NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Columbus Blue Jackets expect to contend for the Stanley Cup this season with another year of experience for their young core and the additions of centers Max Domi and Mikko Koivu.
“We believe we’re going to be better because of some of the changes we made and some of the maturity process that’s going to be to our advantage moving forward with our young guys,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “We still have our best players like Pierre-Luc Dubois and [defenseman Seth] Jones and [defenseman Zach] Werenski, those guys are not even close to their prime yet. So we’re expecting big steps from just the growth from within.”
Dubois, Columbus’ first-line center, remains a restricted free agent, but Kekalainen said he’s confident the 22-year-old will re-sign before training camp. Jones, 26, and Werenski, 23, lead a defenseman group that teamed with goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins to help Columbus tie the Arizona Coyotes for third in the NHL last season allowing 2.61 goals per game.
The Blue Jackets reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season in 2019-20, but lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round, two of the losses coming in overtime, including a five-overtime epic in Game 1.
It was the third time in four seasons they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs.
Some teams might take some solace in putting up a good fight against the eventual champions, but that has grown old for the Blue Jackets.
“I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in falling short,” Kekalainen said. “We know internally that we can compete against anybody and I don’t think we’re far off. … I think our whole group believes that we’re not far off and I think we’ve taken a couple steps forward this offseason to be closer to that goal, which is to win the Cup.”
Columbus envisions Domi, acquired in a trade that sent forward Josh Anderson to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 6, slotting behind Dubois to give them a formidable 1-2 punch at center. The 25-year-old scored 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games last season after setting NHL career highs with 28 goals, 44 assists and 72 points in 82 games in 2018-19.
Having played against the Blue Jackets the past two seasons with the Canadiens after three seasons with the Coyotes, Domi said he is looking forward to joining a hard-working group that’s known for getting the most out of its talent under coach John Tortorella.
“You look at guys like Pierre-Luc Dubois and (forward) Boone Jenner and (forward) Cam Atkinson, the list really goes on for the talent they have up front, and then you look at the back end with arguably two of the best young defensemen in the League right now,” Domi said. “Seth Jones is right there with the best of them. That guy is going to be up for the Norris Trophy for the next I don’t know how many years in a row.”
Columbus signed Koivu, who became an unrestricted free agent after 15 seasons with the Minnesota Wild, to a one-year contract Oct. 10. The 37-year-old, expected to be the center on the third line, help kill penalties, win face-offs and provide leadership, said he believes he has enough left to help the Blue Jackets break through to win the Cup.
“As a player you want to join a team that is hard to play against and they proved that over the last couple years,” Koivu said. “What I like about it too is the core has been there for the most part for each and every year and the young talent that they have and all that combined, and then (they’re) well-coached. Always playing against that team, it’s never an easy night.”