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Organizational depth strong for Blue Jackets heading into NHL draft

Blue Jackets have many pieces, but roster will be under microscope in offseason

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

With the draft and the start of NHL free agency coming up in the next month, it's fair to say the roster will look different for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the coming weeks.

But where does the team feel good about its depth, and where must it make changes?

To help answer those questions, it seemed like a good time to lay out the team's organizational depth chart by position. The look will include all players drafted or signed by the CBJ to give a picture of what the NHL depth looks like as well as the current future at each spot. The level listed is where the player spent the majority of the 2018-19 season.


Youngster Pierre-Luc Dubois leads the charge at the pivot

Pierre-Luc Dubois NHL
Boone Jenner NHL
Alexander Wennberg NHL
Brandon Dubinsky NHL
Riley Nash NHL
Zac Dalpe AHL
Liam Foudy OHL
Ryan MacInnis (RFA) AHL
Justin Scott (RFA) AHL
Sam Vigneault (RFA) AHL
Matt Duchene (UFA) NHL
Kale Howarth (unsigned) NCAA
Player 2019

Analysis: The good news is the Blue Jackets aren't lacking for someone to play the pivot. 

The bad news is one of the NHL's best might be walking out the door. 

The end-of-season acquisition of Matt Duchene gave Columbus an excellent 1-2 punch at the center position with the veteran pairing with 20-year-old Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois spent most of the year as the team's No. 1 center between Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson and acquitted himself well, totaling 61 points as a second-year player and providing a physical presence in the middle. 

The addition of Duchene was an excellent complement down the stretch. Duchene is a career 60-point-per-season player who came up big in the playoffs and admittedly loved his time in Columbus, but he'll be one of the most coveted players on the market in free agency and is no guarantee to return.

If he chooses to sign elsewhere, the center spot is one the Blue Jackets could prioritize either on the trade market or in free agency. Boone Jenner moved there from wing during the season and by all accounts had a solid transition, using the move to push his skating and mobility to a new level, but the Jackets could still use a big-ticket player down the middle to help work with Dubois. 

Alexander Wennberg is coming off a season in which he was good defenisely and excellent killing penalties, but with just two goals, the need for more offense is clear. Brandon Dubinsky and Riley Nash can also play in the middle, but both are coming off seasons in which they moved to the wing, though the two combined to be a big fourth-line presence come the postseason. Nick Foligno also can play center in a pinch should the team need it. 

In other words, there are options, and things look really good at this position if Duchene puts pen to paper.  

In the pipeline, the top prospect is Foudy, who used his tremendous wheels and skill to have a solid season with London of the OHL as he scored 36 goals and was named the league's best shorthanded player with five goals, one off the league lead. He'll likely spent next year with AHL Cleveland, while Zac Dalpe is coming off a career year with the Monsters and can fit into the NHL lineup easily in a pinch.  


Captain Foligno leads way at position group

Nick Foligno NHL
Alexandre Texier Finland/NHL
Kevin Stenlund AHL
Emil Bemstrom Sweden
Kole Sherwood AHL
Calvin Thurkauf AHL
Nathan Gerbe AHL
Sonny Milano (RFA) AHL
Eric Robinson (RFA) NHL/AHL
Artemi Panarin (UFA) NHL
Ryan Dzingel (UFA) NHL
Marcus Karlberg (unsigned) Sweden
Player 2019

Depth is in place with Atkinson, Anderson and Bjorkstrand

Cam Atkinson NHL
Josh Anderson NHL
Oliver Bjorkstrand NHL
Paul Bittner AHL
Maxime Fortier AHL
Trey Fix-Wolansky WHL
Markus Hannikainen (RFA) NHL
Mark Letestu (UFA) AHL
Carson Meyer (unsigned) NCAA
Kirill Marchenko (unsigned) Russia
Player 2019

Analysis: On the wings, Columbus has a lot of intriguing options, even with Artemi Panarin entering unrestricted free agency. 

That means the team could lose its leading scorer from two years running and perhaps its most creative player, but the cupboard will not be bare. In fact, the team is strong down the right side with Cam Atkinson (41 goals), Josh Anderson (27) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (23) all coming off career-high outputs this year. 

The latter two in particular could become 30-goal scorers sooner rather than later, so there's definitely some firepower in the mix despite whatever might happen with Panarin.  

On the veteran side, Foligno is likely to be Nick Foligno for at least another season -- tough, physical, and with enough touch to make himself a dangerous scorer -- while the question remains what will happen with Ryan Dzingel 

The Ohio State product was acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline. His ability to score goals at the NHL level is established -- he has a combined 49 goals and 97 points the past two seasons -- but he never did quite find a home in the Blue Jackets lineup after coming over from the Sens. He finished with a 4-8-12 line in 21 games with Columbus and added a playoff goal, but it could come down to budget and fit as to whether he is a Blue Jacket next season. 

When it comes to youth, the team is bullish on Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom, as the former stepped into the playoffs and wasn't overwhelmed by the moment and the latter was in rarified air after leading Sweden's SHL in goals as a 19-year-old. 

Much of the upcoming campaign could hinge on whether those two are ready for full-time roles or slot in as AHL players -- they'll each be just 20 years old -- and if the Blue Jackets opt to make a move here in free agency or the trade market. The center market is a bit thin at the high end but the winger market has options. 

There are also some big bodies in the pipeline in Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund, Kole Sherwood, Paul Bittner and Calvin Thurkauf. Robinson, Stenlund and Sherwood all got at least a cup of coffee at the NHL level and showed well, as each has size, speed and has shown the ability to score at the minor league level. All could be looked at for fourth-line roles going forward because of those abilities.  

What becomes of Sonny Milano is an interesting question, as well, as the team's 2014 first-round pick has skill in bunches but hasn't been able to stick at the NHL level. He is coming off a solid playoff performance for Cleveland but is a restricted free agent.  


The Blue Jackets have a plethora of options at the spot

Markus Nutivaara NHL
Vladislav Gavrikov KHL/NHL
Dean Kukan NHL
Gabriel Carlsson AHL
Dillon Simpson AHL
Michael Prapavessis AHL
Zach Werenski (RFA) NHL
Ryan Murray (RFA) NHL
Scott Harrington (RFA) NHL
Doyle Somerby (RFA) AHL
Tommy Cross (UFA) AHL
Tim Berni (unsigned) Switzerland
Player 2019

Seth Jones leads the way but depth is a tad short

Seth Jones NHL
David Savard NHL
Ryan Collins AHL
Andrew Peeke NCAA
Adam Clendening (RFA) NHL
Adam McQuaid (UFA) NHL
Robbie Stucker (unsigned) NCAA
Player 2019

Analysis: Defensively, the playoffs showed just how much depth the Blue Jackets have, and the answer might be more than they thought. 

Even with Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and Adam McQuaid injured - three of the team's top six defensemen, come playoff time, in a perfect world -- the Blue Jackets got solid performances out of Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, Adam Clendening and Vladislav Gavrikov in the postseason.  

Consider those four, respectively, were the team's No. 6 and 7 defensemen, spent most of the year in Cleveland, and didn't join the team until after the Tampa Bay series, that was a pretty good testament to the depth Columbus has. 

In fact, the biggest question seemingly facing the defense this offseason is on the contract front. Zach Werenski's rookie contract is up and he's a restricted free agent, while Ryan Murray is coming off perhaps his best season as a Blue Jacket but one that ended with him on the shelf because of injury.  

Harrington and Clendening are also RFAs while McQuaid is an unrestricted free agent, so there are contracts that need to be signed as the Blue Jackets figure out how to go forward there. 

When it comes to those who are signed, the Blue Jackets have a pretty solid crew ready to go with Nutivaara, Gavrikov, Kukan, Seth Jones and David Savard already under contract. So no matter what happens, the blue line should continue to be a strength of the team and its depth should be pretty solid, and in fact you could see the team potentially including defensemen in any upcoming trade talks at the draft and as free agency nears. 


The pipeline is strong but the Jackets could lose their veteran

Elvis Merzlikins Switzerland
Matiss Kivlenieks AHL
Veini Vehvilainen Finland
Daniil Tarasov Russia
Joonas Korpisalo (RFA) NHL
Sergei Bobrovsky (UFA) NHL
Keith Kinkaid (UFA) NHL
Jean-Francois Berube (UFA) AHL
Peter Thome (unsigned) NCAA
Player 2019

Analysis: If there's one place the Blue Jackets have major uncertainty going into the offseason, it's in net, where the team doesn't have a single player under contract at the moment who has played an NHL game. 

There is one player under a one-way deal, though, in Elvis Merzlikins, the 2014 draft pick who starred in Europe and now appears ready to get his chance at the NHL level. An experienced netminder on the international stage, Merzlikins could very well finally get his shot at the NHL after signing a deal in May. 

The Blue Jackets also appear ready to re-sign restricted free agent Joonas Korpisalo, who has been with the squad the past four seasons. He's had his ups and downs but getting a true judge of Korpisalo's ability has been tough as he's largely been a backup to Sergei Bobrovsky during his Blue Jackets career. 

Whether the team will pick up a veteran or roll with those two goaltenders remains to be seen, and is a topic up for debate, but one thing that seems certain is the pipeline is in good hands. Daniil Tarasov impressed in Russia's second tier -- he was the league's rookie of the year -- and at the World Juniors as a 19-year-old, while Veini Vehvilainen posted his second straight season with a GAA under 2.00 in Finland, so the future appears bright.  

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