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CBJ Today: Building for next year

The Blue Jackets are already making moves with an eye on 2021-22

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Each weekday this season, will post CBJ Today, a look at news, notes, analysis and fun stuff from around the Blue Jackets world. It's everything you need to know if you're a fan going into the day. 

The Daily Buzz 

For the first time all season, the Jackets will play on a Wednesday, as Game No. 54 will be tonight against Nashville at Nationwide Arena. Columbus will look to build on a strong third period in Monday's game, featuring Emil Bemstrom's natural hat trick, before finishing things up Friday and Saturday against Detroit. It's also a 20th anniversary night spotlighting Rick Nash, and you can see the Hockey at Home episode he did with Bob McElligott on YouTube

Competition Heats Up 

It's never too early to look forward to next season, and something is starting to appear clear about general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's offseason plans. 

Kekalainen wants competition, and he and the CBJ staff are leaving no stones unturned when it comes to finding it.  

In recent months, the Blue Jackets have traded for high-scoring Swiss forward Gregory Hofmann and then signed one of the top scorers in the KHL, Justin Danforth, on Monday. Youngsters Carson Meyer and Tyler Angle also have been inked after impressing in the AHL. First-round pick Yegor Chinakhov signed a three-year deal that will bring him to North America at age 20. And college free agent Josh Dunne signed an entry-level deal before making his NHL debut in recent weeks. 

Those players are all at different stages of their development, of course. Meyer, Angle and Dunne are young players looking to make their way at the pro level (all are pro rookies this year), and given their relative youth and their development curves, they don't have to be ready next season. Chinakhov is also a prospect but a first-round pick, and it's fair to say he probably didn't come over from Russia wishing to spend a lot of time at the AHL level. 

Danforth and Hofmann, meanwhile, are much older, as both are 28 as we sit here and will turn 29 during next season. Hofmann is yet to sign a deal since being acquired in a trade with Carolina, but indications are he wants to give the NHL a go after being one of the Swiss league's top scorers in recent years. This year, he had 41 points in 36 regular-season games, and he's got a 94-84-178 line in 181 games over the past four seasons in the NLA.  

Danforth is Canadian but has spent the past three years in Europe. After playing four years with Sacred Heart University, a D-I school in Connecticut, the Ontario native saw his career take a big leap forward when he had 59 points in 44 games with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones in 2017-18. Danforth then went to Finland, where he had 112 points in 115 games over two seasons, including leading the league in scoring in 2019-20, before a 23-32-55 line with Vityaz of the KHL this year on the way to finishing sixth in the league in scoring.  

Will either of those veteran plays have what it takes to excel at the NHL level? Time will tell, but CBJ scouts think there's some talent in the tank with each. They could be good value pickups, something that worked in past years with such names as Sam Gagner and Anthony Duclair. Columbus tried that again this year with Mikhail Grigorenko, and while there have been ups and downs, he's chipped in a respectable 11 points in 29 games. 

This also means it will be an interesting offseason for the Jackets when it comes to such current depth players as Grigorenko, Zac Dalpe, Stefan Matteau and Ryan MacInnis. While their ages range from 25 (MacInnis) to 31 (Dalpe), all are unrestricted free agents this upcoming season. With the recent signings, how many of those guys will end up back? And what will happen with 24-year-old RFAs like Kevin Stenlund and Kole Sherwood, who just haven't been able to carve out a consistent role at the NHL level? 

And this is just with the forward group -- there are also decisions to be made on UFA defensemen Michael Del Zotto, Mikko Lehtonen and Gavin Bayreuther. 

The shaping of the roster for next year is starting right now, something we wrote a bit about last week in a piece detailing the players looking to catch eyes down the stretch for the CBJ. There's a lot more to do this offseason, but the work is already under way. 

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