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31 in 31

Three questions facing Columbus Blue Jackets

Bobrovsky rebounding from playoff performance, Werenski avoiding 'sophomore slump' among concerns

by Craig Merz / Correspondent is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The pieces are in place for the Columbus Blue Jackets for another run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they won 50 games and finished fourth in the NHL standings with 108 points last season.

However, there are questions because they have never qualified for the postseason in consecutive years.


1. Can Sergei Bobrovsky bounce back from a poor postseason performance?

Bobrovsky won 41 games and led the NHL in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.931) to win his second Vezina Trophy. But after a poor playoffs when he had a 3.88 GAA and .882 save percentage in a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round, there is some question about how Bobrovsky will respond.

"Bob is Bob," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "He'll keep working as hard as he does and keep improving."


[COLUMBUS 31 IN 31: Season preview | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown |Behind the numbers]


2. Can Zach Werenski avoid 'sophomore slump?'

More will be expected from Werenski, who at age 19, set Blue Jackets rookie records for points (47) and assists (36), and had the sixth-most points by a teenage defenseman in NHL history, playing with Seth Jones, 22, on the No. 1 pair.

Werenski was poised, not afraid to make mistakes but smart enough to correct them, and a force at each end of the ice.

"Sophomore slumps come with the higher expectations and not being able to deal with the expectations," Kekalainen said. "I'm not worried about Zach. He's really focused and extremely hardworking and dedicated.

"It's natural for him and everybody else to put higher expectations on him the second year, but Zach is so good, his biggest critic will be himself and he'll handle it."

Video: 31 in 31: Columbus Blue Jackets 2017-18 preview


3. Who will play with Artemi Panarin?

Acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23 along with forward Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft for forward Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Panarin had the luxury of playing with Patrick Kane, one of the best wings in the game, to begin his NHL career and had at least 30 goals and 74 points in each of his first two seasons.

Alexander Wennberg could be Panarin's center on the top line, but there are plenty of other candidates in the mix.

"We'll have a lot of players on our team competing to play on the same line with Artemi and trying to find the chemistry and energy and keep him going in the same direction where he's had two over-70-point seasons and 30-goal seasons," Kekalainen said.

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