COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for the second year in a row but their 2021-22 NHL season actually went better than expected under first-year head coach Brad Larsen.
CBJ’s rebuild season ended with a record of 38-37-7 — sixth place in the Metropolitan division and fourth in the wild card race. That’s ahead of schedule considering all the offseason changes and in-season injuries.
Members of the Blue Jackets spoke with the media Saturday, April 30 to give their thoughts on the season. You can watch those interviews in the video player above.
A season of firsts
Columbus was one of the youngest teams in the NHL before the season began and they got younger as it went on due to injuries. In fact, a staggering 10 players made their NHL debuts with the Blue Jackets this season, including both of the team’s 2021 first-round picks.
Kent Johnson, the No. 5 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, didn’t join the team until mid-April after his Michigan Wolverines lost in the semifinals of the Frozen Four. Cole Sillinger, the No. 12 overall pick, played the entire season and had one of the most productive seasons for an 18-year-old in NHL history. He led all CBJ rookies with 79 games played and scored 16 goals, which is tied for eighth all-time in NHL history for an 18-year-old.
Wingers Justin Danforth and Yegor Chinakhov were two other newcomers who made an impression this season, playing in more than half of CBJ’s 82-game season.
Here are the 10 CBJ players who debuted this season:
- Kent Johnson
- Nick Blankenburg
- Cole Sillinger
- Yegor Chinakhov
- Gregory Hofmann
- Justin Danforth
- Trey Fix-Wolansky
- Jake Christiansen
- Daniil Tarasov
- Carson Meyer
Red Hot Laine
Patrik Laine dazzled for much of the season, averaging a point per game when healthy. He was particularly dominant from late January through late February when he recorded an 11-game point streak — the third-longest in franchise history. He scored the second-most goals (26) and tallied the third-most points (56) behind only Jakub Voracek and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Laine only played in 56 games after missing two months toward the beginning of the season with a strained oblique. Prior to his absence, CBJ began the season 7-2-0. Columbus held strong without Laine, going 6-5-0 in November and 3-5-1 during a December shortened due to COVID-19.
Laine is an restricted free agent this offseason and said Saturday he wants to stay in Columbus.
“They’ve expressed they want me here and I’ve expressed the same,” Laine said. “We have a great group of guys I got to be really close with and I’m excited about the youth we have and the opportunities we’re going to have in a couple years and definitely want to be a part of it.”
Blue Jackets who found their place
Laine is the most notable Blue Jacket who found where he fits on this team. But several other players figured out where they belong in the puzzle, including a blast from the past and a pair of Columbus natives.
Savvy veteran Jakub Voracek returned to Columbus 10 years after leaving for Philadelphia. Voracek spent the first three years of his NHL career with the Blue Jackets and came back to an organization undergoing massive personnel changes. He played a pivotal role in the development of players like Cole Sillinger and Jack Roslovic while enhancing the talent of those around him like Laine, Bjorkstrand, and Gustav Nyquist by contributing a team-high 56 assists.
“What I like about this organization is that everybody is on the same page and have the same mindset and the same goal to achieve,” Voracek said. “For an organization to be successful, I think that is really important.”
Second-year player Jack Roslovic took arguably the biggest step of any CBJ newcomer from last season. He struggled early in the season but the Columbus native found his rhythm down the stretch, scoring 10 goals in nine games to end the season.
“I don’t think there was one guy who took a step back this year which is great and a testament to our coaching staff, our coach, and the players around us,” Roslovic said.
Sean Kuraly returned to his hometown after playing his first five years in Boston. He wound up with the most points and goals of his career and played a career-high 77 games. He was also tied for second on the team in plus/minus at +2.
A step back on defense was all but expected after the Blue Jackets traded all-star defenseman Seth Jones and played their first full season without David Savard. But allowing the fifth-most goals (297) in the NHL was less than ideal.
“We’ve got to give up less goals,” Kuraly said. “You’ve got to defend as a group of six to be successful and if we can address as a team, we’re going to win a lot more games because we can score, so I think that’s probably the number one thing.”
Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins became the full-time starter this season and was asked to pick up more of the load after Joonas Korpisalo suffered a season-ending hip injury in late March that required surgery.
“I would say it was hard to go through this thing. It’s like jumping from the cliff after being in the pool,” Merzlikins said. “It’s super high for you. You’re going to be scared but when you do that once, you’re not afraid anymore. You’re going to jump and jump and keep jumping so I’m ready. I can tell you I’m ready now for next season.”
Korpisalo is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the market will be minimal for a goalie who had the worst save percentage for any player who played 20 or more games. Jake Bean and Gabriel Carlsson are serviceable on defense, but look for the Jackets to bolster the blue line in the offseason.