The Blue Jackets finished 31st out of 32 NHL teams last season, had a hideous goal differential (-116), were hampered by injuries and didn’t have a player post a positive plus/minus rating.
What they did have were a couple breakout performances, led by Kirill Marchenko’s impressive 21-goal output in 64 games as a rookie. This season, there’s renewed hope despite coach Mike Babcock’s forced resignation and Pascal Vincent becoming the Jackets' third head coach in five months.
Most of those injuries are healed and the Blue Jackets are focused on exceeding the low expectations of NHL analysts. They’ll need more than a couple of breakout seasons to do it, and there are plenty of candidates. Rookies such as Adam Fantilli and David Jiricek were not considered because neither has an NHL baseline season for comparison to a "breakout" effort.
Here are five who meet that definition:
2022-23 stats: 16 goals, 24 assists, 40 points, -19 rating, 79 games
The night Johnson pulled off “The Michigan” against the New York Islanders, on the anniversary of Mike Legg first making it a thing for Michigan 27 years earlier, was one of the Jackets’ most special moments last season. It was also reassurance that Johnson’s skill level is high.
Going into his second season, more will be expected of the forward the Jackets selected fifth overall in 2021. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Johnson approaches or tops 70 points in his NHL “sophomore” campaign.
2022-23 stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points, -3 rating, six games
After an impressive training camp, Danforth went into last season as one of the Blue Jackets’ most versatile forwards. Six games into the season, he needed season-ending shoulder surgery. He was set to play anywhere from the fourth line to the top line and could have helped at all three forward positions, not to mention the “bumper” role on the power play.
The shoulder is healed. Danforth has put in another good offseason and is even more motivated. After breaking into the league at age 28 with 10-4-14 in 45 games in 2021-22, Danforth could surpass those numbers if he can stay healthy.
2022-23 stats: 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, -23 rating, 64 games
Sillinger, 20, is already going into his third full NHL season. The first two couldn’t have been more different.
As a rookie, Sillinger played center for a team that surprised the league with more wins than predicted. He scored 16 goals and was the league’s youngest player at 18 the entire year. Last season, his production fell to three goals in 64 games before Sillinger headed to the Cleveland Monsters to finish out.
Now, the young center is determined to have a rebound effort that shows why the Blue Jackets selected him 12th overall in 2021. Sillinger has also changed his number from 34 to 4, a nod to his favorite player growing up, Taylor Hall. Getting into better scoring areas and using that shot, like Hall, could once again help the Blue Jackets exceed expectations.
2022-23 stats: 5 goals, 19 assists, 24 points, -12 rating, 46 games
The problem is he hasn’t stayed healthy enough. This is a defenseman who could have a big breakout just by staying on the ice a full season. Boqvist has the tools to become a highly productive contributor from the back end, including deft hands, a great shot and a high level of accuracy while using it.
Boqvist also ran the point expertly for the top power-play unit after returning from a broken foot last season and took full advantage of an opportunity created by Zach Werenski’s shoulder injury. Should he continue to excel on power plays, first or second unit, Boqvist’s numbers could skyrocket.
2022-23 stats: 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points, -6 rating, 30 games
Chinakhov, 22, was on his way to having one last season before sustaining an ankle fracture and high-ankle sprain.
Chinakhov didn't return to the NHL lineup and re-aggravated the injury with the Monsters during an AHL stint. He also missed the first two days of training camp for an unspecified reason, which isn’t how Chinakhov or the Blue Jackets wanted him to start. Chinakhov, when healthy, has a tantalizing set of skills. He’s fast, has good size, showed improvement winning puck battles last season has a strong shot.
Given time to get it off, Chinakhov can whip pucks at the net upwards of 95 mph or faster. That's faster than some players’ slap shots and can overpower goalies. A shot like that carries potential for a breakout season.
Get more Columbus Blue Jackets talk on the Cannon Fodder Podcast
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 5 Columbus Blue Jackets who could have a breakout