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31 in 31

Inside look at Columbus Blue Jackets

Addition of Panarin, development of young core could lead to second consecutive playoff appearance

by Craig Merz / Correspondent is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Columbus Blue Jackets believe they can reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in their history by relying on one major addition and development from a core of young players.

Left wing Artemi Panarin, 25, was 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. There were a few minor signings, and the unsuccessful pursuit of Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene.

"The off year is still a long way from being done, so what our opening-night roster looks like at the beginning of October remains to be seen," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.


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When asked if the Blue Jackets remain in the hunt for Duchene, Kekalainen said, "If there's a good player available that helps our team, we'll look at it. It has to make sense for us in the long term as well as the short term. We're not going to sell all our assets to try and get better for this year or the next little while. We have to keep our long-term options in mind."

The Blue Jackets won 50 games and had 108 points, each the highest total in their history, and finished fourth in the NHL standings. But it wasn't good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference First Round. Columbus was eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games despite carrying the play for long stretches in the series, done in by a lack of timely scoring.

Enter Panarin, who was dynamic on a line with Patrick Kane for two seasons, scoring 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) in 162 games and winning the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the League in 2015-16.

"The trade we made for Panarin gives us a different look," Kekalainen said. "Saad is a good player and was a good player for us, but Panarin gives us a true first-liner that will give us a scoring threat that we may have lacked, or gives us a little bit more of a scoring effect."

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Panarin had 17 power-play goals the past two seasons.

"He'll make a big difference on our power play," Kekalainen said. "When you think about the trade, Saad was on our second power play, and I'm sure Panarin will get the major chunk of the power-play time on our team, not only for his offensive ability but he's a right-handed shot. Sam Gagner was one of our right-handed shots on the power play last year. He's gone, so there's a spot now."

Gagner, whose eight power-play goals were third on the Blue Jackets, signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Center William Karlsson, who was third among Columbus forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (1:37), was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft, and the Blue Jackets bought out the final two seasons of forward Scott Hartnell's six-year contract, allowing him to sign with the Nashville Predators.

However, Columbus still has plenty of pieces.

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky won his second Vezina Trophy last season. Defenseman Zach Werenski was a Calder Trophy finalist. Forward Nick Foligno scored 26 goals, and forward Cam Atkinson led the Blue Jackets with an NHL career-high 62 points (35 goals, 27 assists).

Video: Sergei Bobrovsky is presented the Vezina Trophy

Center Alexander Wennberg had a breakout season with 59 points (13 goals, 46 assists), and Josh Anderson scored 17 goals in his first full NHL season. Each is a restricted free agent in contract talks with the Blue Jackets.

Kekalainen is confident Columbus can avoid regressing, pointing to the potential of players such as forwards Boone Jenner (18 goals, 16 assists) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (six goals, seven assists).

"We had the youngest team in the playoffs, so the biggest improvement in our team will come from within with our guys getting bigger and stronger, faster and wider and more experienced and better," Kekalainen said. "You look at our defense for example. Werenski just turned 20, and Seth Jones is 22. They're our No. 1 pairing, and they're nowhere near what they can be in their prime, and they're probably four, five or six years from that, so there's a lot of growth in their potential."

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