Kenyon Clevenger The Hockey Writers
Jackets’ Youth & Lack of Playoff Experience
I know you already know this but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are almost here. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they’ll be making their third playoff appearance in franchise history as they chase the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In order to do that, they almost certainly need to win their next three games. Their next three opponents: Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh, the three other teams battling the Jackets for the Presidents’ Trophy.
For a team that has seen the offense dip in recent games, taking all six possible points in this coming stretch will be a challenge. But this kind of challenge this late in the season will be beneficial for a very young Jackets team. With the playoffs looming large, what better way to prepare than to take on three of the top four teams in the league consecutively?
This three-game stretch will test the youth of this Jackets club which has wowed all season long despite their average age being only 26. With this youth though comes a lack of playoff experience. Nine players on their current roster have not played a single playoff game in their career. Will this be a problem for the Blue Jackets? They get a pre-test over the next five days before starting the real thing in less than two weeks.
As one of the youngest teams in the league, the Blue Jackets have multiple players who will be making their playoff debuts. Eight skaters on their current roster—six of them rookies—have not played one game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, four of those rookies—Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Lukas Sedlak and Zach Werenski—did win the Calder Cup last year for the then-Lake Erie Monsters. It’s not the same competition as what they’ll see this time around, but that championship will certainly help them understand what it takes to win in the postseason.
Should backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo ever make an appearance in these playoffs for any reason, it would also be his first look at playoff hockey. So, potentially nine Blue Jackets players could see their first playoff action this season. The amount of youth could definitely make this team a bit vulnerable in relation to a lengthy playoff run. In order to push their season beyond April, they might have to rely on the more experienced players on their roster.
Those Who Have Been There
The roster isn’t ripe with playoff experience but that’s to be expected from a team that has yet to win a playoff series. Along with the group of playoff newbies, seven players on their current roster have played in only one playoff series. That’s not to say there are no difference-makers on this club come playoff time.
Scott Hartnell has the most playoff experience by far with 91 games played. The 34-year-old tallied 17 points in 23 games in the 2010 playoffs when his Philadelphia Flyers made a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Brandon Saad, 24, has totaled 67 playoff games which he accomplished in four seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. Saad is the only Jackets player to have played and won a Stanley Cup, and he did it twice with Chicago (2013 and 2015). Aside from Hartnell (19) and Saad (15), no other Jackets player has accumulated 10 or more goals in his postseason career.
Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who has proven to be a stellar acquisition at the trade deadline, has appeared in 54 playoff games, all but six as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. Although his name is not etched on the Cup, he was listed on the Detroit squad that captured Lord Stanley’s honor in 2008.
I find the following statistics fascinating. Only one current Jackets player has averaged more than a point per game in their playoff career, and that is defenseman Jack Johnson (19 points in 18 games). Johnson is also the only current Jackets defenseman to have scored a playoff goal, and he has four. It appears that the 226-pound wrecking ball unleashes his offensive capabilities when it matters most.
Goalie Bob Carrying the Team
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is likely the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy and could maybe have his hat thrown into the Hart Trophy conversation. In March especially, Bobrovsky stole points and wins for his team that they surely didn’t deserve. He has been dominant between the pipes this season without question, but his playoff resume is below average. He has started in nine playoff games, appeared in 13, and owns a 2-6 record, a 3.50 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
Now, with the way Bob has played all year long, it would be absolutely shocking if he stooped down anywhere close to those numbers in these playoffs. He appears to have reached a level of play that most goaltenders will never achieve. Bob has been superhuman this season and hasn’t shown any signs of losing his cape.
Nine players from the Jackets’ 2014 playoff appearance remain on their roster this time around: Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Johnson, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Bobrovsky. Fast-forward three years and this Jackets team is much improved with a mix of mostly young talent but also veteran leadership.
Sure, there are many other NHL squads that are more equipped with playoff experience than the Blue Jackets. So it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see their youth fail them this postseason. However, it hasn’t failed them yet. In fact, it can be argued that their youth has been the engine for them all year. Their collection of young studs including Alexander Wennberg, Werenski and Seth Jones might be the league’s most talented trio under the age of 23.
Although it can be extremely valuable, playoff experience isn’t everything and that’s exactly what all Jackets fans will be hoping for starting in mid-April.
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