Blue Jackets 2007-08 junior prospect review

By Ryan Madden

The Blue Jackets had a total of 13 players play junior hockey this past season, including three from each of the OHL, QMJHL, WHL, and USHL.  They also had one player playing in the AJHL, a Canadian Junior-A league. 

QMJHL

Maxime Frechette, D, 6’5, 214 lbs.
(Drafted 5th Rd, 142nd overall, 2006)

Fréchette was traded at the deadline from Drummondville to Acadie-Bathurst.  He suited up for only six games with Drummondville prior to his trade, and could not help the team climb out of the cellar.  Once with the Titans, Fréchette played in 16 games once returning from his shoulder injury, managing just one assist.  He played in 11 of the team’s 12 post-season games, and recorded three assists in the process, helping the Titans to advance to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. 

Fréchette has the body to play in the NHL, but his development has been severely hampered by a tendency towards injuries.  He must be signed this off-season by Columbus or they lose his rights, but at this point it is uncertain whether they will extend Fréchette a contract offer.

Matt Marquardt, LW, 6’3, 229 lbs.
(Drafted 7th Rd, 194th overall, 2006)

Another big-bodied Q player, Marquardt, like Fréchette, was also traded at the deadline, from Moncton to Baie-Comeau.  Marquardt had a combined point total of 69 points in 68 games, including 43 goals, a career high in the Q.  His success in the regular season did not translate well into the playoffs, however, and Marquardt only had two points in the five games the Drakkar played before being eliminated by Rimouski in a first-round playoff upset. 

Marquardt is a big power forward who skates well, has a nice scoring touch, and can manhandle defenders down low.  Drafted as a 19-year-old, Marquardt must be signed by June 1.

Jakub Voracek, RW, 6’2, 190 lbs.
(Drafted 1st Rd, 7th overall, 2007)

One of the most highly-touted players in the 2007 draft, Voracek firmly established himself as an elite prospect this season with a dynamic offensive display with the Mooseheads.  Voracek was quite often the best player on the ice this season as he finished fourth in the Q in scoring with 101 points in only 53 games.  He wasn’t quite as good in the playoffs, finishing third on the Mooseheads with 18 points in 15 contests, as the Mooseheads suffered a disappointing third-round loss to the eventual QMJHL champion Gatineau Olympiques.  

Voracek combines good size with penetrating speed — opponents often cannot keep up with his lightning-quick decisions and execution.  Voracek will either make the Blue Jackets out of training camp next season or return to the Mooseheads. The latter scenario seems unlikely with the penchant of NHL GMs to bring in young NHL-ready 18- and 19-year-olds to save money on cap space.  Voracek looks like a real gem. 

OHL


Stefan Legein
, RW, 5’9, 170 lbs.
(Drafted 2nd Rd, 37th overall, 2007)

Legein looked great when he was in the lineup this season, but unfortunately missed half of it due to a separated shoulder suffered while helping Team Canada capture gold at the World Junior Championships.  Legein tallied 37 points in 30 games and added another 18 points in 10 playoff games.  He then signed with Columbus and got his first taste of the pro game in the AHL

Although he put up respectable numbers, Legein is also well adept at playing a physical forechecking style of hockey, and this is primarily what his role will be next year and in the future.  His speed and tenacity will win him many fans in the NHL, just not on opposing teams.  Legein is a true competitor and team-first player, and he fits well within the model of player Columbus is looking to build around.

Steve Mason, G, 6’3, 190 lbs.
(Drafted 3rd Rd, 69th overall, 2006)

Mason put together something of a dream season, winning Top Goaltender and tournament MVP honors at the World Juniors in January, and then excelling and enabling his new team Kitchener to capture the OHL championship.  Unfortunately for Mason, and the Kitchener Rangers, Mason hurt his knee during the second round of the OHL playoffs, and so is not currently in net for the team in the Memorial Cup.  Instead Josh Unice (CHI) is tending the net. 

Mason was acquired from the London Knights in what was perhaps the biggest deadline deal in the CHL.  Mason was a sparkling 33-7-3 for his two teams during the season, and a perfect 5-0 in the playoffs for Kitchener.  Mason is a big athletic goaltender with a knack for finding the big save in key games.  Providing his knee surgery heals as planned, Mason should begin next season
either with the Crunch.  He has the potential to be a starter in the NHL. 

Robert Nyholm, RW, 6’1, 200 lbs.
(Drafted 5th Rd, 129th overall, 2006)

A freak accident during the off-season left Bobby Nyholm very lucky to be able to play hockey at all this season, when he was severely cut in his hand by a skate blade.  Nyholm, who looked very promising in 2006-07, could only manage four points in his 27 games this season, and it is doubtful whether he will play hockey again in North America, as he was let go by the Kingston Frontenacs.  In all likelihood Nyholm will not be signed by Columbus, but things could have gone much worse for Nyholm, who should be able to continue to play in Finland

WHL

Jesse Dudas, D, 6’1, 228 lbs.
(Drafted 5th Rd, 159th overall, 2006)

Dudas is a tough defenseman with some offensive ability, who had a career high in games played this season with 52.  So far in his WHL career, Dudas has been hurt almost as much as he has played.  Traded for the second time in his WHL career, Dudas was sent from Prince George to Swift Current.  In total, Dudas had 35 points, also a career high.  He added another three points in the post-season, where, as usual, Dudas only suited up for half Swift Current’s games. 

Dudas has shown some potential in the games he’s played, but similar to Fréchette, another of Columbus’ 2006 draft picks, he has been injured frequently and it is hard to gauge whether Columbus plans to sign him before June 1 or not.  His injuries are concerning.

Nick Holden, D, 6’4, 200 lbs.
(Signed, 2008)

Perhaps the man who claimed Dudas’ entry-level contract is Holden, a free-agent signing out of the WHL this season.  Holden put up impressive numbers this season after being passed over in the draft two years in a row.  He had 60 points in 70 games, leading all Chilliwack Bruins defensemen in scoring by a large margin.  Holden’s 6’4 frame projects well to the NHL, as does his offensive production from the back end.  Holden posted another four points in four playoff games this season. 

Holden was signed and brought up to play with the Crunch before they went into the playoffs this season.  Although he did not suit up for the Crunch in the playoffs, he will be battling next season for a roster spot on the AHL farm team.  Holden could be a good signing for the Jackets, as he looks to be a potential late bloomer who went unnoticed in the AJHL during his first draft
year.    

Ben Wright,
D, 6’2, 196 lbs.
(Drafted 4th Rd, 113th overall, 2006)

Wright’s offensive production slipped a bit this past season in the WHL, but his overall game continued to progress. He is looked upon as one of the better veteran defensemen around the WHL.  Wright had 38 points in 69 games this season, also chipping in another 10 points in Lethbridge’s run to the WHL finals. 

Ultimately, however, it will not be Wright’s ability to score that will get him to the NHL, but his ability to make good first passes out of his own zone, to make smart decisions with the puck, and his ability to limit chances.  In all these areas, Wright has all the makings of a mid-round steal by Columbus.  He is expected to make the jump to Syracuse next year, where his smart decision-making and composure should be well rewarded with ice time. 

USHL

Jake Hansen, RW, 6’1, 182 lbs.
(Drafted 3rd Rd, 68th overall, 2007)

Hansen finished tied for ninth overall in USHL scoring with 58 points, and finished third overall with 31 goals.  Committed to the University of Minnesota for 2008, Hansen hopes to continue his success as a Gopher next season. 

Hansen, who added a goal in three playoff games, is a strong winger who is fast on the outside and hard to knock off the puck.  Hansen takes the puck to the net to create scoring chances.  And as witnessed by his 31 goals this season, he has the ability to find the back of the net.

Trent Vogelhuber, RW, 6’2, 185 lbs.
(Drafted 7th Rd, 211th overall, 2007)

The last player drafted in 2007, Vogelhuber might have gone higher had there not been concerns about his surgically repaired knee.  Unfortunately, two games into the season, Vogelhuber tore the knee again, and his season was over.  He is committed to Miami University (Ohio) next season, but time will tell if Vogelhuber will be sound enough to play competitive hockey again on his twice surgically repaired knee.

Will Weber, D, 6’4, 205 lbs.
(Drafted 2nd Rd, 53rd overall, 2007)

Weber had an up and down year with the Steel.  The big defenseman has a great deal of potential, but was a bit of a project when picked.  Weber scored 18 points in 48 games, suffering a wrist injury, but was not dressed during the playoffs for the Steel.  He will be playing with Miami next season and years to come, learning the game and filling into his big body.

AJHL

Allen York, G, 6’4, 185 lbs.
(Drafted 6th Rd, 158th overall, 2007)

York is a tall goaltender who had another stellar season manning the pipes of the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL.  This year he led his team to the final of the RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior-A championship.  He was named Top Goaltender of the event.  In the final, his team lost 1-0 as they were unable to provide any support for their hard-working keeper.

Overall this season, York finished the RBC tournament 4-1 with a 0.80 GAA, went 11-3 in the AJHL playoffs, and had a sparkling 25-5-3 during the regular season for the Kodiaks.  Next season, York will tend goal for RPI in the NCAA.  If York can adjust well to the NCAA, he has all the potential to become a top goaltending prospect for the Jackets in the near future.