It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT

Joey Alfieri
NBC Sports

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2017-18

45-30-7, 97 points. (4th in the Metropolitan Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-2 vs. Washington Capitals, first round

IN: 

Riley Nash
Anthony Duclair
Jean-Francois Berube

OUT:

Thomas Vanek
Taylor Chorney
Matt Calvert
Mark Letestu
Jack Johnson
Ian Cole

RE-SIGNED:

Boone Jenner
Ryan Murray
Oliver Bjorkstrand

The Jackets got off to a strong start in 2017-18. They won 16 of their first 25 games (16-8-1), but a lot of those wins came because of the stellar play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. On multiple occasions, head coach John Tortorella mentioned that many of his star players needed to be better.

After rattling off six consecutive wins at the end of November, Columbus went on to lose nine of their following 13 games. They limped through December, January and February before finally getting back on track in March, where they went 12-3-1.

Forward Cam Atkinson was one of the bigger reasons for the Blue Jackets’ turnaround. After a sluggish start, Atkinson managed to pick up more points down the stretch (he finished the year with 24 goals and 46 points in 65 games).

Artemi Panarin was the most consistent forward for Columbus, as he racked up 82 points in 81 games. There’s talk about him wanting to leave the Jackets. If that happens, it would be a huge blow to an organization that’s trying to finally make some noise in the playoffs.

On a positive note, Pierre-Luc Dubois took a huge step forward as the season progressed. The 20-year-old finished his first full season with 20 goals and 48 points and he just kept getting better and better all the time. He also added four points in six playoff games in the spring. Unfortunately, he didn’t get much help.

One area where the Jackets have no problems, is on defense. That much was obvious last season, as they got rock-solid play from Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. There’s no denying that Werenski and Jones are two of the better young defenders in the league. Columbus also has David Savard, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara.

After finishing the season on a high note, they managed to go up 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Washington Capitals. After dropping Game 3 in overtime, the wheels just came off. The Capitals rattled off four consecutive wins to send the Blue Jackets home in the first round. It was another disappointing finish.

Prospect Pool:

• Vitali Abramov, C, 20, Victoriaville Tigres – 2016 third-round pick

Abramov is a slick forward that has put up huge numbers in the Quebec League. He picked up 45 goals and 104 points in 56 games with Gatineau and Victoriaville. He’s a great skater with good offensive instincts. Although he’s small (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), he’s dynamic enough that he could stick with the Blue Jackets this season.

“He’s shown throughout his junior career that he can score,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the skills you need to battle for a spot in the NHL. We’ll give him the opportunity.”

Gabriel Carlsson, D, 21, Cleveland Monsters – 2015 first-round pick

In his first full season in North America, Carlsson split time in the AHL (33 games) and the NHL (14 games). He’s never really put up strong numbers at any professional level, so he’s not the most gifted offensive defenseman. He still has the potential to develop into an effective defender. Look for him to push for a regular role on the Columbus blue line next season.

• Liam Foudy, C, 18, London Knights – 2018 first-round pick

Foudy’s offensive totals from last season appear to be underwhelming on the surface (40 points in 65 games), but the young forward was playing on a London team with strong forward depth (Alex Formenton, Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu were all on the roster). Foudy is a very good skater with enough offensive upside that he projects as a top-six forward. He’ll be expected to dominate in the junior ranks this season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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