The Blue Jackets have 18 prospects playing regularly with either the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, or the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. The fortunes of these players are extremely important to the watchful Blue Jackets management. In today’s salary cap NHL it is vital for teams to have good young talent who can contribute on their entry-level contracts, which places a premium on the drafting and rearing young NHL players. Therefore, for those Blue Jackets fans who can pull their eyes away from young Jakub Voracek in the World Junior tournament in the Czech Republic, we’ll recap the progress of Columbus’s AHL and ECHL prospects near the halfway point of 2007-08.
This year the Crunch are looking like they will make the playoffs, despite a string of goaltending injuries, and a defense corps that is largely inexperienced. They currently sit in third place in the AHL‘s North Division. The Crunch roster is largely made up of Blue Jackets prospects.
The Elmira Jackals are currently in second spot in the ECHL‘s North division. There are three Blue Jackets prospects playing with the Jackals.
There are also two Blue Jackets prospects playing with the Youngstown SteelHounds of the CHL.
Derick Brassard, Columbus’s sixth overall selection in 2006, began the year on fire, leading all AHL rookies in scoring over the first month of the season, and earning the AHL Rookie of the Month for October. However, a broken jaw suffered on Nov. 13 has been the most recent setback for the oft-injured Brassard. The broken jaw kept Brassard out six weeks. In his return on Saturday night against the Moose, Brassard did not show any signs of slowing down his pace, picking up a pair of assists.
Brassard looks very capable of scoring in the AHL. If he can work on his strength and stay healthy, this could be a successful season for him, one that will help with his transition to the NHL.
Another AHL award winner, and probably the most welcome performance so far this season for the Crunch has got to be the play of Joakim Lindstrom. The 2002 second-round draft pick won the AHL player of the week for the week ending Nov. 25. He has been on a torrid pace all season, currently fifth in the AHL in scoring with 15 goals and 23 assists in only 29 games. Lindstrom has been called up to the NHL on two occasions this season, and is hoping to win himself a job on a regular line in Columbus in the near future. The Swedish youngster has flirted with success at the AHL level in the past, but is now finally putting it all together. If Lindstrom could continue to capitalize on his offensive abilities and be a regular on the scoresheet, it would help enormously his chances of staying with the Jackets.
The Crunch have a pair of rookies who like to play a physical brand of hockey that gets under opponents’ skin. Both Tommy Sestito and Derek Dorsett are playing in their first seasons outside of the CHL. Sestito has played in 28 of the team’s games, has eight points, and is second on the team in penalty minutes, next to Dorsett, with 104. Dorsett missed the first month of the season with stress fractures, has been a regular contributor since his return. He leads the Crunch with 120 PIM, and has 3 goals and an assist in 22 games. Both have been impressive enough to earn ice time with the Crunch in their first professional season, and both represent a new direction for the Blue Jackets, who want to develop into a team that is difficult to play against, a team that does not give up inches to the opposition without a fight. Hence players like Jared Boll, Derek Dorsett, Tommy Sestito will become part of a Blue Jackets future that competes very hard every shift.
The eighth overall selection in 2004, Alexandre Picard has returned from a knee injury suffered last season. He has two goals and seven assists in the 15 games since his return, and has brought his physical brand of hockey to the rink every night. Picard must continue to fight to stay healthy, and compete to earn a spot with the Jackets at some point in the future. Although it is not likely at this point that Picard will ever develop into a big scorer, he is gifted with good size and lots of skill, and does play a physical brand of hockey that fits into the Blue Jackets mold. Now it is just a matter of finding his role as an NHLer.
Adam Pineault is currently tied for fourth on the Crunch with 20 points in 36 games. Pineault has yet to become the scorer some predicted he would when he was selected 46th overall by the Jackets in 2004. He is still only 21 and so has some time, but Pineault must find a way to find the scoresheet with more consistency.
Hard-working forward Steven Goertzen, a seventh-round pick in 2002, continues to battle hard every shift and brings leadership to the Crunch. He is not gifted offensively, but his hard work has earned him playing time in the NHL. He will continue to battle for every inch of ice on the rink. He has played 36 games, potting four goals and adding three assists.
Philippe Dupuis, in his second year playing with the Crunch, has 11 points in 26 games. Like Pineault, Dupuis must also work to improve his offensive finish. He is an offensive player, and so must produce offensively to contribute.
Two Blue Jackets prospects are playing in the Central Hockey League’s with the Youngstown SteelHounds, and are helping the Hounds pace the Northeast division. Petr Pohl and Kirill Starkov are now playing in the CHL, with Pohl leading the Hounds in scoring, with 13 goals and 21 assists in 24 games. Pohl has been named to the Northern Conference All-Star Team. Starkov, who started the season with the Jackals in the ECHL, has played in 11 games and has contributed seven points.
Among the Crunch defense, Marc Methot is the Blue Jackets prospect most recognizable to Columbus fans. Methot finished the season with the Blue Jackets last year, and was among the last cut from the defense corps this year at training camp. Methot is a 6’3, 224 lbs. defenseman who plays a hard, tight checking style. After two and a half seasons with the Crunch, Methot is hoping for a full-time NHL promotion, but must wait for his chance. Not a big scorer, Methot has three points in 34 games with the Crunch so far this season. He projects to be a defensive defenseman.
The Crunch moved veteran forward Geoff Platt to acquire from Anaheim’s AHL affiliate the Portland Pirates two 24-year-old defensemen. The Crunch had started off the season with four rookie defensemen, and needed to improve their depth at the position. Aaron Rome, a fourth-round pick of the Kings in 2002, has played three full seasons in the AHL, and was a member of the Anaheim Stanley Cup winning team. Rome received his ring recently, as he played in a game during the cup run for the Ducks. Rome is currently tied for sixth on the Crunch with 18 points.
Clay Wilson, the other defenseman acquired for Platt, was signed by Anaheim in 2006. He is an offensive defenseman, and is tied for third among Crunch players with 22 points. Both defensemen significantly help the Crunch, and also give the Blue Jackets substantially more depth on defense, something they have lacked since the loss of Sheldon Brookbank to waivers.
Among the three rookie defensemen still on the Crunch roster, the two who have so far looked the strongest and played the most are Darcy Campbell and Andrei Plekhanov. Campbell leads the rookie defenders with 26 games played. A product of Alaska-Fairbanks of the NCAA, Campbell plays a steady game, and is smart with the puck.
Plekhanov, the big Russian defender picked 96th overall in the 2004 draft, has played in 21 games this season. Plekhanov is a fast skater who moves the puck up ice well. Plekhanov is in his first full season in North America, so in addition to dealing with the adjustments of a new league, he is also dealing with the adjustments of a new culture and a new language. He has totaled 11 points in his 21 games, and is a +6, which leads all Crunch defenders.
The third AHL rookie is Kyle Wharton, who has not been seeing much ice time since the
acquisition of Rome and Wilson. Chosen 59th overall in 2004, Wharton has yet to earn himself regular playing time in the AHL. He has 3 points in 13 games this season.
Elmira defense prospect Jon Landry was one of several victims of a frightening bus crash of the Elmira team bus. Also injured was Jackals goalie Dan LaCosta. The bus crashed on Nov. 29, while the Jackals were returning home from a road game against the Cincinnati Cyclones. Landry had been enjoying a good rookie season with the Jackals, with 10 points in 18 games. He has been placed on IR with a knee injury and is likely out for the season.
Also playing with the Jackals is 2005 seventh-round pick Trevor Hendrikx. Currently playing in his second full season in the ECHL, Hendrikx has 13 points in 31 games for the Jackals.
As has been mentioned earlier, the Blue Jackets goalie prospects have been having more than their fair share of injury troubles so far this season. Tomas Popperle, shortly after being returned to Syracuse from a call up with the Blue Jackets, injured his knee in what appears to be quite a significant injury. He snapped two ligaments in his knee, and is out for the remainder of the season. The injury may be career threatening. Up until his injury, Popperle had been 7-8-0 with a 2.90 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
Dan LaCosta, the Columbus goaltending prospect playing with Elmira, was also hurt this season, in the bus crash mentioned above. LaCosta was 5-3-0-1 in 11 games prior to his ankle injury, with a 2.19 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He should return to play relatively soon as he was guessed at four to six weeks at the beginning of December.