The Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off the unlikely, landing the best free agent on the market in winger Johnny Gaudreau.
Gaudreau, 29, had a career-high 115 points last season in his ninth year with Calgary. He was lured to Columbus with a seven-year contract worth $9.75 million per season and the prospect of playing closer to his home in New Jersey.
‘Johnny Hockey’ might be the most exciting forward to play for the Blue Jackets since Artemi Panarin in 2017-19. It is a creator of difference, and the buzz is palpable.
“A lot of questions from people,” Blue Jackets forward and Columbus native Jack Roslovic said. “Everyone seems to know this guy from Johnny Gaudreau coming in. Is this the real deal? People seem excited and, I would say, intrigued too.
But what difference can it make?
Columbus finished last season 37-38-7 with 81 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 19 points from last place in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for the second season after four straight appearances.
Team leading scorer and fan favorite Oliver Bjorkstrand was sent to Seattle for draft picks to free up some space under the salary cap. And Gaudreau settled in quickly — he bought Bjorkstrand’s house in Columbus.
THE FRONT LINE
Columbus’s ability to produce more offense may depend on how Gaudreau fits in with right-winger Patrik Laine, who signed a four-year contract worth $8.7 million per season for stay in town. Gaudreau’s ability to handle the puck and make the play should give the 24-year-old Laine the opportunity to improve on his 26 goals last season. The Jackets are hoping he can get closer to the 44 goals and 26 assists he recorded in 2017-18 with Winnipeg.
“It takes time to get used to playing with new players, but when you play with players like that it’s easy,” Gaudreau said after Sunday’s preseason opener, a victory of 5-1 against Pittsburgh. “For the most part I thought we played in the O zone for most of the game, and we looked good together.”
Veteran wingers Jakub Voracek (six goals, 56 assists) and Gustav Nyquist (18 goals, 35 assists) will be in the top six, but there will be plenty of competition for the other spots up front.
The question of who will center the first line with Gaudreau and Laine will be resolved in training camp. It could be Boone Jenner, Roslovic or Cole Sillinger. Jenner returns after missing the final two months of the 2021-22 season with a back injury.
“I’m going to try a few guys in the middle,” Larsen said. “Who is going to start there? I might try Boone there right now. I haven’t decided yet, but it would be my choice from the start. A veteran, and I think he could complement them.
The Blue Jackets were hustled last season without an enforcer-type player. To help remedy that, they signed 11-year-old veteran free agent Erik Gudbranson, a 6-foot-5, 222-pound defenseman, and traded for Mathieu Olivier, a big hitting forward. fist. Rookie defender Nick Blankenberg, who impressed the team with his uncompromising physique at the end of last season, signed a two-year contract in April.
“We felt we were light at times,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “That’s probably one of the causes of the defensive problems we had. We have a lot of guys who are mobile and capable, and good NHL players, but we were really light there. Well, we’re a lot heavier there right now.
ON THE INTERNET
Elvis Merzlikins is the presumed starting goaltender. He started 59 games last year after signing a five-year contract extension, but last year’s 3.02 goals-against average and .907 save percentage were career lows. Veteran Joonas Korpisalo, who just had hip surgery at the end of the season, is likely the replacement.
PULL THE CANNON
One of the biggest adjustments for Gaudreau — and any player new to Nationwide Arena — is the deafening blast from the cannon that goes off before the game, every time the Blue Jackets score, and after a win. This may be surprising for the uninitiated.
“It hit me twice,” Gaudreau said with a smile after Sunday’s preseason game. “But we scored five times. I arrive there. It put me on the first goal and at the end of the game.
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