It didn’t take long for the hot streak that brought Trey Fix-Wolansky back to the Blue Jackets to burn out.
The rookie’s scorching “heater” for the Cleveland Monsters in the American Hockey League hasn’t made the NHL jump with him, but that doesn’t mean patience won’t pay off for Fix-Wolansky and the injury-riddled Blue Jackets, who still had eight players out heading into Monday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s a big step,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “It’s a huge step from the American league to here. I’ve coached in (the AHL), I’ve played in it and I’ve seen it. Success doesn’t mean it will translate right away.”
Fix-Wolansky, 23, was recalled Nov. 20 and faced the Florida Panthers the same day. He’d just racked up 14 points on seven goals and seven assists in his previous four AHL games, including back-to-back games with four points and then a five-point performance.
Combined with eight points (three goals, five assists) in his first 10 games, Fix-Wolansky’s 22 points in 14 games boosted him to the top of the AHL’s scoring leaders and still leads all Cleveland players. The Blue Jackets hoped to tap into that hot streak, but Fix-Wolansky went into Monday’s game still looking for his first NHL point of the season.
Part of the issue is the NHL’s faster pace as compared to the AHL, but Fix-Wolansky’s ice time is also a factor.
He averaged 9:57 through his first three games with the Blue Jackets despite having a role with the top power-play unit and playing right wing on a second line that includes Jack Roslovic at center and rookie Kent Johnson on the left.
Larsen “lost” Fix-Wolansky’s line a few times while the Blue Jackets were killing penalties and chased other forward matchups in the third periods of close losses last week to the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders. Fix-Wolansky’s adjustment to the NHL’s rapid pace also creates a tough situation for Larsen while doling out shifts.
“Sometimes you feel good and you’re confident, but all of a sudden, the pace of the game goes up when you get here,” Larsen said. “Your time and space are not there. The (defensemen) are dialed in at this level and they’re setting their gaps, so you’ve got to work that much harder just to find your space to get open for those opportunities. I think he’s been fine.”
Fix-Wolansky, selected by the Blue Jackets in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL draft, is trying to meet a challenging balance between pushing for offense and staying sound defensively.
“You don’t want to make mistakes, but at the same time you want to play freely and play with confidence,” Fix-Wolansky said. “When I have the puck, I think it’s just holding onto it a little bit longer and looking for the right play instead of rushing things. I think that’s important for me. I felt like the first three games I was skating well and had a couple chances. I’m just hoping to hold onto the puck a bit longer and create stuff for our line.”
Columbus Blue Jackets’ Dumais, Malatesta lighting up QMJHL
The Blue Jackets have two forwards off to a great start in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Jordan Dumais has 19 goals, 35 assists and 54 points in 24 games for the Halifax Mooseheads and James Malatesta has 19-11-30 in 23 games for the Quebec Remparts. Both are undersized, but Malatesta, 19, has more snarl and a year on Dumais in strength development.
Dumais, 18, has more skill and just signed an entry-level contract Friday, after being selected in the third round of the 2022 NHL draft in Montreal. The Blue Jackets have until June 1 to sign Malatesta, after selecting him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft conducted remotely.
Malatesta, in his fourth season for the Remparts, is on pace for 55-32-87 in 66 games, which would be career-highs in the QMJHL. He’s also on pace for 103 penalty minutes and a +43 plus/minus rating.
Dumais, who’s leading all three CHL junior leagues in scoring, is on pace for a whopping 54-99-153 with a +57 in 68 games for Halifax. He’s one point ahead of Regina Pats center Connor Bedard (22-32-53), the odds-on favorite to be selected first overall in the 2023 NHL draft.
Blue Jackets recall Berni, assign Gaunce to AHL
The injuries and illnesses still won’t cease for the Blue Jackets, who went into the game against Vegas on monday with multiple players questionable for health reasons.
Larsen said at the morning skate he had “two or three” gametime decisions to make and a transaction Monday reflected it. Columbus recalled rookie defenseman Tim Berni from Cleveland and reassigned forward Brendan Gaunce to the Monsters to clear a roster spot. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson didn’t participate in the skate, suggesting he was questionable to play.
Berni, 22, was selected by the Blue Jackets in the sixth round of the 2018 draft and began his professional career in Switzerland. He’s a slick skating defenseman playing his second AHL season with the Monsters and would make his NHL debut if pressed into service.