Blue Jackets rookie Nick Blankenburg journey to first NHL game

Nick Blankenburg tried to suppress his smile, but the sheer joy of his first assist in the NHL won out.

It took the Blue Jackets’ rookie defenseman just over two periods in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Canadiens to land on the scoresheet for the first time. He set up Emil Bemstrom for a shot that was tipped home by Cole Sillinger at 6:24 of the third period, giving him the secondary assist. As soon as the puck hit the net, Blankenburg’s face broke open with an ear-to-ear grin.

As he skated to the bench to celebrate, his elation was evident.

“I was trying not to smile too much but at a certain point skating to the bench, I couldn’t help myself,” Blankenburg said. “Definitely a moment I’ll remember forever. … Just a sense of relief, a little bit. I saw it go in. I’m kind of at a loss for words. Obviously, it’s a childhood dream to play your first game in the NHL, and another one to get your first point.”

Every young hockey player grows up dreaming of playing on the biggest stage, but for much of Blankenburg’s career, making it to the NHL level was far from guaranteed. His delight at notching his first point, in his first game, drove home the significance of the path he took to get to this point.

Apr 13, 2022;  Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Nick Blankenburg (77) gets a pat on the head from Columbus Blue Jackets center Kent Johnson (13) NHL game after Blanketburg's first career point scored between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadiens at Nationwide Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

“I don’t really think many people expected me to be here,” Blankenburg said Monday after his first practice. “Just to be here, for me personally, and believing in myself and having that belief has really helped me along the way.”

To put it lightly, Blankenburg’s journey to the NHL was non-traditional. He led his high school team in Romeo, Mich. to a state championship in 2016 with 67 points in 30 games, back when he was still a forward. He didn’t switch to defense until the fall of 2016, when he played a post-high school year of U18 major midget for Victory Honda after not making a junior team.

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