Columbus had a total of 11 rookies suit up for them during the 2007-08 season, including the since-departed Curtis Glencross. None of the rookies who finished the season with Columbus scored more than 10 points, but several looked like they could potentially have a positive impact with the Blue Jackets in the near future.
On defense, Columbus had a total of four rookie defensemen suit up this season. Kris Russell, who played last season for Medicine Hat of the WHL, led the rookie defensemen in most categories, including games played. In this his first professional season, the 20-year-old managed to make the team coming out of training camp. Although Russell did not accumulate a high number of points with only two goals and eight assists in his 67 games, he played well defensively for a first-year pro, and the experience he gleaned from this year will serve him well in the next few seasons as he matures into what Columbus brass hopes will be a prominent position along the team’s blue line. He is a very good skater who moves the puck crisply. Russell must continue to work on his strength and to gain pro experience.
Among the three other rookie defenders, two were acquired from Anaheim in exchange for Geoff Platt. Of those involved in that trade, Aaron Rome was the first to be called up from Syracuse, on Feb. 26, directly after the Adam Foote deal. Rome, who is 24, looked solid in his 17 games with Columbus, as he hopes to solidify his chances to earn a roster spot next fall.
Clay Wilson, the second half of the return for Geoff Platt, is 25 and joined the team on March 24 and played in seven games down the stretch. Wilson is a good puck mover, who Columbus hopes will add depth to their blue line come the start of the 2008-09 season.
Marc Methot also earned some more NHL roster time, being brought up on four different occasions this season and playing in nine games without registering a point. Methot, 22, is a big, stay-at-home type of defenseman. This is his second season getting NHL playing time, and he will also be looking to compete for a roster spot in September.
Most of these defenders were late call-ups this season, once the Jackets season was looking less and less likely to result in a playoff position. Hitchcock had the opportunity to get to know most of the possible roster contenders from within the organization this season, and the NHL minutes these players experienced should give them a bit of encouragement and perspective heading into a competitive 2008-09 season.
At forward, Columbus had six rookies play in at least a game for them this season. The Jackets’ leader in games played by a rookie, Jared Boll, suited up in 75 out of a possible 82 games for Columbus, and made the team out of training camp. Boll played last season for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. He is a high-energy forechecker who is not afraid to drop the gloves to protect a teammate or to intimidate an opponent. Boll, who will turn 22 this May, earned a lot of respect around the NHL this season with his tenacious play, and his in-your-face style. Boll put up a whopping 226 penalty minutes, and tied for the team lead in points among
rookies with 10.
Another pleasant surprise was the play of 26-year-old AHL veteran Andrew Murray, who led the Jackets in goals by a rookie and tied for the team lead in points with 10, in just a half a season of work. Hard work is the name of Andrew Murray’s game, which certainly endeared him to coach Ken Hitchcock, who preaches solid board play and jumping on loose pucks to win hockey games. Murray was called up from Syracuse on Dec. 27 and remained a Blue Jacket for the rest of the season, and was re-signed to a three-year contract extension in early March. Murray will certainly not outdazzle many players, but his hard working ways could rub off on some of his more talented teammates.
Joakim Lindstrom also suited up for a career-high 25 games this season, and managed to score seven points in those games, to go along with a healthy scoring pace in the AHL. This was a very encouraging season for the 24-year-old Lindstrom, as he was not only capable of lighting up the AHL, but showed in his 25 games with the Jackets that he can be a scoring threat at the NHL level. Lindstrom was also called up on four different occasions this season, as the Jackets kept him playing either in Syracuse or in Columbus the whole year. Look for Lindstrom to enter training camp poised to win a roster spot. However, he must work hard, because the Jackets will have many young players eager to win playing time in the NHL next season.
One of those challenging for a roster spot next season will be Derick Brassard, the former top ten pick from 2006, who played his first NHL games this season, registering a goal and an assist in 17 games with the Jackets. Brassard, who played with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL last season, played in his first NHL game on Jan. 11. The 20-year-old Brassard played very well for the Crunch, and he will continue to play for them, along with Lindstrom and others, as the Crunch battle for the Calder Cup. Brassard is a quick playmaker who is very talented at setting up his teammates. He will maintain his rookie status heading into next season.
Two other players saw their first taste of NHL action for the Jackets this season. Adam Pineault, a 21-year-old former second-round pick of the Jackets in 2004 skated in the Jackets’ three final games without registering a point. Also 20-year-old Tom Sestito played in the Jackets final NHL game, and also went pointless, although he totalled a large 17 penalty minutes in his first NHL game. Sestito was a teammate of Jared Boll last year with the Plymouth Whalers. Both of these
players were given this look in the NHL because they are both players who could be with the Jackets more permanently in the near future.
Ten rookies (11 if Curtis Glencross is included) is a very high total for an NHL team, a testament to yet another season of missing the playoffs. But with the experience gained from this year by so many of these rookies, many will be in a better position to contribute next season.