Columbus Blue Jackets have skilled group of prospects in Europe and NCAA

By Richard Greco

T.J. Tynan - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Forward T.J. Tynan had a strong senior season with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, posting eight goals and 30 assists through 40 games. Tynan recently signed an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The Columbus Blue Jackets had some high-end talent playing in Europe this season, with first-round picks Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano playing in European men's leagues. The organization has also used mid and late round draft picks to select players that are developing in some of the nation's top collegiate programs.

Europe

Anton Forsberg, G, Modo (SHL)
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2011

Forsberg did not receive playing time on a nightly basis after he was loaned to Modo and had to earn his time in the net against Buffalo Sabres prospect Linus Ullmark. Although Ullmark eventually won the starting job, Forsberg started 22 games and left a lasting impression with a 2.44 goals against average in over 1,300 minutes of ice time.

Following Modo's elimination from the Le Mat Trophy contention, the Swedish product headed to North America for the first time. Forsberg joined the Springfield Falcon's on March 20th and made his AHL debut on April 1st.

Joonas Korpisalo, G, Ilves (Liiga)
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2012

A hectic year for Korpisalo finally concluded with some stability as the 19-year-old came to terms with the Blue Jackets on a three-year, entry-level contract on March 21st. The contract came after Korpisalo competed with six different teams in three different leagues during the 2013-14 season. He did not play in over 10 games for any team and saw most of his playing time with Ilves of Liiga, where he had a 1.42 goals against average in eight games.

This season marked the first speed bump in what seemed to be a steadily improving career for Korpisalo, who prior to this year had only been loaned out once. He stands at 6'3 and uses his athleticism to move swiftly from pipe to pipe. While injuries cost him playing time this season, the 2011-12 Jorma Valtonen Award winner needs to play consistently to get his development back on track.

Daniel Zaar, RW, Rogle (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2012

Zaar put together his most impressive season this past year with Rogle. After being held to three points in 25 games with Rogle (then of the SHL) last year, the 19-year-old broke out with 36 points in 52 games this season, enough to tie him for 17th in the league and second on Rogle. He excelled alongside center Kelsey Tessier, who saw time in the Avalanche and Rangers organizations, and right winger Dennis Everberg on Rogle's top line. The high-end production allowed Rogle to finish seventh in the league with a 21-20-11 record.

Zaar has all the tools to develop into a successful winger. While he may not be the most defensively responsible forward, his speed makes him a dangerous threat in the transition game and often allows him to get into prime position to rip one-timers in the slot.

Markus Soberg, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
Drafted 6th round, 165th overall, 2013

Soberg spent most of last season with Frolunda J20 in the SuperElit, where he was able to build on last season and posted 38 points in 45 games. His 21 goals marks the most he has scored with the Frolunda organization and continued his steady increase in points. Soberg should see significant time in the SHL next season, where he only skated in a game.

A playmaker, Soberg relies on his agility and quick hands to blow past opponents in open ice and does not like to pass up opportunities to send the puck towards the net. The biggest critique about the Norwegian-product is that he needs to bulk up and playing with Frolunda in the SHL will reveal just how crucial increasing his strength will be before he attempts to make the trip to North America.

Alexander Wennberg, C, Frolunda (SHL)
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2013

Although Wennberg has been praised for his ability to dish out the puck, finding twine was the most dangerous aspect of his debut season with Frolunda. He potted 16 goals and had five assists through 20 games as Frolunda finished second with a 33-15-7 record. Wennberg's scoring touch is extremely intriguing because entering the draft last year, it was his passing that made him such a highly-touted prospect.

Wennberg put his leadership on display with Sweden in the World Junior Championships, where he played at a point per game pace in seven games wearing the 'A' for his country. He also spent some time captaining Sweden's U20 team and had 17 points in 17 non-WJC international games.

The 19-year-old is quickly completing his offensive game and another year in Frolunda will help with that. While Wennberg is smooth passing, has great hands and a significant amount of patience with the puck, he is still raw. Experience is the only thing holding this intelligent offensive gem from coming across the Atlantic to join Columbus' system.

Marko Dano, C, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL)
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall 2013

After being projected as a second/third round pick, the Blue Jackets selected Dano in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. The pick made sense since Dano had already seen time in the KHL and he returned to Bratislava again this year.  While his five points in 41 games are not all too eye opening, it is what Dano did away from the puck that has been impressive.

He averaged nearly 13 shifts and nine minutes of ice time per game, where he was able to play defensively responsible. He also increased his physicality and was second among Bratislava's forwards with 41 penalty minutes.

After turning heads yet again during the WJC as Slovakia's assistant captain, where he tallied three points in five games, Dano agreed on a three-year, entry-level deal with the Blue Jackets following Bratislava's inability to qualify for the KHL playoffs. He has already made the trip to Springfield and has appeared in three games with the Faclons.

Ilari Melart, D, Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk (KHL)
Signed as a free agent, May 24th, 2013

After signing a one-year deal with Columbus back in May, Melart was loaned to Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk midway through December. His limited time in the KHL saw the Finnish stay-at-home defender tally five points in 15 games. Melart was not limited to his playing time in Russia and skated in 25 games with the Springfield Falcons and returned to the team on March 25.

The good thing about the 6'3, 227 pound defender is that he knows how crucial his size is and as a result does not stray from taking the body. While his offensive ceiling is not very high, Melart prides himself in playing an efficient game in his own.

Anton Blomqvist, D, Malmo (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2009

Much like Melart, Blomqvist takes up a ton of space on the ice and caters his game to that. He skated in 51 games after being loaned to Malmo to start the season and put his physicality on display with 109 penalty minutes.

As a 6'5, 216 pound defensive force, Blomqvist is an intimidating player for opposing attackers to come down the ice against. While he does not have the speed to be effective joining the rush, the 24-year-old relies on his positioning in his own zone and well-timed checks to take away scoring chances.

NCAA

Martin Ouellette, G, Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 184th overall, 2010

Ouellette is ranked on the bottom of a pool of Blue Jackets' goaltenders that have a ton of potential and the 22-year-old is no different.

He returned to his spot between the pipes for his senior year at the University of Maine and posted a 2.29 goals against average through 34 games. The Quebec-product does a good job controlling rebounds for a Maine squad that skated shorthanded 142 times. Maine also averaged just under three goals per game, which forced Ouellette to stand on his head on multiple occasions in order to give his team a chance to compete. The lack of offense is a direct result of Ouellette's 15-15-4 record.

It will be very interesting to see where Ouellette fits into Columbus' system when he becomes a professional next season.

Seth Ambroz, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Drafted 5th round, 128th overall, 2011

Ambroz continued his steady production as a junior and tallied a career-high 23 points in 39 games. The 6'2 power forward plays a gritty game in front of the net and tallied two points to help the Gophers earn a spot in the Frozen Four Tournament after winning the West Regional. During the two West Regional games, Ambroz was not afraid to look to the net and had 11 shots on goal. Ambroz also showed that he can come up in the clutch and scored four game-winning goals this season.

The Minnesota-native put his sound two-way game on display as a junior. He was among the Gophers' leading forwards with 23 blocked shots, which he paired with a plus-nine rating. Ambroz looked comfortable on the ice this season, which should pave the way for him to be a dangerous player when he returns to Minnesota as a senior.

Mike Reilly, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2011

Reilly broke out during his sophomore year and led all Gophers' defenders with 32 points. The 20-year-old was a key part of Minnesota's transition offense with his ability to move the puck to create fast break opportunities. He also played a crucial role running the point on the power play. Reilly has been everywhere on the ice during the NCAA Tournament and has three points in both postseason victories as the Gophers' earned a spot in the Frozen Four Tournament.

T.J. Tynan, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2011

After taking a step back, in regards to offensive production, during his junior season, Tynan led the Fighting Irish with 38 points, 30 of which were assists, as a senior. Tynan's increase in production goes further than just his offensive game and he was fourth on the team with a plus-12 rating. The Illinois-product's collegiate career came to a heart-breaking end when Notre Dame fell to St. Cloud State in overtime in the NCAA regional semifinals. Despite the loss, Tynan was able to tally an assist.

There were a lot of question marks surrounding Tynan after his junior year, but he put an end to a lot of those this season. Although he is not the biggest guy on the ice, the 5'9 center plays with a ton of grit, which should allow him to develop into a solid bottom-six forward. He recently signed an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets.

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