Struggles at center
Players to line up at center for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season: Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Lukas Sedlak, Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Boone Jenner.
Their combined stat line? 30 goals, 48 assists (at press time). Not good. It's probably an unfair comparison, but the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for 28 and 43 with just the two of them. Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point of the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning are 33-52.
Injuries haven't helped. Both Dubinsky (face) and Wennberg (back) are currently out, and Sedlak missed time earlier this season as well. Jenner started the season on Injured Reserve, and he's only playing center because of the aforementioned injuries. But Wennberg and Dubinsky were both having underwhelming campaigns thus far, and Schroeder and Dalpe are around for depth — one or the other (or both) have been assigned to minor league affiliate Cleveland for much of the season.
A lot of folks — especially fans — will tell you they saw this coming. Some of them might even be telling the truth. After the team maneuvered to have the Las Vegas Golden Knights select William Karlsson in the offseason Expansion Draft (that's Karlsson of the 19 goals at press time, but anyone who tells you they saw that coming is absolutely not telling the truth; still let's not linger at that painful place), most who follow the team knew there was concern with the team's talent and depth down the middle.
It was why there was rampant speculation that when the Colorado Avalanche traded Matt Duchene, it would be to Columbus. This was the dominant offseason story after the trade of Brandon Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, more so even than the contract extension Wennberg signed in September or the camp holdout of young forward Josh Anderson. That speculation continued into the season, as the Jackets opened with Foligno at center despite the fact that he's best suited (and has spent most of his professional career) on the wing. Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen held firm that Joe Sakic, his counterpart in Colorado, was asking for too much. In early November, Duchene was sent to Ottawa as part of a three-team deal.
Around this same time, Dubois was moved to center, having already been a bit of a revelation in his rookie season. His play alongside Panarin and Anderson has been the season's best story for the CBJ. That said, it's not like the 19-year-old has been setting the league on fire, numbers-wise.
With Dubinsky expected out for at least another month yet, and Wennberg's status unknown — back injuries are tricky things for anyone, let alone a professional hockey player — what's next for the Jackets at center? It will be interesting to see if Kekalainen is moved to make a deal for some help (former Jacket Derick Brassard is rumored to be available) or rides this stretch out with his depth.