The 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets feature a group of forwards that is largely unchanged from a year ago. The few changes made will involve an injection of youth from a talented pipeline the team has established over the past few years.
At center, the Jackets are returning Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson. While the team lacks the prototypical “franchise center” that is coveted by so many teams around the league, there’s certainly not a lack of talent up the middle.
Boone Jenner is coming off a career year putting up 30 goals and 19 assists playing all 82 games. Jenner is a player who has proven to be versatile thus far in his three year career playing center and also on the wings. After nearly doubling his previous career high in goals a year ago (16 in his rookie season, 2013-14), the “Jennerator” will look to keep the trend going in the 2016-17 campaign.
Next on the depth chart at center is Brandon Dubinsky, who is just steady. Entering his fifth season with the Jackets, Dubinsky has shown to be a reliable 15-20 goals, 25-30 assists a year kind of player. He’s 30 years old, so while he’s one of the more experienced players on the team, he’s definitely still in his prime years.
Rounding out the centers are Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson. Alexander Wennberg is a former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013 and already preparing for his third year in the league. He’s shown terrific playmaking ability leading the team with 32 assists last season, but needs to put up better goal totals as he gains more confidence in the NHL. Crazy stat: in 69 games last year, Wennberg had two penalty minutes. Finally, William “Wild Bill” Karlsson is coming off his first full season in the league scoring 9 goals with 11 assists and has become a solid two-way forward for the Jackets. Another crazy stat: in 81 games, Karlsson had 8 penalty minutes. The 82-game NHL average in 2015-16 was 43 penalty minutes. And the Jackets still had the third-most penalty minutes per game.
Saad looks to continue to put up impressive numbers in his second year with the Blue Jackets.
Probably the Jackets’ most skilled offensive player, left-wing Brandon Saad, is back for another campaign in Columbus. There was some concern last offseason when the Jackets acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks that his production would drop without the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as linemates. His numbers were impacted, but not necessarily negatively as feared. His assists dropped from 28/29 his last two seasons in Chicago to 22 in Columbus, but his goal scoring increased from 19/23 to 31. At 23 years old, it’s not unreasonable for CBJ fans to expect even more as we head into the 2016-17 season.
Cam Atkinson played himself into a spot on the top line for the Jackets last year as he reached career highs in goals, 27, and assists, 26. The 5-foot-8 right winger gets himself into good scoring areas and has turned into a nice offensive weapon. He also plays a lot: Cam led all CBJ forwards in time on ice last year.
Jackets captain Nick Foligno is coming off his worst full-season point total in Columbus. While his 37 points may be more in line with his career numbers, he is only 28 years old, giving fans reason to believe he can get back to his 2014-15 numbers where he put up 73 points.
Veteran left winger Scott Hartnell enters his third season with the Jackets and he’s been as productive of a player as the Jackets could have hoped for. Hartnell followed up his 60-point campaign in 2014-15 with a 49 point season last year as a 33-year-old. With all the talented young players on the cusp of making an impact on the team this season, Hartnell should be a good influence for them both on and off the ice.
Fourth-line wingers Matt Calvert and Gregory Campbell round out the returning forwards for the Blue Jackets. The 26-year-old Matt Calvert will begin his seventh year in Columbus. He’s always been a gritty player for the team and appears set to play a similar role with the club again this season. He set a career high in points in 2015-16 with 24, and with all the talent in the organization could solidify his place on the team if he can continue to raise his production offensively. Gregory Campbell returns for his second season with the Jackets after playing in all 82 games a year ago. The 32-year-old winger scored 3 goals with 8 assists last year and seems to just be keeping the seat warm until one of the younger players in the organization steps up.
Young Impact Players:
The Jackets have a number of talented young players that appear ready to join the club in Columbus. Among the most likely to contribute this year is Oliver Bjorkstrand. The 21-year-old Bjorkstrand played in 12 games last year and scored 4 goals with 4 assists in limited action. He played a major role on the Lake Erie Monsters, who won the AHL Calder Cup in 2016, putting up 16 points in 17 games during their playoff run in Cleveland.
Josh Anderson is another player who may make an impact this season for the Blue Jackets. After scoring 7 goals with 5 assists for the Monsters in the playoffs last year, Anderson will look to move on up to contribute in 2016-17. Other forwards to keep an eye on are Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen, and Sonny Milano, each of whom gained valuable experience with the Monsters last season and will look to translate that success to the NHL. On a final note, watch out the Jackets first-round-selection Pierre-Luc Dubois, although he’s only 18-years-old, there’s still a chance he could play for the Jackets this season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were around middle of the pack in goal scoring last year but finished 4th worst in the standings. While there are certainly other aspects of the team that can get better, the offense appears set to take a step forward with the steady contributions of the veterans to go along with the talented young players that are ready to make a difference.
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