The Columbus Blue Jackets' Top 20 has not changed all too much this season. Although a handful of prospects are already regulars on the Blue Jackets' roster, with Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray leading the bunch, many are still several years away from making an NHL contribution.
Columbus has a good variety of European, Canadian, and American skaters that all provide unique qualities. From quick, chippy forwards to big hitting defenders, the Blue Jackets are a team that pride themselves on grit and they have drafted players that fit that mold.
1. (1) Ryan Murray, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 2nd overall, 2012
The Blue Jackets had to wait to see just how good Ryan Murray could be after he underwent shoulder surgery while playing for Everett last season. This year, however, the two-way defender made his mark.
Murray skated in 61 games with the Blue Jackets, most of which had him paired alongside veteran James Wisniewski. The Saskatchewan native added immediate depth and reliability to the Blue Jackets blue line, not only during five aside hockey, but on the power play and penalty kill as well.
His season was unfortunately cut short on March 3rd, when he suffered a knee injury that would require surgery. He could join the Blue Jackets if they make the playoffs, but it is a realistic possibility he will not play until the 2014-15 season.
2. (2) Boone Jenner, C/W, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2011
Although Jenner did not have the explosive debut season that Nathan MacKinnon (COL) or Tyler Johnson (TB) enjoyed, his 20 points rank him 21st among rookies. Although the Blue Jacket's deep core of centers forced Jenner to move to the wing, the 6'1 forward settled comfortably into a role on Columbus' second line, typically with Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton.
Much like Murray, Columbus utilizes Jenner for more than just his ability to play even strength hockey. The strong skating natural center is defensively responsible which primed him to play on the penalty kill and his ability to hold the puck has earned him time on the power play, where he potted two goals.
3. (3) Alexander Wennberg, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2013
Wennberg's playmaking ability makes him a valuable asset to any team he plays on and Frolunda has noticed that this season. In his first year in the SHL, Wennberg has found the back of the net 16 times and dished out five assists through 50 games. Wennberg was once referred to as a pass-first player, so his 16 goals show him becoming more confident to take advantage of open looks at the net.
The 19-year-old put his passing on display in international play. He played at a point-per-game pace as an assistant captain for host Sweden, which fell to Finland in the World Junior Championship final, 3-2. In non-WJC international games, Wennberg had 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in as many games and even was given the captain honor for a few tilts.
Whether it be his smooth passing, his strong hockey intelligence, or his patience with the puck, Wennberg is quickly putting together all the tools he needs to excel in the North American game.
4.(5) Oscar Dansk, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2012
For the first time since the 2010-11 season, the Erie Otters clinched a spot in the OHL playoffs. The Otters' resurgence came behind the play of Dansk, who leads the OHL with a 2.36 goals against average. Six of his 28 wins have come by way of a shutout, which ties him with Matt Murray (PIT) for the OHL lead.
Dansk joined Wennberg on the Swedish national team in the WJC, and handled the starting duties between the pipes. The netminder finished the tournament with a 1.79 goals against average and had a .929 save percentage.
5. (6) Kerby Rychel, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2013
A December 4th trade from the Windsor Spitfires to the Guelph Storm did not slow down Kerby Rychel. After putting up 39 points (16 goals and 23 assists) in 27 games as the Spitfires' captain, the gritty forward upped his game even more in Guelph, which currently sits atop the OHL with 103 points. Rychel has 45 points (15 goals and 30 assists) in 28 games with the Storm, and 84 points in 55 games on the season.
Rychel is the kind of power forward that stands out whenever he is on the ice. Whether he is finding the back of the net, setting up a scoring chance or using his speed on the back check, the 6'1 winger is beginning to complete his game. He also brings a level of toughness to the ice and is no stranger to dropping the gloves.
6. (7) Marko Dano, C, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2013
Dano recently agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal with the Blue Jackets, which will allow him to join the Springfield Falcons following the conclusion of the KHL season.
The KHL is a tough place for a 19-year-old to compete and Dano's offense was held in check with just five points in 41 games playing for HC Slovan Bratislava. Although his offensive numbers were not dazzling, he concentrated on playing a defensively sound game in his limited ice time.
Dano's offense showed up during international play and he picked up three points in five WJC games. Through all of his international play he posted 17 points (eight goals and nine assists) in 13 games.
While he has not seen tremendous success in the KHL, playing against grown men and former NHL players is preparing Dano, who is already a gritty player, to play with more physicality.
7. (9) Cody Goloubef, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2008
The Blue Jackets elected to go with size on defense this year and that has not boded well for Goloubef. Although he stands at 6'1, he is still one of the smaller prospects in Columbus' defensive corps and has spent most of the year in Springfield.
He has excelled in Springfield and recorded a career-high 22 points (six goals and 16 assists) in 48 games. The AHL all-star has also played well in his own zone and has a plus-nine rating to go along with 75 penalty minutes.
Goloubef was called up to Columbus in late February, but has only skated in five games and has averaged just under 10 minutes per game.
8. (14) Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2013
The Portland Winterhawks lead the WHL with 321 goals and at the heart of its offense is Oliver Bjorkstrand. He is second on Portland and third in the WHL with 102 points (45 goals and 57 assists) in 66 games. He has excelled alongside Nicolas Petan (WPG), who is second in the WHL with 109 points.
Bjorkstrand's playmaking ability followed him to the Division 1 World Junior Championships. Through five WJC games, the native of Denmark registered six points and added six more points through other international play. He was named Denmark's assistant captain.
Although his size and strength is the biggest question about his game, Bjorkstrand displays a high hockey intelligence and patience with the puck which often puts him in the right position to make plays.
Tim Erixon has been one of the odd men out on a talent group of young defenders for the Blue Jackets. Although he skated in 31 NHL games last season, he fluctuated between the AHL and NHL and had trouble getting a rhythm going.
This season, Erixon has played solid with Springfield and dished out 26 assists. His 31 points rank him third on Springfield and 15th among AHL defenders. As an offensively savvy defenseman, the 23-year-old is a key asset on the power play, where he potted three goals.
It is hard to watch a guy like Erixon play so well in the minors and not have the same success in the NHL. Even when he was called up, he had a lot of trouble cracking Columbus' lineup, often being a healthy scratch, before returning to Springfield, where he has played great. Erixon is a very smooth skater, but needs to use his size to play a more physical game.
Erixon was injured in late February and has been out of the lineup since. He is expected to return before the end of the regular season.
10. (13) Dillon Heatherington, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2013
After the 6'4 defender was selected by Columbus, Heatherington put up his best start to a junior hockey season with 33 points in 67 games for the Swift Current Broncos, who sit at second in the WHL's East Division.
Heatherington is already an imposing force on the blue line and is harnessing his size with 63 penalty minutes. The Alberta product plays a key role in Swift Current's defense, which has allowed 219 goals, the least in the East Division, and has a plus-23 rating.
11. (18) Anton Forsberg, G, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2011
Forsberg previously sat below Joonas Korpisalo in the Top 20, but is having a great season for Modo in the SHL and surpassed the Finnish goaltender.
At the beginning of the season, Forsberg was loaned to Modo and it did not take him long to find his form. Through 22 games he has a 2.44 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. Forsberg has recorded one shutout, but splits playing time with Linus Ullmark (BUF). Even though he has not seen consistent time, playing in the SHL is allowing the him to fine tune his game at a high level.
12. (16) Mike Reilly, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2011
Reilly is building on a strong freshman season with the University of Minnesota and is the Gophers' top scoring defender with 24 points in 32 games as a sophomore, enough to rank him third on the team.
Behind Reilly's puck-moving ability, the Gophers stand atop the Big 10 conference with a 13-2-3 record and have been among the top ranked teams all season.
The biggest question mark about the Minnesota native was whether his play in his own zone was going to be solid enough. Although he does not rely on his physicality to separate players from the puck, his 6'1 frame allows him to use stick checks to slow down offenses. While his positioning has room to improve, Reilly still has his junior and senior seasons to work the rest of the kinks out of his game.
Chaput got his first taste of NHL action this season and registered an assist in 17 games with Columbus. His stint in the NHL came in October and November, before he returned to Springfield in December to make room for
goaltender Mike McKenna.
The speedy, playmaking forward leads the Falcons with 16 goals and is second on the team with 34 points.
Chaput has an act for finding the back of the net in timely fashion and was named the MVP of the 2012 Memorial Cup after leading the Shawinigan Cataractes to the title. His ability to get the job done in crunch time makes the 21-year-old extremely valuable.
14. (17) Daniel Zaar, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2012
Zaar is putting together a solid season for Rogle of the Allsvenskan with 36 points in 52 games. He is a very well-rounded winger and pairs a quick wrist shot with his solid passing ability. The sniper usually allows another skater to carry the puck into the zone and uses his speed to get into good positions to let one timers fly.
He competed for Sweden's U20 team in international play and had four points in eight games, but was kept off the WJC roster. At 19 years old, Zaar still has plenty of room to improve his game and needs to get stronger.
15. (NR) T.J. Tynan, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2011
Tynan is having a great bounce back season as Notre Dame's assistant captain. After being held to a collegiate career-low 28 points last year, the senior center is the Irish's leading scorer with 33 points in 35 games.
The Illinois product is a passing machine and has dished out 25 assists. Tynan stands at 5'9 and uses his agility to avoid hits when carrying the puck in the neutral zone. The lead by example player's speed primes him to be defensively responsible and he is more than willing to get on the ice to block shots.
16. (20) Josh Anderson, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2012
Anderson is off to his best CHL season to date and has 49 points (27 goals and 22 assists) in 57 games. Although Anderson may seem to get lost on a stacked London Knights' roster, the 6'3 winger provides toughness, and is third on the team with 79 penalty minutes.
Anderson joined fellow Blue Jackets' prospect Kerby Rychel on the Canada U20 team in Malmo, Sweden for the WJC this year. Canada did not have the success that has come to be expected and Anderson finished the tournament with a goal in seven games.
The 19-year-old has developed into a reliable forward that plays with an edge in a Knights' system that won back-to-back OHL championships in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
17. (11) Joonas Korpisalo, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2012
The 2013-14 season has been a difficult one for Korpisalo and his drop in the rankings reflects that. He has been plagued by injuries and has been loaned to three different teams.
He has not been able to stick around with any of his loans and has not manned the net in more than five games per team. The bulk of his duties have come with Ilves in the SM-liiga, where the Finnish goaltender has a 0.97 goals against average through five games.
This season marks the least consistent that Korpisalo, who had only been loaned out once before, has ever had.
18. (NR) Seth Ambroz, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2011
Ambroz continued his steady increase in points and has 20 points (13 goals and seven assists) through 34 games, enough to rank him eighth on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Minnesota product is harnessing his 6'2, 209 pound frame in both ends of the ice and has been blocking more shots.
Ambroz has the size to be a power forward and as junior looks comfortable playing in the dirty areas, especially the crease. As long as the 20-year-old continues increasing his on puck strength, he could develop into a solid third liner.
19. (NR) Martin Ouellette, G, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 184th overall, 2010
Oullette has handled the starting duties between the pipes for the University of Maine for the past two seasons and has a 2.29 goals against average as a senior.
His 14-13-4 record does not do Ouellette justice. He consistently puts the Black Bears in a position to win and has held opponents to two goals or less in 16 games. The 22-year-old stay-at-home goaltender registered three shutouts on the year.
20. (NR) Peter Quenneville, C/W, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2013
It is still too early tell whether or not Peter Quenneville made the right decision by leaving Quinnipiac to play with his young brother John on the Brandon Wheat Kings, but he appears to have made the right choice so far. Quenneville has managed 16 goals and 29 assists through 42 WHL games, and while he has had his fair share of growing pains, there has been more good than bad in his first season of major junior hockey.