Adam Fantilli, Columbus Blue Jackets, Connor Bedard, Damon Severson, Mike Babcock

Columbus Blue Jackets: Must-See Games in First Half of 2023-24

The Columbus Blue Jackets are entering an important season for the organization. Coming out of a rebuild, they need to be healthy and perform at a high level to show that they can truly be contenders in the near future. With new faces such as Mike Babcock, Damon Severson, and Ivan Provorov, there will be a lot of important individual moments this coming season as well on top of important games at an organizational level.

Opening Night vs Philadelphia Flyers, Oct. 12, 2023

The new-look Blue Jackets will make their debut against the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Oct. 12. The debut of Babcock and company will certainly be an important milestone for the organization, as a strong start will be key. If they lose their first game, given Babcock’s infamy around the league, it’ll certainly put the team even further under a microscope.

Mike Babcock, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mike Babcock (Credit: Mark Scheig, the Hockey Writers)

For the fans, it marks one of the most exciting nights of the season. Hope will be in the air, and following last season’s disappointment, it’ll be a nice change to the atmosphere of Nationwide Arena. It’ll also be the first time players such as Severson, Provorov, and likely Adam Fantilli make a regular season appearance wearing the Union blue uniform. 

Erik Karlsson & the Pittsburgh Penguins Come to Town, Nov. 14, 2023

There’s always a special energy when the Blue Jackets host the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dating back nearly a decade at this point, there have been many memorable moments in the organization’s history that have occurred against Pittsburgh. Although the likes of Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell have long since departed, the intensity of these games has been continued by players such as Boone Jenner who know how important it is to their fans. Add in the fact that the Penguins have a new superstar in their ranks, reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, and this is a game that Blue Jackets fans won’t want to miss. 

Provorov’s Return to Philadelphia, Nov. 19, 2023

Provorov is one of the Blue Jackets’ newest faces and he was undoubtedly a controversial figure as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He fell out of favor with the organization, partially due to the drama surrounding him but also because of a dip in his play in recent seasons. When he’s at his best though, he’s a very solid two-way defender who was known for his excellent breakout passes prior to being drafted. He went a single pick before the Blue Jackets’ top defenseman, Zach Werenski in the 2015 Draft. He’ll play his former team on Nov. 19, which will also feature former Blue Jackets head coach and current Flyers bench boss John Tortorella. 

Bedard vs Fantilli at Nationwide Arena, Nov. 22, 2023

Connor Bedard of the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus’ Adam Fantilli were two of the most hyped prospects of the 2023 NHL Draft and they’ll battle at Nationwide Arena for the first time on Nov. 22. It’ll be a storyline that’ll follow both of their careers and this will be the first chapter.

Adam Fantilli Columbus Blue Jackets
Adam Fantilli, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The future of both organizations will be bright, and these two are going to be at the center of it. They’ll be two of the major contenders for the Calder Memorial Trophy this coming season, and they’ll have many battles in years to come so the first meeting will be a must-see.

Damon Severson Returns to New Jersey, Nov. 24, 2023

Strangely, three very important games will be back-to-back-to-back this season. Immediately after Provorov returns to Philadelphia and Bedard shows off his talents in Columbus, the Blue Jackets will travel to New Jersey to face the Devils. Severson will be playing against the team he has spent the entirety of his career with to this point, and it will certainly be an emotional night. 

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Severson spent over a decade with the Devils and he made the decision to depart via free agency this offseason. Although he never hit the open market, that’s only because the Blue Jackets were ahead of the curve and traded for him and signed him to an extension prior to July 1.

Korpisalo’s Return to Nationwide Arena, Dec. 1, 2023

Joonas Korpisalo spent over a decade as part of the Blue Jackets organization since being drafted in 2012. Once he made it to the NHL, he went on to play parts of eight seasons in net for Columbus. Unfortunately, he lost out to Elvis Merzlikins during the goaltender duel that had been going on since Sergei Bobrovsky’s departure as an unrestricted free agent. As a result, the organization couldn’t justify giving him the contract he deserved and he got it from the Ottawa Senators instead. It’s impossible to know at this point whether he’ll get the start for this game, as that’ll likely be a game-day decision, however, he’ll certainly be on the bench regardless. 

Gavrikov Comes Back to Columbus, Dec. 5, 2023

Vladislav Gavrikov has made quite an impact since being the Blue Jackets’ seventh-round pick in 2015. He made his NHL debut during the 2019-20 season and spent four years with the organization before being traded at this past trade deadline. Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the management team did their best to keep the Russian defenseman in Columbus, however, he got moved when it became clear it wasn’t in the cards. He already played against his former team once, but this will mark his return to the city he called home for four seasons. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances behind his departure, Gavrikov was a fan favorite in Columbus and should get quite a reaction when he takes the ice in black and white. 

Mike Babcock Visits Toronto, Dec. 14, 2023

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, many of their exciting stories will be happening on the road this season and Babcock’s return to Toronto will be a major talking point for weeks leading up to it. His incident with Mitch Marner is well documented and his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs destroyed his reputation around the NHL. He’s become a polarizing figure across the league in general, however, Toronto was involved in the controversy so he’s even more infamous there. It’ll be a game he won’t want to lose, and it’ll be one that the Toronto media goes crazy over. Expect the Blue Jackets to play some of their best hockey of the season on Dec. 14.

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The Blue Jackets are going to have an eventful first half of the season and depending on how things turn out, that’ll determine how eventful the rest of the season will be. There are a lot of new faces in the organization, and between homecomings and potential rivalries, it will be very entertaining for the fans to say the least.

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