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Blue Jackets season preview: Replacing free agent departures key

Korpisalo, Nyquist, veterans out to prove Columbus can contend

by Craig Merz / Independent Correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach: John Tortorella (fifth season)

Last season: 47-31-4; fifth place Metropolitan Division, lost to Boston Bruins in Eastern Conference Second Round


1. Replacing Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo will get his first opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie after two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers on July 1.

More than one-third of Korpisalo's NHL games (31 of 90) came as a rookie in 2015-16 when Bobrovsky missed time because of injuries. Korpisalo was 16-11-4 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage that season; he's 41-31-9 with a 2.89 GAA, and .907 save percentage in his NHL career.

Video: CBJ@OTT: Korpisalo robs Duclair with pad save

Elvis Merzlikins will challenge Korpisalo but must adjust to the smaller NHL rink after playing in Europe his entire career. He spent the past four seasons with HC Lugano in the National League, Switzerland's top professional league, where he was named the top goalie in 2016 and 2018. 


2. Where will offense come from?

In addition to replacing Bobrovsky, Columbus must fill the void left by the free agent departures of left wing Artemi Panarin, who set a Blue Jackets record with 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last season, and center Matt Duchene. 

Gustav Nyquist, signed as a free agent, should help. The forward had an NHL career-high 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) with the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks last season and has averaged 48.8 points in his past six seasons.


3. Improvement from Wennberg

Alexander Wennberg has 60 points (10 goals, 50 assists) in 141 games (0.43 points per game) over the past two seasons after scoring 59 points (13 goals, 46 assists) in 80 games (0.74 points per game) in 2016-17.

The center was a healthy scratch in six of 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season and must improve offensively. Columbus could try to boost Wennberg's confidence by playing him with Nyquist, a fellow Swede.

Video: CBJ@COL: Wennberg buries PPG from the circle


4. Presence of veteran leaders

Although their offseason losses could be significant, the leadership group of forwards Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and defenseman Seth Jones remains intact.

Columbus is one seven NHL teams to make the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and its 142 regular-season wins since the start of the 2016-17 season are fourth behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (158), Washington Capitals (152) and Bruins (143).

The Blue Jackets are one of three teams who have won at least 45 games each of the past three seasons, joining the Capitals (five) and the San Jose Sharks (four).


5. Depth at defenseman

Columbus will rely on its defensemen with Jones and Zach Werenski. A healthy Ryan Murray, dependable David Savard and underrated Markus Nutivaara are formidable, and Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington and Vladislav Gavrikov round out what the Blue Jackets feel is a group that can go eight players deep.

Video: Zach Werenski talks about his new contract


Making the cut 

Forwards Alexandre Texier, who made his NHL debut last season, and Emil Bemstrom could make the roster out of training camp.

Sonny Milano, who scored 14 goals as rookie in 2017-18 but spent most of last season in the American Hockey League, will get a look after playing eight games with the Blue Jackets last season.

Forward Marko Dano, who was selected by Columbus in the first round (No. 27) of the 2013 NHL Draft and played outside the organization for four seasons, re-signed with the Blue Jackets on Aug. 8. He and rookies Eric Robinson, Kole Sherwood and Trey Fix-Wolansky will compete for a spot. 

Kukan, Harrington and Gavrikov are the three players in contention for the sixth spot at defenseman.  


Most intriguing addition

Merzlikins finally will get his chance after spending six seasons in Switzerland. He was 22-18-0 with a 2.44 GAA, .921 save percentage and five shutouts in 43 games with HC Lugano last season.


Biggest potential surprise

Bemstrom, who turned 20 on June 1, led the Swedish Hockey League in goals (23) as a teenager last season. He tied Tomas Sandstrom (1982-83), Peter Forsberg (1992-93) and Patric Hornqvist (2006-07) for the third-highest goal total by a teenager in league history, behind Kent Nilsson (28 in 1975-76) and Elias Pettersson (24 in 2017-18).

The Blue Jackets are hoping Bemstrom can make the opening-night roster and replicate that success in the NHL.


Ready to break through

Texier made a splash after completing his season in Finland and then scoring his first NHL goal in his second game last season. He played in eight playoff games and scored twice in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round when the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning and could start the season on the top line.

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Texier snipes early power-play goal


Fantasy sleeper 

Merzlikins (average draft position: 176.4) is worth taking in one of the final rounds of a standard draft with a chance to emerge as the starter over Korpisalo by season's end. -- Pete Jensen



Alexandre Texier -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- Cam Atkinson

Gustav Nyquist -- Alexander Wennberg -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Nick Foligno -- Boone Jenner -- Josh Anderson

Brandon Dubinsky -- Riley Nash -- Markus Hannikainen

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Ryan Murray -- David Savard

Dean Kukan -- Markus Nutivaara

Joonas Korpisalo

Elvis Merzlikins


Nyquist photo courtesy of Anthony Allocco/Columbus Blue Jackets

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