The fantasy season is upon us. Another year of tears of joy and heartbreak.
To help you along, here’s your fantasy outlook for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
2022-23 Fantasy Outlook: Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season: 37-38-7, 6th Metro, 21st overall. GF: 14th, GA: 28th, PP: 24th, PK: 20th.
Never count out the Jackets. With a “why not us?” mentality that seeps through the organization starting from GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who is never shy to swing for the fences, they made substantial improvements under first-year coach Brad Larsen despite trading two long-tenured veterans in Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson. Offense was a big problem, but even after trading Jones and Atkinson, they improved under Larsen from a paltry 2.39 GF/GP, which ranked 28th in the league, to 3.15 GF/GP, and it was a big reason why they were only one game below .500.
Of note, their more open playing style has also led to an increase in quality scoring chances; under John Tortorella, the Jackets bled shots but prevented a lot of goals by sacrificing their bodies. Elvis Merzlikins, who dedicated his season to his late friend Matiss Kivlenieks, started the season 8-4-0 with a .923 save percentage, but faded at certain points during the season and he’ll need to be more consistent if they wish to fight for a playoff spot again.
Best fantasy option: Patrik Laine, LW/RW
Laine scored at a 38-goal pace last season and elite goal scorers like him don’t grow on trees. Make no mistake, Johnny Gaudreau will lead the team in scoring with a projected 81 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide, while Laine is projected to come second with 63. Note, however, the discrepancy between the Pool Guide’s projections and BetMGM’s over/under points lines for Gaudreau (95) and Laine (76). The variance exemplifies the wide range of outcomes for an intriguing Blue Jackets squad, and again it should be noted that the Jackets tend to surprise to the upside. Laine’s injury riddled season has seen him ranked lower than usual in most standard drafts, and he’s a fantastic value pick in the middle rounds. Having dual-winger eligibility gives fantasy managers a ton of flexibility since RW will be a thin position to start the season.
Hidden gems: Cole Sillinger, C and Kent Johnson, LW
How well Gaudreau and Laine perform will depend very much who their center will be. By far, their most experienced and likely best option is Boone Jenner, but their most skilled playmakers are the up-and-coming Sillinger and Johnson. Sillinger scored 31 points last season after making the team out of training camp and projects to be a future No. 1 center. Like any young player, his performance fluctuated, including three months in which he scored just two points, but he also had a productive November with seven points in 12 games and finished the season on a strong note with 10 points in 14 games in April.
Johnson is a puck wizard – his Michigan goal is very apropos to his alma mater – who projects to be a winger in the NHL due to his slight frame, but he was drafted as a center and recently helped Canada clinch the gold medal at the World Juniors with an overtime winner. Sillinger is likely ahead on the depth chart, but with enough top-six minutes, both players possess tremendous upside, especially in keeper leagues.
Merzlikins is unquestionably the starter after Joonas Korpisalo had a particularly tough season (.877 Sv%/4.15 GAA) and in five of his seven NHL seasons has posted a negative GSAA, according to hockey-reference.com. Merzlikins came one appearance shy of 60 last season, which would put him in a very exclusive five-man group, and ranked fourth with 1,742 saves; he’s expected to be a workhorse again if Korpisalo continues to struggle. Merzlikins finished fifth in Vezina voting in his rookie season and remains on an upward trajectory, and depending on how well the rest of the team fares, might be one of the best value goalies in fantasy this coming season.
“… sometimes you need to take a step back to take a leap forward.”
It seems prophetic, but when I wrote that for last year’s outlook, I didn’t expect the Jackets to improve so much under Larsen and land the biggest name on the free-agent market the following summer. Things are definitely looking rosier going forward; it’s just a matter of when all the pieces will be coming together. Even Gaudreau admitted that, in the immediate time, his chances of winning with the Flames were probably higher, but there’s a lot of talent in the Jackets’ pipeline. While Gaudreau and Laine present the best fantasy options, don’t forget about multi-category contributor Zach Werenski, and also breakout candidate Adam Boqvist, who was last year’s “hidden gem” pick but didn’t make any significant strides though he did score a career-high 11 goals thanks to an unsustainable 17.2 S%.