Columbus Blue Jackets 2021-22 Season Preview


Gabe Ewen, Staff Writer

No one can outrun fate. Not even John ‘Torts’ Tortorella, whose days behind the Blue Jackets’ bench have come to a close. After somehow piecing together a shockingly convincing postseason berth in 2019-20 following the losses of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency the preceding offseason, the wheels fell off the wagon last year en route to an 18-26-12 record and a last place finish in the realigned Central Division. After all, you cannot stop fate, you can only delay it. Gone is longtime team captain Nick Folingo, traded to Toronto at the deadline and signed by Boston in free agency, and stud defenseman Seth Jones, who was shipped to Chicago during the off-season. 24-year-old goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks tragically passed away over the summer, sending shockwaves of grief throughout the organization. In Tortorella’s place, Brad Larsen steps in as head coach. These are just a few of the changes that Columbus has undergone heading into the 2021-22 campaign, with many more likely coming as GM Jarmo Kekalainen rushes to restock a terribly depleted prospect pipeline.

With most everything in the world of hockey reverting to normal this season after last year’s wacky, 56-game abridged schedule, the Blue Jackets will be returning to a deep Metropolitan Division in which it feels as if nearly every team has made improvements of some kind. This includes the New York Islanders, who have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last two seasons. This also includes the new home of marquee free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the New Jersey Devils. As for Columbus? Well, one would be forgiven if they mistook this year’s roster for a skeleton picked clean of its meat. The Jackets are especially thin down the middle, with fans and team personnel alike shaking their heads over the early-season deal that sent burgeoning No. 1 center Pierre Luc-Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets in turn for a disgruntled Patrik Laine and pleasant surprise Jack Roslovic last year. Laine was among the team’s biggest disappointments in 2020-21, scoring just 12 goals and 24 points in 46 games with a -28 rating last season. The 23-year-old winger has had an up and down start to his NHL career, going second overall in the 2016 Draft before finishing as the runner-up in Calder Trophy voting as Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 and challenging greying mega-human Alex Ovechkin for the goal scoring crown in 2017-18, with a 46-goal campaign. The Tampere, Finland native was being hailed as the next great goal scorer before he could even drink beer legally in the U.S. Some even thought that his first of what was supposed to be many Rocket Richard Trophies was in store for him in 2018-19. Rather, he faltered in a contract year, had a mini-resurgence in 2019-20, then imploded again before forcing his way out of Winnipeg and landing in Columbus where he continued to underperform and consistently clashed with the coaching staff. Roslovic, meanwhile, emerged as the team’s top pivot, averaging 0.71 points per game after coming over in the deal. If the Jackets want to have any chance of turning around an offense that ranked as just the 29th best in the League last year, they’ll need Roslovic to keep producing and Laine to right the boat. If these things don’t happen, it will be a tough year for Jackets fans.

Columbus hockey diehards can find some solace in the future, at least. That pipeline Kekalainen has been trying so hard to restock looks like a newly stuffed stocking on Christmas morning these days. Through his offseason deals, Kekalainen, the team’s GM since 2013, has brought in a number of promising skaters. With their two first round picks in the 2021 Draft, Columbus selected forwards Kent Johnson (now playing at Michigan University) 5th overall and Cole Sillinger (who, along with 2020 first-rounder Yegor Chinakhov, has survived the final roster cuts in training camp) 12th overall. The defensemen core, too, looks ripe for the future as two-way standout Zach Werenski, still just 24 years of age, provides a foundation to build on defensively and both Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean, acquired in separate trades during the off-season, are looking like potential stalwarts on the back end. There’s no guarantee these players will pan out, but it is refreshing to see so much talented youth within the organization.

In between the pipes, Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo are likely to share time in the blue paint. While both are strong goaltenders, they no longer have the same rigid and structured defense to play behind that they once did. Long gone are the days of total team commitment and buy-in that could be so often found during Tortorella’s first few years in the Buckeye state. Replacing the old guard of Ryan Murray and David Savard are offensively-minded young guns such as Boqvist and Bean, who will be bound to have some growing pains and give up high-quality chances on net throughout the season. It can be assumed that Merzlikins, entering his third NHL season, will get the majority of the starts following a season in which his .916 save percentage (he holds a career mark of .920) was significantly better than Korpisalo’s .894 mark. Additionally, there is some hope that 22-year-old Russian goaltending prospect Daniil Tarasov can develop into a quality starting netminder at the NHL level.

The dream that Columbus was turning the corner as a franchise and developing into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender is a distant memory, a far cry from the current iteration of the Blue Jackets. However, not all hope is lost. Much of the roster has been injected with young blood and perhaps it’s players such as Liam Foudy, Alexandre Texier, and Andrew Peeke who help lead the Jackets to their first ever championship. Maybe it will be Laine’s laser shot and Johnson’s hands, centered by Sillinger and Roslovic, and backed up by Werenski, Merzlikins, and Tarasov that carry Columbus to the promised land. Or maybe it won’t be. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the future of hockey in Columbus develops, even if the current roster will likely find themselves towards the bottom of the standings this year. The pathway to glory may just be unfolding in front of us right now.

Here are the team’s line projections for the coming season:


Patrik Laine-Alexandre Texier-Jakub Voráček

Gustav Nyquist-Jack Roslovic-Oliver Bjorkstrand

Boone Jenner-Cole Sillinger-Max Domi

Eric Robinson-Sean Kuraly-Gregory Hoffman


Zach Werenski-Jake Bean

Vladislav Gavrikov-Adam Boqvist

Dean Kukan-Andrew Peeke


Elvis Merzlikins

Joonas Korpisalo