Blue Jackets add gritty forward Mathieu Olivier in trade with Nashville Predators

The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch

Adding grit was one of the Blue Jackets' offseason "to do" items.

More could be added in the next couple weeks, but the Jackets got started on it Thursday by acquiring forward Mathieu Olivier from the Nashville Predators for a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft next week in Montreal.

“He’s a big player that can also play, but he also gives us a little bit of size, muscle and physicality," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "It's a good add for us.”

Olivier, 25, is a 6-foot-2, 209-pound grinder who's spent most of his professional career with the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ affiliate in the American Hockey League. He logged 10 NHL games this season plus three more in the postseason during the Predators' first-round loss to the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche .

Kekalainen expects Olivier, who has one year left on a contract that will pay him $750,000 at the AHL and NHL levels, to make the Blue Jackets' season-opening roster. That's why he was willing to part with one of two fourth-round picks in this year's draft, parting with one slotted 122nd overall that was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 2021 trade for former captain Nick Foligno.

The Blue Jackets now have two picks in the first round (No. 6 and 12), one pick in the second round (No. 44), one pick in the third round (No. 96), one pick in the fourth round (No. 109) and one pick in the seventh round (No, 203).

“If you look at the probabilities of getting an NHL player in the fourth round, it’s real high and this guy’s already played in the NHL and has some experience under his belt," Kekalainen said. "So, we had two fourth-round picks, ours and Toronto’s, and we figured that was the price of doing business. It was a need for us, so that's what we spent."

Kekalainen attempted to add the same element last summer by signing veteran forward Zac Rinaldo, an enforcer type by today's standards. It never materialized after Rinaldo refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine, was disinvited from training camp and also told to stay away from the Cleveland Monsters — the Jackets' AHL affiliate.

As it turned out, the Jackets missed that physical element more than anticipated and were were bullied in several matchups last season .

Both matchups against the Minnesota Wild fell into that category, as the Jackets took numerous big hits and sustained multiple injuries. Their lack of heft became a glaring area of vulnerability, especially after trades the previous two years subtracted Foligno, defenseman David Savard , forward Josh Anderson , center Pierre-Luc Dubois and then forward Max Domi at this year's trade deadline.

Olivier is a fourth-line checking forward. He signed with Nashville in 2018 as an undrafted free agent out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is from Biloxi, Mississippi.

In fact, he is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada and is the first player from Mississippi to make it to the NHL. Olivier has 19 goals, 23 assists and 42 points in 156 AHL games over three years and has 3-4-7 in 48 NHL games, all with the Predators' organization. He had one assist in 10 games for Nashville this season and didn’t record a point in the postseason.

Olivier had 14 penalty minutes in the regular season for the Predators and added 12 more in the playoffs. During the NHL portion of his career, Olivier has spent nearly two minutes per game (88 minutes) seated in the penalty box.

"It’s an ongoing process that we watch every day and evaluate our team," Kekalainen said. "(Toughness) was something we evaluated as a need, so that’s what we added."

Blue Jackets retaining depth players, re-sign depth centers Josh Dunne, Brendan Gaunce

Nearly two weeks apart, the Blue Jackets announced contract extensions for pending free agent centers Brendan Gaunce and Josh Dunne. Gaunce, who signed his deal June 18, received a two-year, two-way contract and Dunne inked a one-year, two-way deal Friday.

Gaunce, 28, has the better shot to make the Jackets' roster after putting up 5-2-7 in 30 games for Columbus last season, cementing a semi-regular role on the fourth line. Dunne, 23, played with the Monsters in the AHL in 2021-22, totaling 6-5-11 in 29 games before a season-ending injury.

Gaunce, a former first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2012 (No. 26), originally signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Blue Jackets last summer. Coming off a season playing in the Swedish Hockey League, he revived his NHL career in Columbus by giving coach Brad Larsen a versatile fourth-line forward capable of playing center or either wing position.

Dunne, who played collegiately at Clarkson University, signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in March 2021 . He made his NHL debut that same year and hoped to make the team's season-opening roster last season . It didn't happen for the 6-foot-4, 209-pound pivot and his injury cut short a chance to earn a recall from the AHL in the season's second half.

The Blue Jackets remain hopeful about Dunne's potential as a big-bodied center.

"He’s made some progress," Kekalainen said. "It was unfortunate that he had the injury. He was progressing well. He’s a big center iceman and has played some games in the NHL already. We had big plans for him when we signed him from Clarkson and we still do.”


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Blue Jackets add gritty forward Mathieu Olivier in trade with Nashville Predators

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