Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Columbus Blue Jackets
For the last 16 years (12 with The Hockey News) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
The 17th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – What’s changed? Last year’s 12th ranked offense just lost their 87-point player (Panarin) and their 70-point player (Duchene). They also lost the 2017 and 2013 Vezina Trophy winner in Bobrovsky. So…not much, really.
The Blue Jackets will need to carve themselves a new identity. They will need to push back against the odds, because the odds say “nosedive”. John Tortorella will need to be his coaching best, and untested – completely untested – rookie netminder Elvis Merzlikins will need to be the second coming of Henrik Lundqvist (the last untested rookie to be thrust into a starter’s job right away). Pierre-Luc Dubois will need to continue his upward trajectory without a superstar on his wing. That’s three big ifs right there. On the plus side, Cam Atkinson will still get his 30 goals and Seth Jones/Zach Werenski will still be one of the better defense pairings in the league.
Ready for full-time – Columbus just lost some high-end veterans but at least they have a prospect pipeline flush with future superstar talent. Or…not. It’s not all bad, though.
Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is one of the best (if not the best) prospect goalies out there. And the Blue Jackets will be pinning a lot of their hopes on him. The 6-3 25-year-old has progressed steadily in Switzerland, posting back-to-back seasons with a 0.921 SV% the last two years, winning goaltender of the year in the NLA for 2017-18. Elvis has been stellar on the world stage, usually holding Team Latvia in games on his own. So he’s faced experienced professionals and some of the best the world has to offer. But he’ll be thrown to the wolves this year. Will he be up to the task? Here’s hoping. It could be tough on Blue Jackets’ fans if they have to watch Joonas Korpisalo backstop the team all year. Merzlikins should be owned in most leagues this season, and if you can add him as your No.3 goaltender he’ll be a steal (if you’re feeling risky – take him as your No.2).
Vladislav Gavrikov is a real solid defensive defenseman that could turn into that stay-at-home guy that every team craves as the anchor in that four/five slot. The 6-3, 215 pounder used his size effectively in the KHL and crossed the pond in the spring in time to get into a couple of playoff games for Columbus. You can pretty much pencil him into the lineup right now in the bottom pairing. (Read more on Elvis here)
Alexandre Texier, Sonny Milano and Emil Bemstrom are the three offensive prospect hopefuls that are closest to making the jump, and there should be room for two of them. Texier, a native of France, ended his career in Finland with 41 points in 55 games before crossing the pond in time to play seven games for Cleveland. He promptly scored five goals in those contests and was called up to the big club where he got into 10 regular season and playoff games (three goals and four points). He is my favorite of the three to make the big club and he’ll probably be a tweener, bouncing back and forth from the second, third and fourth lines.
Milano is also likely to make the team because he has to clear waivers in order to be sent down. As a former first-round pick (16th overall in 2014), the team has invested a lot in him. They won’t lose that investment for nothing. How many games he gets into and how much ice time he gets is up to him. But there’s plenty of ice time available thanks to all the departures. He’s already played 70 career NHL games and has 15 goals, so he hasn’t been terrible. Just inconsistent. Last year he looked to be fixing that when he tallied 24 points in 27 AHL games – but then he got hurt shortly after getting called up. He returned in time for the AHL playoffs and was very good, notching 10 points in eight games. This summer offered more drama when he was arrested and charged for his role in a bar fight. Stay tuned for that one…
Bemstrom is probably the prospect I like the best of the three, but he’s also the guy I think will start the season in the AHL. To be clear, he’ll be in the Columbus lineup this season (I have him penciled in for 26 games in the Fantasy Guide). But I think he starts in the AHL. He led the SHL in goals last year (23) and power-play goals (10), led all teenagers in SHL points en route winning that league’s rookie-of-the-year award. He’s looking like he could be a 30-goal (or even 35-goal), 55- or 60-point player down the road. Read up on Bemstrom here.
Columbus Blue Jackets prospect depth chart and fantasy upsides can be found here (not yet ready for mobile viewing, desktop only right now)
Fantasy Outlook – Regardless of Atkinson, the top-two D, the coaching, and the promising rookie goalie, this team will struggle to score goals. Nyquist doesn’t make up for all that, and to ask Bemstrom to step right in and do it isn’t fair to him either. I have the Blue Jackets tumbling from 12th in league scoring to 25th. The prospect pipeline is average for forwards and well below average for defensemen. In net, if Merzlikins pans out the way team brass hopes, then the position will be set for years to come. If he doesn’t, well there’s always Daniil Tarasov, a promising prospect goalie from out of Russia. The bottom line though – I would not want one of the players on my fantasy roster traded to this team unless it’s a top prospect currently stuck in a deep system.
Fantasy Grade: C- (last year was B)
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