, not a bad number at all.  

While there appears to be some good scoring punch on the wings, perhaps the biggest question will come down the middle, where the Blue Jackets brass has stressed that Wennberg must improve upon last year's two-goal showing. His performance at the World Championships was encouraging, and the way the roster is set up right now, there's a good chance he'll be given the opportunity to regain that form that led him to a 59-point season in 2016-17. 

Jenner also took well to center, especially with his skating ability, a year ago and could return to center the big-bodied line with Foligno and Atkinson. No matter where he ends up, though, he should be a key part of things. 

On this list, Foligno, Nash and Texier can also play center, so there are options there depending on what the Blue Jackets see fit as the best lineup on any given night.  

The development of the team's youngsters will also play a key factor in the season. Texier seems to have the best chance to make a quick impact given he did just that at the end of last season, while Bemstrom and Fix-Wolansky are wild cards after standout seasons last year in Sweden and the Western Hockey League, respectively. All are highly talented players who could add scoring to the lineup when they get the chance.  

Then there's Robinson, Stenlund and Sherwood, each of whom were given cups of coffee a season ago with the Blue Jackets. All showed a nice combination of size, speed and skill and didn't look out of place at the NHL level, so their development and the team's need will determine how much time they see at the top level in 2019-20.  

As for Foudy, the 2018 first-round pick has the speed to be an NHL center right now but can't yet play in the AHL given his age, so he could be in for another year of seasoning at the OHL level or he could burst his way into the lineup when given the opportunity. Milano, meanwhile, again showed his skill last year during an injury-plagued season with Cleveland but remains a restricted free agent.  

And one must not forget Lilja, who played with Bemstrom a year ago and posted a 12-25-37 line in 52 games in Sweden. He could be the latest find for the Blue Jackets as a European free agent who can step in and play despite entering a bit under the radar.  

Defense 

Seth Jones-Zach Werenski 

Vladislav Gavrikov-Ryan Murray 

Markus Nutivaara-David Savard 

Others in the mix: Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, Adam Clendening, Andrew Peeke, Gabriel Carlsson 

As it stands, the Blue Jackets sit with nine defensemen they feel can contribute at a high level, and three of them on this list -- Kukan, Harrington and Clendening -- were depended on during last season's playoff run. 

We listed Gavrikov above each of those three for now just because of his sterling international resume, including an excellent campaign a year ago in the KHL as well as his steady and dependable work with the Russian national team. 

But the reality is any of these guys can play, as Nutivaara-Savard -- or Gavrikov-Savard, or Murray-Nutivaara, or Kukan-Harrington, or however you want to slice it -- is certainly better than your average NHL third pair.  

If the Blue Jackets hold on to all of these players -- after all, Kekalainen isn't afraid of making a big trade when the opportunity presents itself -- it feels like it will be a nightly scrap for playing time, but the good news depth is great to have in a sport where the next injury is seemingly always right around the corner. 

Jones-Werenski, we'd guess, will start the year together given the re-emergence of their chemistry at the end of last season and the pace with which they play, with any combination of the rest of the defenders slotting in to give Columbus perhaps the deepest defensive corps in the NHL.  

Peeke, meanwhile, should start the year with Cleveland as he begins his pro career, while Carlsson has seen time with the Blue Jackets in past seasons and could seemingly step in with little issue should the need arise.  

Goaltenders 

Joonas Korpisalo 

Elvis Merzlikins 

Veini Vehvilainen 

Kekalainen said July 1 that he is OK with going into the season without adding a veteran, perhaps a surprise to many but a sign of just how much confidence he has in his young goaltending pipeline going into the season.  

Is it a bit of a risk? Yes, in that there's no proven goaltender to lean on, as the Blue Jackets have had for the past few seasons in Sergei Bobrovsky. But it also could work, with reasons to think both Korpisalo and Merzlikins could be capable if not standout goaltenders. 

Korpisalo has been the CBJ backup for the past four seasons and has been at his best when he has confidence the net is his, such as in 2015-16 when he took over the No. 1 spot because of injuries. 

Meanwhile, Merzlikins could be the key to the season. The 25-year-old Latvian has been a standout in Switzerland for the past few seasons as well as with his national team, and many think he has the skills to be an excellent NHL goaltender. His transition to the league will be perhaps the biggest story to follow for the Blue Jackets in the upcoming season.  

And one must not forget Vehvilainen, who has been named the best goaltender in Finland the past two seasons and looks ready to begin the North American portion of his career in 2019. 

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