Blue Jackets Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Ryan Madden

The Blue Jackets boast one of the top prospect pools in terms of top-end talent, which is soon to be improved upon in the upcoming entry draft where the Jackets will pick in the top 10 for the ninth successive year.  They have several CHL stars who have their sights set on a Memorial Cup run.

The new top 20 list includes five new prospects.  Three spots had been vacated since the last top 20 in the fall, with two graduations (Jared Boll and Kris Russell), and one departure (Geoff Platt). That leaves two prospects who have not made the cut for this top 20, including Tomas Popperle, who sustained a severe knee injury which could be career threatening.  Kirill Starkov is the other player not included in this top 20.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Jakub Voracek, RW, 18
2. (2) Derick Brassard, C, 20
3. (6) Steve Mason, G, 19
4. (5) Joakim Lindstrom, LW, 24
5. (13) Stefan Legein, RW, 19
6. (14) Tom Sestito, LW, 20
7. (10) Marc Methot, D, 22
8. (7) Alexandre Picard, LW, 22
9. (9) Adam Pineault, RW, 21
10. (16) Derek Dorsett, RW, 21
11. (17) Ben Wright, D, 20
12. (19) Will Weber, D, 19
13. (NR) Nick Sucharski, LW, 20
14. (NR) Teddy Ruth, D, 19
15. (NR) Jake Hansen, RW, 18
16. (12) Matt Marquardt, LW, 20
17. (NR) Aaron Rome, D, 24
18. (18) Dan LaCosta, G, 22
19. (8) Maxim Mayorov, LW, 19
20. (NR) Andrei Plekhanov, D, 21

1. Jakub Voracek, RW
(7th overall, 2007)

Voracek cemented his spot as the Blue Jackets’ top prospect with a torrid scoring pace in the Q this season.  Playing with the Halifax Mooseheads, Voracek tallied an impressive 101 points in only 53 games, ranking him fourth in the league.  Voracek is an extremely dangerous forward with a good burst of speed and very good passing skills.  Since he was drafted out of the CHL, Voracek is not eligible to play in the AHL next season, and will therefore have to make the Blue Jackets or return to Halifax for his final year of junior. 

2. Derick Brassard, C
(6th overall, 2006)

The Jackets top center prospect had a terrific start to his season.  Brassard was among the league leaders in AHL scoring before a broken jaw derailed him for several months. Since his return to action, he has seen time in the NHL, playing in 17 games and scoring his first NHL goal to go along with an assist.  With the AHL Syracuse Crunch, Brassard has totaled an impressive 48 points in his 39 games, including 13 goals.  Brassard’s skills are very good, but he must increase his strength and stay healthy, this being the second straight season he has missed significant ice time due to injury.

3. Steve Mason, G
(69th overall, 2006)

Mason had a dream season. Mason made the Team Canada squad for the 2008 WJCs, and came home with a gold medal, top goaltender honors and the tournament MVP.  While away, Mason was traded to the Kitchener Rangers, the host team for the 2008 Memorial Cup and one of the strongest teams in the CHL.  The Rangers believe they have the goalie to win it all in Mason.  He has a .946 save percentage and 1.92 GAA in five playoff games so far this year.  He has not been playing the past few games, however, and the team is keeping quiet on the injury. A very steady and clutch goalkeeper with a big frame, Mason will likely be the starter for the Crunch next season.

4. Joakim Lindstrom, LW
(41st overall, 2002)

Lindstrom propelled himself into the plans for the Blue Jackets this season with a breakout campaign with the Crunch, where he was — prior to his recall to the NHL — the league’s leading scorer.  Lindstrom set career highs in goals, assists and points in the AHL this season.  In only 46 games this season, Lindstrom accumulated 56 points with the Crunch.  That earned him playing time with the Jackets, where he has looked strong despite not getting a lot of minutes. With three games left to play in the season, Lindstrom has 7 points in 22 games with the Jackets. This is Lindstrom’s last year of eligibility as a prospect according to Hockey’s Future criteria. He will surely be looking to capture a roster spot on next year’s Jackets squad, and he has the talent to do so.

5. Stefan Legein, RW
(37th overall, 2007)

Legein was also a key part of Canada’s gold medal winning U-20 team. Unfortunately for Legein, he suffered a separated shoulder in the final game which kept him out of the Niagara IceDogs lineup until close to playoff time.  Once back, he helped his team breeze past their first-round opponent, the Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors.  Legein currently leads the IceDogs in playoff scoring with 15 points in eight games.  Legein is a terrific skater who has finishing abilities and is also a constant thorn in the sides of his opponents.  With a November birthday, he will be AHL-eligible next season, and should begin his pro career with the Crunch, possibly as early as this spring once Mississauga is elminated.

6. Tom Sestito, LW
(85th overall, 2006)

Sestito is a huge 6’4 banger with the skills to knock in pucks and cause opponents headaches. A member of Plymouth’s OHL championship team in 2007, Sestito is the kind of warrior who is valuable at playoff time.  A good forechecker who’s not afraid of high traffic areas, Sestito compiled a solid rookie AHL season, playing in 30 games and reaching 22 points thus far.  He has 198 penalty minutes. As Sestito adapts to the pace and physicality of the pro game, and gains more strength in the off-season, expect him to improve upon those numbers in his sophomore campaign next season.

7. Marc Methot, D
(168th overall, 2003)

Another big body player, Methot currently ranks as the organization’s top defense prospect with Kris Russell graduating this season.  Defense is now an organizational weakness in terms of prospects, but that doesn’t take anything away from Methot, who has been a very pleasant surprise from the Jackets 2003 draft class.  Picked 168th, Methot has blossomed into a very steady defenseman who is hard to beat one on one.  He could stand to use his big frame a little more liberally, but his dependable nature has already won him several looks in the NHL, including nine games this season.  For the Crunch, Methot has been one of their top defenders all year.  Methot will be battling for a roster spot next season with the Jackets, where he could very well win himself a regular NHL pay check.

8. Alexandre Picard, LW
(8th overall, 2004)

A knee injury was the latest setback for this former top 10 pick who, so far, has not merited the high selection.  In fact, it would seem that Picard is regressing, as his points per game ratio in the AHL will likely fall for the third straight season.  Picard still dons his abrasive style, which wins him time in the penalty box (114 minutes this year), but has not found the net frequently enough to win himself a full-time NHL promotion.  At this point, it is starting to appear unlikely that Picard will develop into much more than a grinder at the NHL level, a role which Ken Hitchcock would surely be happy to have filled by Picard if he could only outplay the incumbents. 

9. Adam Pineault, RW
(46th overall, 2004)

Pineault has suited up for virtually every game this season, which is a testament to Crunch coach Ross Yates’ opinion of the young winger.  In his sophomore AHL season, Pineault has substantially increased his point production.  Pineault has managed 48 points, which is good for a tie for third best on the squad.  Pineault also leads the team with six short-handed goals.  Pineault is blessed with a good size and a wonderful shot, but as of yet this has never led to him putting up top-end offensive numbers in any league.  Pineault will likely return to Syracuse next season, hoping to improve his production even further.

10. Derek Dorsett, RW
(189th overall, 2006)

Another abrasive winger in the system, the Jackets should be one of the league’s least favorite teams to play against in a couple of years when bangers like Dorsett make it up.  He missed the first part of the Syracuse season due to a leg injury sustained at the Columbus training camp. Since his return from injury, he has wasted no time in introducing himself to opponents, piling up a whopping 287 penalty minutes in 62 games.  Dorsett has also chipped in 18 points in those contests, including 10 goals.  Dorsett should continue to play his crash and bang game with the Crunch next season. Look for him to contribute more points as well, as he has somewhat of a scoring touch when given the opportunity.

11. Ben Wright, D
(113th overall, 2006)

Wright is one of the big climbers on this top 20, and with good reason.  The young defenseman has been Lethbridge’s best this season, and has been gradually winning over scouts with his smart and steady game.  Wright is not equipped with one exceptional skill, but is above average at many and he has continued to improve since his draft year.  His progression is really encouraging, and the Jackets hope that they may have found themselves another hidden gem among WHL defensemen.  Wright had six points in Lethbridge’s six-game first-round series win over Brandon, following a year in which he scored 38 points in 69 games.  Wright will join the Crunch next season for his first pro year.

12. Will Weber, D
(53rd overall, 2007)

A big defenseman who oozes potential, Weber was plucked in the second round of the 2007 draft, which may end up being a terrific selection should he continue to progress and fill out his frame.  Weber had 18 points in 46 games for the Chicago Steel of the USHL.  A good skater with good offensive upside, Weber has not dominated the USHL as some thought he might, but he still has plenty of potential.  He will attend Miami University next season, and will be coached by Enrico Blasi, one of the best coaches in the NCAA.

13. Nick Sucharski, LW, 20
(136th overall, 2006)

Sucharski played top six minutes for a very good Michigan State hockey team this season as a junior. He contributed 26 points in 41 games, almost identical numbers as last season.  He ranked sixth on the team. Sucharski is 6’2, 185 lbs, quick with good offensive instincts.  Look for him to emerge as a go-to offensive force for the Spartans as a senior.

14. Teddy Ruth, D
(46th overall, 2007)

Acquired from the Capitals in exchange for Sergei Fedorov at the deadline this season, Ruth is a graduate of the US National Development Team Program, where he played on a defense corps featuring such players as Kevin Shattenkirk (COL), Ian Cole (STL), and Cade Fairchild (STL).  Ruth now plays for Notre Dame, again along with Cole.  The Irish are in their first Frozen Four appearance in the team’s history, and Ruth is sure to be a big part of the team’s success. Not a flashy player, Ruth is solid in most areas, is a defense-first defender, and brings a lot of character to a dressing room.  A very good addition to the Jackets’ prospect pool, Ruth will return to Notre Dame next season.

15. Jake Hansen, RW
(68th overall, 2007)

Hansen, a Minnesota Golden Gopher recruit for 2008, has put together quite the rookie season for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.  Hansen is currently eighth in the USHL in scoring with 58 points in 60 games, which ranks him second on his team behind the league’s leading scorer Jack Connolly.  Hansen is third in the USHL with 31 goals.  Hansen played high school hockey in Minnesota last year, where he was offensively dominant, and that looks to have translated well to the USHL.  If Hansen can continue to produce well with Minnesota next season, then it looks like the Jackets may well have unearthed a gem.

16. Matt Marquardt, LW
(194th overall, 2006)

Marquardt is a big winger who likes to play physical and get in front of the net to bang in goals, but also has the skills to beat defenders one on one.  Marquardt almost replicated his 2006-07 totals this year, with 43 goals and 69 points in the QMJHL, compared to 41 goals and 70 points from last season.  He was traded at the deadline to the Baie Comeau Drakkar, from the Moncton Wildcats.  Baie Comeau suffered a disappointing loss in the first round to the Oceanic from Rimouski.  Marquardt has the size and strength to do good things in the future.  He has to keep working on his skating in order to take the next step in his development.  Next year, that next step should be playing with the Crunch.

17. Aaron Rome, D, 24
(104th overall, 2002)

Rome came over along with defenseman Clay Wilson in the deal that sent Geoff Platt to Anaheim.  Rome is a 6’2 225-pound, heavy-hitting defenseman who is a proven performer at the AHL level. He put up impressive numbers this season (29 points in 55 games and a -2) before being recalled to join Columbus after the Adam Foote trade.  Rome will be among the blueliners vying for a roster spot with the Jackets next season.

18. Dan LaCosta, G
(93rd overall, 2004)

LaCosta was the victim and beneficiary of injuries this season, currently finding himself backing up in the AHL to end the season.  LaCosta was injured in the ECHL Elmira Jackals bus crash.  He has has acquitted himself well this season when given the chance both in the AHL and in the ECHL, holding a better than .930 save percentage in both leagues.  LaCosta will enter next season competing against Steve Mason, so it will not get any easier for the Newfoundland native. 

19. Maxim Mayorov, LW
(94th overall, 2007)

One of the enigmas of the 2007 draft, Mayorov is big and skilled, which made him very tempting to some NHL teams.  Nevertheless, he has not made much of an impact since the draft, and at this point, it seems like it is anybody’s guess whether Mayorov fulfills his potential in the NHL, the AHL, or the RSL.  This season he played with AK Bars, one of the best teams in Europe, and in 10 games he scored one goal.  Usually ice time is very limited for rookies in the RSL.  It is encouraging that he has played at so high a level so young.  He certainly has talent.  Best case scenario is that Mayorov is selected to play for Russia in Ottawa next year for the U-20 team.

20. Andrei Plekhanov, D
(96th overall, 2004)

Plekhanov is a talented Russian defender who the Blue Jackets had a hard time to entice over to North America.  Now that they have finally done so, the Jackets are hoping that they can work him into the system and make his numerable talents shine in a North American style game.  A large defender, who’s very fast and offensively creative, Plekhanov has had a hard time cracking the Crunch lineup since a bit before the midway point of the season.  He was even sent down to the ECHL for a stint.  But in 37 games with the Crunch, he is +17.  Doubtless one of the factors holding him back is learning the language. But if the Jackets can hold him in North America, get him back into a Crunch uniform for next season, and he and Ross Yates can find common ground, the Jackets might have something special on their hands.

Missing the cut

Grant Clitsome, D
(271st overall, 2004)

Clitsome is a good all-around defenseman with good mobility, good offensive and defensive instincts, and good hockey sense.  He is a little undersized for the NHL game, but has had a very good NCAA career at Clarkson, particularly in his senior year where he has 22 points in 39 games, and has been Clarkson’s best defenseman.  Clitsome will look to sign an entry-level contract with the Jackets and try to earn regular minutes next season with the Crunch.