Stacked minor league system paying off for Columbus Blue Jackets

By Richard Greco

Sean Collins - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Winger Sean Collins is one of several big-bodied forwards in the Blue Jackets system. Collins was drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)

The Springfield Falcons, the AHL affiliate for the Columbus Blue Jackets, are once again fielding a strong group of players and are at the top of the AHL's Northeast Division. Springfield is loaded with NHL quality prospects, many of whom have already seen some time in Columbus.

Leading Columbus' deep pool of AHL talent is left winger Jonathan Marchessault, center Michael Chaput, and defender Tim Erixon. They hope to eventually join prospects Ryan Murray, David Savard, Dalton Prout, and Boone Jenner – all of whom are playing in the NHL on a full-time basis.

NHL

Boone Jenner, C, 20

It did not take Jenner long to prove that he belonged in the NHL. He scored his first career goal on October 17th when the Ontario product found the back of the net twice in a 5-3 loss at the hands of the Canadians. Following his two goal outburst, Jenner cooled off and did not score another until December 6th, when he beat the Minnesota Wild's Nicklas Backstrom in a 4-0 victory. The 20-year-old missed nine games in November with a leg injury, but tallied six of his eight points upon return.

Although his point totals are not staggering, Jenner has looked impressive with his two-way game and has seen a significant increase in playing time, averaging 18 shifts per game, with Marian Gaborik sidelined. Despite being a natural center, Columbus' depth down the middle has forced Jenner to the wing.

Ryan Murray, D, 20

After being sidelined by a shoulder injury last season, it did not take Murray long to earn a spot on the Jackets' blue line. The former Everett Silvertips' captain is ranked sixth on Columbus with 22.9 shifts per game, most of which are spent alongside veteran James Wisniewski. Murray has not given Todd Richards a reason to take him out of the lineup and has played in every single game this season. His positioning is quickly adjusting to the professional game, his passing has been sound, and he has been extremely disciplined with just six minutes in the penalty box.

Murray scored his first NHL goal when he beat Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier with a wrist shot on a first period power play in a 5-2 victory on October 25th. The 6'1, 205 pound defender registered four (two goals and two assists) of his nine points on the power play. Murray's consistency carriers over to the penalty kill, where he is sixth on Columbus with 62:43 minutes of ice time.

Dalton Prout, D, 23

Prout began the season with Columbus after skating in 28 NHL games in 2012-13. As Columbus' seventh defender, Prout needed to fight for time on the third pairing this season and he has struggled with a minus-seven rating, just a year after finishing with a plus-15 rating. The 6'3, 220 pound bruiser registered 29 penalty minutes and 37 hits. Prout rarely sees time on the power play, but gets his fair share of ice time on the penalty kill.

Prout underwent abdominal surgery in August which sidelined him for most of training camp and preseason. The injury bug struck again on December 16th when he suffered an upper body injury that allowed him to skate just one shift in a 3-2 loss at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. The Ontario product was placed on injured reserve on December 18th.

David Savard, D, 23

Savard has played in 31 of 39 games for Columbus this season. The Quebec product looks as though he is in the NHL to stay after a trip back to the minors last season saw him find his offensive game. The 23-year-old has translated his puck moving skills into eight assists and added two goals this season. He has also dramatically improved his play in the neutral zone and cut down on the giveaways.

The 6'2, 220 pound defenseman takes up ample space in his own zone and has blocked 36 shots. He has played a physical game with 74 hits and 14 penalty minutes. Savard has been a pretty consistent name in Columbus' starting lineup and, with Prout out of the lineup, the former Moncton Wildcat is going to see steady time alongside Nikita Nikitin.

AHL

Jonathan Marchessault, LW, 22

Marchessault made an impression in his first season in Springfield. He led the Falcons with 67 points and added three assists through eight playoff games last year. Although it took the playmaking winger time to find his form this season, Marchessault leads the Falcons with 25 points in 30 games.

The success did not come immediately for the undersized winger as he started the season with a goal, four assists, and a minus-eight rating through his first 12 games. He turned things around in mid-November however, and has been producing at roughly a point-per-game pace since then.

Marchessault has come into his own on the powerplay, where he has managed six goals and seven assists.

Jake Hansen, C, 24

With 12 points in 30 games, Hansen already has more points than he tallied in his first full season with Springfield. The big winger received Springfield's Muriel Strauss Good Sportsmanship award in 2012-13 and is showing the same characteristics this season. He is a key part of Springfield's penalty kill and has three short-handed goals. He is frequently lined up on the penalty kill alongside Frederic St. Denis, though he also sees time with Andrew Joudrey and puck-moving defender Tim Erixon.

Dalton Smith, LW, 21

At 6'2, 215 pounds, Dalton Smith is the perfect size to be an intimidator. The bruising defenseman has played that role to the fullest this year and 35 of his 49 penalty minutes came from fighting majors. Down the road, Smith could develop into a solid fourth-liner, capable of providing an intimidating presence in all three zones. The 21-year-old is expected to take on a similar role as Jared Boll, who is under contract until 2017.

Michael Chaput, C, 21

Chaput opened the season with the Falcons and scored two goals and dished out three assists in October. His quick start was enough to grab the attention of Blue Jackets' management and on October 27th, the 21-year-old made his NHL debut in a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. He picked up his first point on November 22nd when he fed a neutral zone pass to Matt Calvert, who beat Roberto Luongo with a wrist shot. Despite Chaput's contribution, the Jackets fell 6-2, and he returned to Springfield after being held scoreless against the Boston Bruins on November 30th.

Through 14 games with Springfield, Chaput has 10 points (four goals and six assists). He has also tallied 18 penalty minutes and has a plus-one rating.

Sean Collins, LW, 24

Last season Collins was called up to Columbus for five games due to injuries. That was the case again this year as the former seventh-round pick has been recalled twice and tallied an assist in six games with the Jackets.

His first call up came in mid-October and he saw just under 10 minutes of action in an October 17th loss to the Montreal Canadians. Following the loss, he returned to Springfield and registered 12 points (four goals and seven assists) in 26 games this year. The big winger has spent 14 minutes in the penalty box and has a plus-two rating.

Lukas Sedlak, C, 21

Now in his first professional season, Sedlak has gone through a lot of ups and downs while trying to adjust to the pro game. He found the back of the net four times in 20 games with Springfield, while racking up 12 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating. Sedlak has mostly played even strength hockey and is fighting for playing time against a strong group of forwards. He has skated in only three games in December.

Tim Erixon, D, 22

Things have not changed much for Erixon. He is a clear standout for the Falcons, but has had trouble cracking the Blue Jackets strong defensive corps. After opening the season on fire for Springfield, the former first round pick was brought up to Columbus only to return to the AHL shortly thereafter. Even when he has been on the Jackets roster, he has mostly been a healthy scratch, appearing in just two games.

Erixon has excelled for Springfield and has 16 points through 14 AHL games. He has looked great quarterbacking the point during the power play. He has the ability to take a game over at the AHL level, and has six multi-point efforts so far this season. Expect him to split the remainder of the 2013-14 season between the Blue Jackets and Falcons.

Austin Madaisky, D, 21

Madaisky has struggled to stay in the lineup this season. The second-year pro competed in the Blue Jackets' camp before being sent down to Springfield, where he registered three points in eight games. On December 16th, he was reassigned to the Evansville Icemen, and after three scoreless games in the ECHL, was returned to the AHL. On the season, Madaisky has a goal, two assists, and a minus-one rating in 13 AHL games.

Cody Goloubef, D, 24

After playing 11 games in the NHL last season, Goloubef was assigned to the AHL out of Jackets' training camp. He has appeared in 30 games with the Falcons and has four goals, 10 assists, and 49 penalty minutes. The 24-year-old plays in all situations for the Falcons and should be on the short-list for injury call-ups.

The former University of Wisconsin standout relies on his hockey sense to allow him to make breakout passes out of the defensive zone. Although he stands at 6'1, Goloubef has room to improve his physical game and uses positioning to make plays in his own zone rather than throwing his body around.

Will Weber, D, 25

Weber solidified his role as a defensive defensemen this season. The 6'4, 227 pound defender has spent 48 minutes in the penalty box and dropped the gloves twice this season. Weber was suspended earlier in the season for an illegal cross-check during a game against the Worcester Sharks. Through 29 AHL games, he has a goal, an assist, and a minus-four rating.

Oliver Gabriel, 22, LW

On September 14th, Gabriel tore his Achilles tendon and has not skated in a game this season.

Ilari Melart, D, 24

Melart was reassigned to Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk of the KHL on December 17th after skating in 24 games with the Falcons. The 6'3 bruiser racked up 28 penalty minutes, while adding three points for Springfield. The Blue Jackets signed the stay-at-home defender to a one-year deal during the off-season.

Other Notes

The Blue Jackets are well represented at the 2014 WJCs, with Alexander Wennberg and Oscar Dansk representing Sweden, while forwards Josh Anderson and Kerby Rychel are representing Canada. Other Blue Jackets' prospects competing in the WJC are Marko Dano (Slovakia) and Markus Soberg (Norway).