Anticipation has reached an apex and optimism is high, but this isn’t unknown territory. The Columbus Blue Jackets had a franchise record 50-24-8 (108 points) and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for only the third time franchise history last season.
For all the firsts the 2016-17 season held, the Blue Jackets have been in this situation before, with thoughts of the previous season blasting the team toward a chain of success. But that has never happened. The team has never won a playoff series or even made back-to-back playoff appearances. The beginning of an 82-game regular-season journey to those goals begins Friday.
The Blue Jackets open the 2017-18 NHL season Friday night at Nationwide Arena against the New York Islanders with hopes of a breakthrough and expectations to compete with the league’s elite teams, such as division rivals Washington and back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
Before the puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday, here’s what to look for ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Artemi Panarin: How does a front office address goal-scoring concerns on its offense? By trading for one of the top power-play forwards.
The Blue Jackets acquired Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin in a four-player deal, which included Brandon Saad and two draft picks. Panarin played on Chicago’s second line the last two seasons with superstar Patrick Kane and has been credited with a couple of Kane’s best career years, while accumulating 60 goals, 91 assists, 151 points in two seasons himself.
He will likely join center Alexander Wennberg and right wing Cam Atkinson on the first line adding elite passing ability, a right-handed shot from the left wing and one of the most feared one-timers in the NHL.
Foligno at center: After a down year in 2015, Foligno returned to normalcy in 2016, proving his captain status to Tortorella, who doubted the 29-year-old in his first season in Columbus. Now in 2017, Foligno will be asked to put up a similar 26-25-51 line at the center position for the first time in his 10-year NHL career.
Foligno unexpectedly made the Ottawa Senators roster in 2007 and was placed at left wing because of a loaded center position. Now the captain is moving back to his original spot due to an absence of ready talent at the moment.
Rookie Pierre Luc-Dubois, who was expected to fill the No. 3 center spot following the departure of center William Karlsson to Vegas in this summer’s expansion draft, will play left wing in a move to alleviate some growing pains the 2016 No. 3 overall pick might have in his first NHL season.
Can Jackets have top-10 defense: With Bobrovsky between the pipes, the Blue Jackets will nearly always have a chance to win the game. He was 41-17-5 with a .931 save percentage and 2.06 goals allowed average last season, but it’s difficult to expect those numbers again from the league’s only active two-time Vezina winner without the continued emergence of a young defense.
Zach Werenski, 20, and Seth Jones, 23, are two of the best young defensemen in the league and anchor the Jackets’ top defensive pair. Jack Johnson and David Savard will likely man the second pair again, but Gabriel Carlsson is probable to start on the third pair with Ryan Murray with Scott Harrington as the seventh man. Markus Nutivaara, who played in 66 games during his rookie season in 2016-17, will begin the season in Cleveland with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate following offseason hip surgery.
Carlsson, 20, played in just two regular-season games last season before being thrown into the playoff series against Pittsburgh. Still qualified as a rookie, the 6-foot-5 Carlsson will become a fixture in Tortorella’s lineup if he can be a factor in the Jackets’ own zone.
Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner injury: After missing all of training camp with a lengthy contract dispute as a restricted free agent, right winger Josh Anderson inked a three-year deal Tuesday, but will begin the season with Cleveland. He recorded 17-12-29 in last year’s rookie campaign.
Left winger Boone Jenner will miss the season opener and likely longer than that as he is dealing with a back injury. Sonny Milano will likely start in place of Jenner Friday as Milano, a 2014 first-round pick, tries to play a full season in Columbus for the first time in his career.
The Blue Jackets being with a division opponent in the Islanders, then head on the road to face Chicago Saturday. Columbus’ first month has the potential for a fast start with seven of 12 games at home and only five of those 12 games are against playoff teams from last year.
Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Matt Calvert, Zac Dalpe, Brandon Dubinsky, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Markus Hannikainen, Boone Jenner*, Sonny Milano, Artemi Panarin, Lukas Sedlak, Alexander Wennberg
Defensemen: Gabriel Carlsson, Scott Harrington, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard, Zach Werenski
Goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky, Joonas Korpisalo
The Lantern will post an article at the beginning of each week summing up all the Blue Jackets action and storylines that took place on the ice during the week. It will analyze the significance of the week’s action, a look ahead to the upcoming week and often include quotes from coaches and players.