What to expect from the defensemen of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013-14.
Times they are a changing in Columbus. New management, new Conference, new positive outlook. They have the reigning Vezina trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets also have what I would call an under-rated defense corps. A team doesn't win a Vezina trophy without at least a decent amount of help from your defensemen. This week, we'll take a look at how Columbus shapes up on the back end:
I'll preface this by admitting that I am a big fan of JJ. Johnson is a workhorse and plays in all situations. Only four players in the NHL averaged more overall ice time than Johnson (25:58 per game) last season; Ryan Suter, Erik Karlsson, Brian Campbell and Drew Doughty. The only knock on him is that he has been less than responsible in his own end. Not including last season's 35 point pace, JJ has averaged 38 points over each of the preceding three years.
Fearless Forecast: No fewer than 45 points should be expected. He's in a great position to succeed and is given as much ice time as he can handle. He will become less of a liability in his own end as he matures as a player.
A former Ontario Hockey League Most Outstanding Defenseman and Canadian Major Junior Defenseman of the Year (both 2003-04), Wisniewski has put together some incredible stretches in the NHL. Back in 2010-11, he scored 51 points in 75 games with the Islanders and Canadiens. He followed that up in his first year with Columbus by scoring 27 points in 48 games, a 46 point pace. Last season, the 29-year-old scored at 38 point pace with 14 points in 30 games. If healthy, he will play on the top power play unit. He's also been suspended by the NHL five times, twice for eight game stints.
Fearless Forecast - Don't count on more than about 35 points from the Wiz, he will always be at risk to miss large swaths of time to injury and or suspension.
This guy is a Steady Eddy and plays the second most minutes on the team. Last season, Tyutin led all Blue Jacket defensemen with 22 points, while playing in all 48 games. Only five of those 22 points came with the man advantage. Over his previous four seasons, he averaged 30 points. The 29-year-old is arguably the most valuable defender on the team.
Fearless Forecast: He won't replicate last year's 38 point pace over a full season, but in his previous four campaigns, he has averaged 30 points. Tyutin is a lock to strike for 30 again this year, but he won't get you more than 35 points either. Low risk, low reward.
Cool name. Nik Nik has offensive skills, as evidenced by his 32 points in only 54 games (49 point pace) after landing in Columbus via a trade from the Blues early in the 2011-12 season. In last year's shortened campaign, Nikitin notched only nine points in 38 games.
Fearless Forecast: On this edition of the Blue Jackets, he is going to play on the second power play unit. Nikitin averaged the fourth most power play ice time amongst BJ's defenders and with the dearth of top end forwards who can put the puck in the net, that isn't going to net Nikita many man advantage points. That said, if both JJ and the Wiz end up out for any length of time, jump all over Nikitin.
Who? At least that's what I said when researching the Blue Jackets back end. When all was said and done last year, Prout played 28 games, recording seven points. When Nikitin went down, Prout's ice time jumped significantly. In six of his final eight games, Prout averaged 21 minutes (well, okay, one of those games was 20:52) per contest. His numbers over that period were impressive; five points, plus-6 with 11 penalty minutes. He finished last season with a team leading plus-15 rating. His AHL numbers last season were not as impressive, recording nine points in 40 games with 73 penalty minutes.
Fearless Forecast: It never hurts to have some size and toughness on the roster, especially now that Columbus will be competing in the Eastern Conference. One late note to add, Prout had abdominal surgery earlier in August. The team hopes he'll be ready to start the season, but how effective will he be without playing exhibition games? If healthy, he could play most, if not all of the season with the big club and will contribute in penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots. He'll be lucky to collect 15 points this season on the bottom pairing though.
In his draft year, Murray scored 31 points in 46 major junior games, a 55 point pace. He was a surprise last minute addition to Team Canada's World Championship roster and the second youngest to ever suit up for Canada at that tournament. The Blue Jackets then made him the second overall pick at the 2012 draft. Last year, Murray only played in 23 junior games, recording 17 points, but needed surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder and missed the rest of the season. His coach from junior is now an assistant coach with Columbus, which can't hurt his chances either.
Fearless Forecast: A true wildcard due to a lengthy layoff from his shoulder injury. With the offensive depth and options Columbus has on the roster, Murray will not be rushed. While he may have offensive potential, we likely won't see much of it this season, unless he wows at camp.
Has the height that is so coveted as an NHL defender (reach), but Erixon hasn't proven to be a factor at the NHL level yet. Last season, he recorded five points in 31 games, but more tellingly, averaged only the eighth most even-strength time on ice amongst BJ defensemen. That was less than the 93-year-old Adrian Aucoin and some guy named Cody Goloubef. Still, he's only 22 years old and he has dominated the AHL offensively over parts of two seasons, recording 62 points in 92 games, a 55 point clip per 82 games.
Fearless Forecast: With Ryan Murray being added to the mix this season, Erixon is on the outside looking in with the Blue Jackets. He'll likely get no more than 20 NHL games this season. He's proving to be too good at the AHL level and not strong enough to secure full-time NHL employment.
Savard's resume is impressive. He finished his major junior career with a flourish, recording 77 points in 64 games while being named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Best Defensive Defenseman and Best Defenseman as well as the Canadian Major Junior Defenseman of the Year. In his first year of professional hockey, Savard scored 11 goals and 43 points in 72 AHL games. Overall, the 22-year-old has 96 points in 176 career AHL games. He hasn't fared as well in the NHL. Last season, Savard played in only four NHL games, recording four hits and one shot on goal, while posting a minus-3 rating. The year before last wasn't too bad, he played 31 NHL games and scored 10 points, four with the man advantage.
Fearless Forecast: Too many defensemen on the team with more experience and offensive savvy for Savard to play a meaningful role this season. Expect another year shuttling between the AHL and NHL. Signed a one year, two way contract in July.
This is a guy who was good enough to play for the gold medal winning (fifth in a row) Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament in 2009, recording one point in six games. His plus-10 rating was second only to P.K. Subban on the team. Last year, he recorded one point in 11 NHL games and 13 points in 38 AHL games.
Fearless Forecast: His 28 point pace in the AHL last season is not encouraging for fantasy owners. This year, he will be lucky to get a call up with the defensive depth that Columbus currently has. Signed a one year, two way contract in July.
Melart is a big defenseman who doesn't shy away from contact and should get a decent look at training camp. The scouting reports peg the 24-year-old Finn as lacking mobility and he doesn't have much offensive upside. He can apparently move the puck relatively well and has a decent shot. Melart did score seven goals and 18 points in 50 games while sitting for 80 penalty minutes last year for HIFK in the top Finnish league.
Fearless Forecast: If he makes the team, he will contribute only in penalty minutes, hits and maybe blocked shots as a bottom pair replacement for Prout.
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