Columbus Blue Jackets need a boost from Chinakhov and Danforth

Stunning the NHL by landing “Johnny Hockey” and re-signing Patrik Laine were big strides.

And while Johnny Gaudreau and Laine have boosted Blue Jackets ticket sales for this season, it will take more than a dynamic duo for a roster “reset” that began in 2020-21 to yield a comeback. playoffs. The Jackets’ supporting cast also needs significant improvements.

“We can’t stay where we were,” coach Brad Larsen said. “And if the guys don’t take the next step, we’ll back off.”

In the Jackets’ preseason finale on Saturday at the Washington Capitals, there were plenty of encouraging signs.

Yegor Chinakhov, second-year striker and 21st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, led the league with five goals. His six points were tied for the team lead with second-year forward Justin Danforth (three goals, three assists) and defenseman Andrew Peeke (six assists), entering his second full season.

Columbus got impressive outings from goalies Elvis Merzlikins, the Jackets’ top goaltender, and Daniil Tarasov, the likely replacement until Joonas Korpisalo returned from hip surgery. Jakub Voracek, who led Columbus with 62 points in 2021-22, scored three goals in his first three preseason games — half the number he scored in 79 games last season.

If those successes continue into the regular season, combined with the production of Gaudreau, Laine and others, the Blue Jackets will have a chance to surprise NHL analysts, who are once again predicting sadness and doom for Columbus.

It won’t be easy in the Metropolitan Division, with the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals all improving in the offseason, but internal growth can be a powerful force.

Columbus also got tougher by adding “bite” with defenseman Erik Gudbranson and forward Mathieu Olivier, a quality that already showed in the pre-season.

Putting it all together for a legitimate playoff bid is next.

“Our division has gotten tougher,” Larsen said. “We signed Gaudreau, but if you look around our division, every team has improved, and they’re also growing from within, so that’s what I’m talking about at the start of camp. The standard. We can’t go any lower than where we were, so it’s been a tough camp. I was delighted with the way the guys prepared.

Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine has scored two goals and recorded 11 shots this preseason.

Patrik Laine looks great for Blue Jackets even though he feels ‘awful’

Another encouraging sign for the Blue Jackets is the way Laine has been playing.

The 6-foot-5, 216-pound winger scored two goals, 11 shots and dominated play in multiple shifts in his first three preseason games while getting used to teammate Gaudreau. Laine came in leaner and stronger than previous seasons, showing bursts of speed that overwhelmed defenders.

Imagine what he will look like when his legs recover from a grueling camp.

“It’s still kinda awful, but guys say I look better, so I’ll take that,” Laine said. “I’ve had a really good summer and it’s good to see it paying off, but it’s been a long season.”

Clicking with Gaudreau is the main priority.

“I’m always trying to sort things out, and it’s the same for him,” Laine said. “He probably wants to know how I play, and sometimes I don’t even know how I play. But we talk a lot. We’ll talk about it on the bench, and that’s how we build chemistry and play a better game next time.

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@BrianHedger

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