Columbus Blue Jackets possess lots of high-end talent in Canadian major juniors

By Richard Greco

Josh Anderson - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Forward Josh Anderson is currently amidst a breakout season with the London Knights. The 19-year-old winger has 10 goals and nine assists through 24 games in the OHL. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets seem to be drawn to the OHL. Five of their eight prospects playing junior hockey hail from Ontario's league, led by goaltender Oscar Dansk and wingers Kerby Rychel and Josh Anderson. The three prospects not playing in the OHL are Oliver Bjorkstrand, Peter Quenneville, and Dillon Heatherington, who all play in the WHL.

Columbus has a nice spread of talent in juniors with one goalie, two defenders, and five forwards. Its forwards are built up of speedy playmakers, such as Bjorkstrand and Quenneville, as well as gritty power forwards, Nick Moutrey and Rychel.

OHL

Oscar Dansk, G, Erie Otters
Acquired: 2nd round (31st overall) in 2012

After finishing last in the OHL's Midwest Division the past two seasons, the Erie Otters currently sit at the top of the OHL with the most wins in the league. Goaltender Oscar Dansk has played a key role in the surge to the top. After posting a 4.11 goals against average last season, the big Swede has a 2.64 goals against average through 15 games.

Although Dansk opened the season hot, a lower body injury forced him to miss two weeks at the beginning of November. In the 19-year-old's absence, Devin Williams stepped up and won nine of 10 games.

Dansk did not look his best in his return on November 19th as the Otters pulled out a 9-6 victory over the Kitchener Rangers. Although there is uncertainty surrounding the way that Otters' coach Kris Knoblauch plans on distributing the time in net, Dansk should still finish the season with over 40 starts. Sharing the work load could help Dansk stay healthy, after he suffered a concussion and a knee injury in his rookie season.

The starting job at Erie is Dansk's to lose and as long as he continues to build on his strong start to the year, Knoblach will have no questions as to play when the post-season comes around.

Josh Anderson, LW, London Knights
Acquired: 4th round (95th overall) in 2012

Although opening the season slow, the London Knights found their form and are behind Erie and Guelph for third in the Midwest Division. Winger Josh Anderson has played a balanced all-around game and his 19 points (10 -goals and nine assists) through 24 games is good enough to rank sixth on the Knights. The 19-year-old's quick start to the season allowed him to play alongside Max Domi (VAN) and Scott Laughton (PHI) on the top line of the OHL's team in the Subway Super Series.

While Anderson's offensive success is coming at a consistent pace, he is also using his 6'2, 185-pound frame to play a physically robust game. He has 46 penalty minutes this season, including five fights.

Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 1st round (19th overall) in 2013

Rychel is another Blue Jackets prospect who represented the OHL at the Subway Super Series. He took advantage of the opportunity and netted a goal in the squad's series opener. With 37 points (15 goals and 22 assists) and a plus-12 rating in 24 games, the tough left winger is excelling in his first season sporting a 'C' on his Spitfires' jersey.

The 19-year-old is Windsor's best player and has the ability to take over the game at any given moment. That was evident on November 7th, when Rychel scored a hat trick to lead the Spits back from a 4-1 deficit. His final goal gave Windsor its first lead of the game with 1:17 remaining.

Although sitting at sixth place in the OHL's Western Conference is an upgrade for a team that was in ninth place at the end of last year, serious trade rumors surrounding Rychel, who led the Spits in scoring the past two seasons, are flying around. While it is unclear whether or not the well-rounded power forward will finish out the season in Windsor, he needs to concentrate on continuing the success he saw a quarter of the way through the year.

Gianluca Curcuruto, D, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 7th round (182nd overall) in 2012

Curcuruto has only skated in 16 games with the Whalers this season, having missed 10 games to injury. He has been only as successful as his team, which sits at eighth in the OHL's Western Conference. The Toronto native has a goal, four assists, and a minus-12 rating this season.

The change of scenery from Sault Ste. Marie to Plymouth paid dividends for Curcuruto, who had his best junior season last year. While his slow start can be credited to his injury, the 19-year-old needs to start buckling down in his own zone and raise his plus/minus, which is down from a plus-36 rating last year.

Nick Moutrey, RW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round (105th overall) in 2013

As a 6'2 power forward, Moutrey knows his way around the opponent's crease. He has not overwhelmed this season and quietly put together 16 points (seven goals and nine assists). After a slow start plagued Saginaw, the Spirit fought into the West Division's fifth spot and Moutrey improved his plus/minus to plus-five.

Playing under Spirit coach Greg Gilbert allowed Moutrey to make great strides in his all-around game. He has begun to throw his 207-pound body around and has 28 penalty minutes already, his previous season high is 44. The Ontario product is developing a level of grit to go along with his fast paced play, which primes him to excel on the penalty kill.

WHL

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 3rd round (89th overall) in 2013

Bjorkstrand is second to Nicolas Petan (WPG) on the Winterhawks with 45 points (18 goals and 27 assists), which is good enough to rank him fourth in points in the WHL. Behind its explosive offense, Portland (18-5-2-1) sits at second in the Western Conference's US Division with 39 points.

In attempt to spread out its talent, Portland does not start Bjorkstrand with Petan. It has worked wonders for last season's Memorial Cup runner-ups as the 18-year-old Danish product quickly developed chemistry alongside Chase De Leo and left winger Taylor Leier (PHI).

Peter Quenneville, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 7th round (195th overall) in 2013

On November 5th, it was announced that Peter Quenneville was set to leave Quinnipiac University, ranked fifth in the nation, to pursue a more direct path to the NHL. That direct path found him in Manitoba playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Prior to his life-changing switch, the Edmonton product tallied four assists in five games before an injury forced him to miss a road trip.  

Quenneville joins his younger brother John in Brandon, and currently has seven points through nine games.

Dillon Heatherington, D, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 2nd round (50th overall) in 2013

Heatherington has had an exciting fourth season in junior hockey. He is off to the best start to his career, with 21 points (19 assists) through 28 games, was invited to Canada's U18 WJC evaluation camp, and was named a member of the WHL team in the Subway Super Series.

At 6'4, 206 pounds, Heatherington is a shutdown defender and is a plus-15 on a Broncos' squad that has allowed only 85 goals in 29 games this season. After winning a gold medal for Canada's U18 team last year, the Calgary product's new goal is simple, win a gold for the U20 team.

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