Heading into last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets appeared ready to establish themselves as a Stanley Cup Playoff team following a strong finish to 2014-15. But the bottom fell out with a 0-8-0 start that cost coach Todd Richards his job and led to a nightmare season when they went 34-40-8.
The Blue Jackets took care of some important business, re-signing defenseman Seth Jones to a six-year contract June 29 and surprising many by selecting forward Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, but have had a mostly quiet offseason in terms of adding players through trades and free agency. With Lake Erie of the American Hockey League winning the Calder Cup, it looks like general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and coach John Tortorella intend to give their young players an opportunity to fill some of their holes and grow at the NHL level this season.
Here is what the Blue Jackets look like today:
KEY ARRIVALS: Scott Harrington, D: The 23-year-old stay-at-home defenseman was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kerby Rychel on June 25. A second-round draft pick (No. 54) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011 who went to Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade, Harrington played 15 games with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16 and had one assist. … Justin Scott, C: Scott, 20, signed with the Blue Jackets as an undrafted free agent after he had 28 goals and 37 assists in 67 games last season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. … Jacob Graves, D: The 21-year-old Barrie, Ontario, native (6-foot-2, 194 pounds) signed as an undrafted free agent after helping London (OHL) win the Memorial Cup. … Brad Shaw, assistant: After 10 years with the St. Louis Blues, the 52-year-old joined Tortorella's staff to coach the defensemen and run the penalty kill. … Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW: Most expected Kekalainen to take fellow Finn Jesse Puljujarvi with the third pick at the draft, but he went with Dubois instead. The 6-2, 201-pound forward had 42 goals, 57 assists and 112 penalty minutes in 62 regular-season games with Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and had seven goals and five assists in 12 playoff games.
KEY DEPARTURES: Fedor Tyutin, D: After re-signing Jones, the Blue Jackets bought out the final two seasons on Tyutin's contract to create some salary cap space. Buying out Tyutin, who later signed a one-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche, saved the Blue Jackets $3.3 million in cap room this season, according to The Columbus Dispatch. … Jared Boll, RW: Boll, 30, had the final season on his contract bought out after his role diminished under Tortorella. He signed a two-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks. … Michael Chaput, C: Chaput, 24, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Vancouver Canucks after the Blue Jackets opted not to make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. … Kerby Rychel, LW: Seeking to play more regularly in the NHL, Rychel, the Blue Jackets' first-round draft pick (No. 19) in 2013 requested a trade, and Kekalainen granted his wish.
ON THE CUSP: Zach Werenski, D: The Blue Jackets might have something special in Werenski, a 6-2, 209-pound defenseman who was selected eighth in the 2015 draft. After completing his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, Werenski turned pro and helped Lake Erie win the AHL title with five goals and nine assists in 17 playoff games. … Oliver Bjorkstrand, F: A third-round pick (No. 89) in 2013, Bjorkstrand, 21, had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 12 games for Columbus last season and had 16 points in 17 playoff games during Lake Erie's championship run. … Josh Anderson, F: Anderson was another key component for Lake Erie, where he had seven goals and five assists in 15 playoff games. The 22-year-old had a goal and three assists in 12 games for the Blue Jackets. … Lukas Sedlak, F: The 23-year-old has not made his NHL debut, but Sedlak, a sixth-round draft pick (No. 158) in 2011, had 16 points in 17 playoff games for Lake Erie. … Pierre-Luc Dubois, F: The 18-year-old could challenge for an NHL job in training camp.
WHAT THEY STILL NEED: The Blue Jackets say they aren't rebuilding and have some good core pieces in place, but their relative inactivity this offseason suggests they are OK with dealing with some growing pains while seeing what their young players can do. If Werenski, who turns 19 on July 19, makes the NHL roster, the Blue Jackets will open the season with three defensemen age 23 or younger; Ryan Murray turns 23 on Sept. 27, and Jones will be 22 on Oct. 3. It will be interesting to see if Kekalainen looks to move some veterans for more prospects or draft picks as the season progresses.
PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: Boone Jenner: Jenner, 23, had NHL career highs of 30 goals, 19 assists and 49 points last season for the Blue Jackets, and his coverage of penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal made him an invaluable asset to fantasy owners who grabbed him off the waiver wire. He reached 200 hits for the second time in three seasons in the League. He finished 92nd in Yahoo's performance-based rankings last season after going undrafted on average, and likely will go unnoticed again until later rounds. He's a safe bet the later you can land him because he continues to improve no matter his place in the Blue Jackets lineup.
Brandon Saad - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Brandon Dubinsky - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Scott Hartnell - Alexander Wennberg - Josh Anderson
Matt Calvert - William Karlsson - Gregory Campbell
Ryan Murray - Seth Jones
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Zach Werenski - Dalton Prout