Columbus Blue Jackets Begin New NHL Season With Many Fresh Faces
The puck drops Friday night at 7 p.m. for the start of the NHL season for the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Fans may be wondering how this team will perform, since several of its top players departed after a successful season last year.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, left wing Artemi Panarin, and center Matt Duchene all left the Blue Jackets as free agents after last season. That proved to be their best season yet, culminating in the team's first playoff series win, a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Aaron Portzline, Blue Jackets reporter for The Athletic, says while the team will have some fresh faces, he is optimistic that they can come together.
“I don’t think there’s a lost cause that I think a lot of people around the league anticipate,” Portzline says. “This is still a team with a lot of proud veterans and a lot of really promising young players, guys that fans should probably get to know.”
Portzline says Joonas Korposalo will be the primary goaltender this season, after being the backup to Bobrovsky for most of the last three years.
Korposalo's backup is Elvis Merzlikins from Latvia, who is new to the NHL.
“This guy is a character,” Portzline says. “He is a very infectious guy who is absolutely driven to greatness. He’s been one of the best goaltenders outside the National Hockey League.”
Portzline says Gustav Nyquist, who signed as a free agent with the Blue Jackets, will play right wing although he is not expected to be as dynamic as Panarin.
“They think he can bring to life other players that maybe as a collective can match the offense that Panarin took out of town,” Portzline says.
Portzline says he expects veteran players on the team—like Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno and Pierre Luc Dubois—to step up their game.
“Who scores the goals and creates the offense at the very big moments, which is when Panarin struck,” says Portzline. “That’s when he was so key to the Blue Jackets.”
Portzline says the strength of the team is on defense with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Ryan Murray and David Savard are on the second line of the defense.
Portzline says the first game Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the second on Saturday in Pittsburgh, will test how well the players can adjust to each other.
"So right out of the shoot they get two of the top offensive teams in the league," Potzline says. "How does their goaltending hold up?