In what has been a rough start to the 2022-’23 season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team received some bad news and one that will challenge depth and player development. Two-time All-Star defenseman, Zach Werenski, suffered a separated shoulder and torn labrum in Thursday night’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers. What does it mean for the Blue Jackets? Can the team overcome what amounts to a devastating loss? That is the question.
Before we dive further in on the Werenski situation, in the same game Thursday night, defensemen Nick Blankenburg broke his ankle and will miss 6-8 weeks. Fellow defenseman Erik Gudbranson received two lacerations (bridge of nose and forehead) and is listed as day-to-day. The Blue Jackets have called up Gavin Bayreuther, Marcus Bjork, and Jake Christiansen from the Cleveland Monsters.
David Jiricek was recalled yesterday as well. Jiricek was returned to the Monsters in favor of Christiansen last night. The assumption is that prior to entering LTIR, it adds $1,000,000 to the Blue Jackets LTIPB pool. Jiricek, who did get a quick look by the Blue Jackets two weeks ago, performed well. Not wanting to burn through his ELC, Jiricek was returned to Cleveland following the Blue Jackets Global Series in Finland.
The loss of Werenski is a big blow to a Blue Jackets that has struggled to play the man-to-man scheme consistently. Werenski had transitioned into the scheme with relative ease. Icing over 20 minutes a game and is a reliable, steady player who anchored the blueline, Werenski has been the face of the Blue Jackets defense for a couple of seasons, and with good reason. Werenski was ranked as the 16th-best defensive player in the NHL before the start of the season. The team will have to lean on Jake Bean, Andrew Peeke, and Vladislav Gavrikov to anchor a young, primarily inexperienced defensive crop.
Gavin Bayreuther and Jake Christiansen have seen limited action with the Blue Jackets. They will now be counted on heavily. Marcus Bjork is an exciting player for the Blue Jackets. He signed a one-year free-agent contract after spending his entire pro career in Sweden. Bjork is a right-shot defenseman who has transitioned into a very steady player after being offensive-minded.
While not an ideal situation for the Blue Jackets, it is next man up by force. I suspect the Blue Jackets will want to stay internal and not bring in a player or two via trades. David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk, and Corson Ceulemans give the Blue Jackets some solid defensive prospects. Jiricek and Ceulemans are expected to be in Columbus next season.