As part of NHL.com's 31 in 31 series, the fantasy hockey staff identifies relevant players from the Columbus Blue Jackets. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy and subscribe for free to the NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast.
[Blue Jackets 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers]
Seth Jones, D (NHL.com rank: 64) -- The valuable defenseman had 46 points (nine goals, 37 assists), 10 on the power play, in 75 games last season, a decline compared to 2017-18 (57 points, 24 on power play). That said, Jones was still tied for 15th among NHL defensemen in scoring. After elite forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene left Columbus in free agency, Jones will be relied upon to provide more offense and should finish with at least 45-50 points.
Cam Atkinson, RW (118) -- The right wing is coming off a breakout season with NHL career highs in goals (41; tied for sixth in League), shots on goal (295; eighth) and points (69). Atkinson has had more than 50 points in three of the past four seasons, including at least 62 in his past two full seasons, and chemistry with center Pierre-Luc Dubois at even strength. With Panarin and Duchene out of the picture, Atkinson is likely to play on the top line with Dubois, making Atkinson the favorite to lead the Blue Jackets with at least 30 goals, 60 points and 250 SOG.
Zach Werenski, D (140) -- The Blue Jackets were one of six teams with multiple defensemen (Jones, Werenski) scoring at least 40 points. Werenski, who had an NHL career-high 47 points as a rookie in 2016-17, scored 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) last season and is the PPP (15) leader among returning Blue Jackets players (only Panarin had more with 18). Werenski skated with mostly Jones at even strength, and they will likely play together on the first power play, a unit with plenty of room for improvement (15.4 percent; 28th in NHL).
Video: 31 in 31: Columbus Blue Jackets 2019-20 preview
Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW (149) -- He is expected to center the top line with Atkinson and likely offseason addition Gustav Nyquist. Dubois, who scored 13 more points (61 last season) than he did as a rookie (48 in 2017-18), played mostly with Panarin and Atkinson but struggled once the Blue Jackets acquired Duchene on Feb. 22 (Dubois had 10 points in final 23 regular-season games). He should be a fixture on the top line and first power play, contributing at least 50-55 points and 10-15 PPP with added value in leagues that count hits (115 last season).
Gustav Nyquist, LW/RW (190) -- He combined for an NHL-career high 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) with the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks and had 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games for San Jose. Nyquist is expected to skate on the first line and power-play unit, which would be promising considering he was close to a point-per-game player with prime offensive usage for Detroit last season (49 in 62 games). Nyquist could return similar value with at least 55 points, 15-20 PPP and 200 SOG.
Josh Anderson, RW (218) -- One of three players with at least 200 SOG (230) and 200 hits (214) last season (others: Alex Ovechkin, Blake Coleman), Anderson finished among the top 50 overall in standard leagues. He had NHL career-highs in goals (27), assists (20) and points (47) skating in the top six and could benefit from the departure of Panarin, especially if he sees more power-play time (1:22 per game last season; seven PPP). Anderson should surpass 200 SOG and hits again this season and could realistically reach 50 points for the first time.
Elvis Merzlikins, G (223) -- The rookie goalie should compete with Joonas Korpisalo for playing time after the departure of elite goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (signed with Florida Panthers). Merzlikins has started at least 41 games in each of the past four seasons for HC Lugano of the National League in Switzerland and had at least a .921 save percentage in three of the four. If Merzlikins becomes the full-time starter, he'll have a path to be the most valuable rookie goalie (over Mackenzie Blackwood, Thatcher Demko) with at least 20-25 wins.
Other players to consider in late rounds or off waiver wire: Alexandre Texier, LW (231); Nick Foligno, C/LW/RW; Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW; Joonas Korpisalo, G; Emil Bemstrom, C
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