What was supposed to be a promising, playoff-bound season for the Columbus Blue Jackets turned into a disappointing, tumultuous year. Once pegged as the franchise’s star center, Ryan Johansen was dealt to the Nashville Predators in a swap for Seth Jones and the team exercised a goaltending carousel of Sergei Bobrovsky, Curtis McElhinney and rookie Joonas Korpisalo. Oh, and Todd Richards was fired in the first month of the season and his replacement was the much-maligned John Tortorella.
It isn’t all gloom, however; since Torts was hired the team has gone 28-26-8, mostly without the services of Bobrovsky. The team still has an impressive prospect base, combined with a promising core that is due for a rebound next season. A top-five draft pick could help turn things around as well.
The Jackets have primarily stuck with veterans and second-year players, as they have stayed relatively healthy this season for a change, but a couple of rookies have gotten looks throughout the year in limited roles.
William Karlsson, C, 23
The former second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks played in three games with the Blue Jackets last season following a pre-deadline deal, but he entered this season with just 21 NHL games on his resume and wasn’t exactly a lock to make the team out of camp. However, Karlsson has played in 76 of the team’s 77 games this season, playing primarily on the team’s third line while contributing 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists).
Karlsson has been given a bigger opportunity in the past month or so, typically playing more than 15 minutes a night and he has nine points in his past 15 games, dating back to Feb. 5, when he recorded his second career multi-goal game against the Calgary Flames. He also had a three assist night on Feb. 25 against the New Jersey Devils. He isn’t used on either the power play on penalty kill so all of his points have come at even strength.
Joonas Korpisalo, G, 21
Perhaps the brightest star of this season in terms of expectation is Joonas Korpisalo. The Finn was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, one round after the Jackets selected Oscar Dansk, a goaltender they thought highly of who played in the ECHL last year and is now in Sweden. Korpisalo, meanwhile, came to North America this season and quickly rose through the ranks.
He played in 14 games for Lake Erie before being recalled in December because of the injury to Bobrovsky. He briefly battled with Anton Forsberg for playing time, but quickly separated himself from the Swede. Korpisalo went 14-8-4 for the Blue Jackets, including a stretch in January where he went six games without allowing more than two goals. He was returned to Lake Erie in March when Bobrovsky returned from injury, allowing him to help the team push for a playoff spot.
Kerby Rychel, LW, 21
Though currently playing for Lake Erie in the AHL, Rychel dressed for 32 games with the Blue Jackets this season, though he wasn’t a favourite of John Tortorella. He played fewer than 10 minutes in his first 10 games with the team this season, and while he was used more heavily for the next couple of months, he again played fewer than 10 minutes in seven of his last eight games with the club before being demoted.
You could almost make a case for Rychel being upset over his ice time. While he is just 21 and hasn’t proved much of anything yet, he also wasn’t given much opportunity during his stay with the Blue Jackets. And coincidentally enough, he scored a goal and added an assist in two of the select games in which he played 10-plus minutes.
Reports surfaced that Rychel had asked for a trade in January and speculation began that he was dealt at the deadline when the Blue Jackets opted to demote him to Lake Erie, but it was just smoke and mirrors. It’s possible that Columbus looks to move him in the summer, however.
Josh Anderson, RW, 21
Of the few prospects to fill the gaps this season Josh Anderson has been the most reliable. The former fourth round pick has a 6’3, 221 lb frame and can skate. Anderson had a three-game stint with the Blue Jackets in November and recorded assists in back-to-back games before being returned to Lake Erie. He was recalled again on Jan. 8 and scored his first career NHL goal the next night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Michael Chaput, C, 23
Chaput has been a serviceable depth forward for the Blue Jackets the past couple seasons, playing 17 and 33 NHL games respectively. He has played just three games for the team this season, despite leading Lake Erie in scoring with 37 points. Chaput is on a one-year contract and could very well be brought back for organizational depth.
Anton Forsberg, G, 22
Forsberg started five games for the Blue Jackets last season and looked out of his element, allowing 20 goals on 129 shots. This season he looked a little more comfortable, replacing Sergei Bobrovsky in early January before the team switched to Korpisalo. In four appearances Forsberg posted a .907 save percentage and a 3.03 goals-against average.
Markus Hannikainen, LW, 22
Free-agent signing Markus Hannikainen played in four games for the Blue Jackets this season; he was recalled for a Nov. 28 contest against the St. Louis Blues and promptly sent back after just six minutes of ice time, but was again recalled for three games in January. He was pointless in those four games.
Michael Paliotta, D, 22
Acquired in the Brandon Saad trade, Paliotta played in one game for the Blue Jackets this season. He logged 7:32 of ice time on Feb. 27 against the Florida Panthers and recorded two minor penalties. He currently leads Lake Erie’s defense in scoring and could challenge for a spot on the Blue Jackets next season.
Prospects at the World Juniors
Three Columbus Blue Jackets prospects participated in the World Juniors, two of which played prominent roles in leading the United States to a bronze medal. Zach Werenski, the team’s eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft, captained the United States and led all defensemen in tournament scoring with nine points in seven games. Werenski was the tournament’s top defenseman, and not surprisingly, also led all players in plus-minus with a plus-10 rating.
The Blue Jackets also loaned Sonny Milano from Lake Erie to the United States and the 2014 first round pick scored once and added seven assists in the tournament.
Gabriel Carlsson, the team’s second first round pick from the 2015 NHL Draft, suited up for Sweden, who lost to the United States in the bronze medal game. The 6’4, 186 lb blueliner recorded three assists for the Swedes.