Monahan feature

By drafting Adam Fantilli and Cayden Lindstrom in the first round of the NHL draft the past two years, the Blue Jackets think they’ve gone a long way toward solidifying the center position for years to come.

Today, they made it even better in the near term, too.

The Blue Jackets signed 11-year veteran Sean Monahan to a five-year, $27.5 million contract on the opening day of free agency Monday, bringing in someone who can both hold down the position right now while mentoring the next generation of CBJ pivots.

READ MORE: Monahan signs with CBJ | Instant analysis

“We’ve talked since I’ve been here about adding leadership to our group, and along with leadership adding a potential top forward, and I think we accomplished both of that in being able to sign Sean,” general manager Don Waddell said. “He’s a first-line centerman, a great history, and he also has worn letters in different places he’s been.

“I think what we set out to do today, we accomplished.”

From Monahan’s perspective, the fit simply made too much sense to pass up. The 29-year-old is reunited with good friend Johnny Gaudreau, his former longtime linemate in Calgary; he joins an up-and-coming squad with one of the best prospect pools in the league; and he gets a chance to move his family – including a newborn child – closer to his home in Brampton, Ontario.

“I think they have a really young group of some skilled players and obviously some great veterans, Johnny being one of them,” Monahan said via Zoom. “They have a fantastic captain in Boone (Jenner), who I know. There’s Erik Gudbranson, who I played with (in Calgary).

“All I’ve heard is great things from past and current players that live there. The family thing was huge for me. It’s drivable for my family to get there. It’s in the east; it’s in the same time zone. There’s so many positives about the place, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about raising your family in the city of Columbus.”

Monahan (6-2, 202) brings some solid credentials to the table, including career totals of 244 goals, 294 assists and 538 points in 764 NHL games (26-32-58 per 82 games). He began his career in Calgary with seven straight 20-goal seasons, then battled injuries, but he rebounded with a 26-33-59 line a year ago in games split between Montreal and Winnipeg. Monahan is third in career goals and fourth in points among players from the 2013 draft, not to mention one of the top-30 power-play goal scorers since he joined the league.

Add it all up and Waddell sees a player that can potentially reunite with Gaudreau on the Jackets’ top line, provide offense, win faceoffs (54.2 percent the past three seasons), and play big special teams minutes as well. It also gives the team some lineup depth, including the ability to potentially return Jenner to the wing, where he's excelled in previous seasons.

“It gives us a lot of flexibility,” Waddell said. “I think Sean probably jumps into that No. 1 spot, and Adam falls right behind him. And then whether we keep Boone in the middle or (Cole Sillinger), those are great options for us as we move forward.

“Down the middle is the strength of your hockey team. We want to be really good, which we think we are set up to have success with that middle. And then you add (Sean Kuraly) in there. I think down the middle, we’re going to be very strong.”

The idea is to keep getting stronger, too, as the years go by. Fantilli (third overall in 2023 draft) and Lindstrom (fourth overall in 2024) give the team two players to build around for the future, while Sillinger has proved to be a dependable option there as well since being taken 12th overall in 2021.

Monahan, a captain of his junior team in Ottawa who spent seven seasons wearing an “A” in Calgary, said he’s looking forward to helping show the way for those youngsters when he arrives in Columbus.

“I think it’s huge,” Monahan said. “Looking back when I was a young player, you really lean on veterans. Especially me as a center, I leaned on older guys on the team in Calgary. You take notes, you watch the way they do things and try to add that to your game. It’s important to have good leadership in the dressing room. It creates a good culture, and I think I’m a guy that can serve that purpose.”

Dependability has also been something Monahan hangs his hat on, playing at least 70 games for each of his first seven seasons in the NHL and topping 80 thrice. He then battled hip and groin injuries but returned to full strength this past season, even leading the league with 83 games played between the Canadiens and Jets.

“It was great,” said Monahan, who says he’s now in the best shape of his life. “I went through a bit of a grind there for two, two and a half years, which was partially on me where I was trying to play through injuries and just push through it and do that because I felt like the need to play was so important.

“But I’m fully recovered now. This season was huge. My confidence is back. I feel back to myself. I know how good of a player I can be. I know I can be a real important piece to help the Blue Jackets turn this around.”

Waddell’s to-do list remains long, as he hopes to hire a head coach in the near future and continue to scour the market for defensemen, all while inking the remaining restricted free agents on the squad.

But for his first big splash in free agency, the recently hired GM was happy to bring in someone who had other offers but sees Columbus as a destination.

“He wants to set up his home here,” Waddell said. “That’s always encouraging to hear. I’ve said since I’ve been here, this is a great place to live. You see all the ex-players that have come back here, which shows it. You have a lot of players that are putting stakes up here. I think it’s a combination (of factors that led him here), but most importantly, he wanted to be in Columbus.”

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