In contrast to most of the past decade, this year’s crop of Blue Jacket prospects interning in the various North American junior leagues does not include any of the organization’s top-tier talent. With the graduations of Jakub Voracek and Steve Mason out of the amateur ranks and onto the Nationwide Arena ice this season, only a handful of teenage prospects are skating with their junior clubs in 2008-09.
While none of the four junior-league players in the Jackets system are expected to make an impact at either the AHL or NHL level in the near future, the current situation should not be viewed as an indication of specific draft tendencies. Rather, the rapid progression of several recent draft picks has placed most of the depth within the organization at either Syracuse or Columbus. Of the top 20 Blue Jacket prospects, as ranked by Hockey’s Future, 13 currently skate for the Crunch or Jackets, with six more playing collegiate hockey and just one playing this season in the juniors, Brandon Wheat King left wing Matt Calvert.
The remaining three junior prospects in the system (Brent Regner, Steven Delisle and Drew Olson), all defensemen, were mid-level selections in the past two entry drafts and had yet to develop enough to earn a spot in the top 20 rankings. For all four, their professional future is still far enough out on the horizon that the current season will best be viewed in hindsight next September, when all four will likely be involved at Columbus’ rookie camp.
Matt Calvert, LW – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
5th Round, 127th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft
The highest-ranking Columbus prospect currently in juniors this season is left wing Matt Calvert, one of the Jackets’ fifth-round selection from this past summer’s entry draft. After opening many eyes at the Jackets rookie camp and the pre-season Traverse City tournament, Calvert has picked up this season right where he left off. Coming off an impressive 24-goal, 40-assist rookie campaign with his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Calvert has already tallied seven goals and 14 assists in 19 games so far this year.
Usually skating on an all-sophomore line with Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie, the 5’9 left wing has earned praise for his scoring touch and tenacity, which has brought his name into the discussion as a possible candidate for this year’s Team Canada WJC squad. Still only 18, Calvert will likely remain with Brandon for the next two years before likely stepping up to the AHL by the 2011 season.
Brent Regner, D – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
5th Round, 137th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft
Joining Matt Calvert in the WHL this season is the Blue Jackets other fifth-round selection from the 2008 entry draft, Vancouver Giant defenseman Brent Regner. Overlooked in his first year of NHL draft eligibility in 2007, Regner made real strides at both ends of the ice in 2007-08 as a sophomore and ended up pacing the Giants in blueline scoring during last year’s playoff run.
The improvements seen by many in Regner’s second WHL campaign have continued into the early part of this season. Fighting through an early-season staph infection, Regner has posted just shy of a point-per-game performance, with five goals and 12 assists in 20 games this season. Given his age and continued improvement, the rearguard will likely be in the mix for playing time between Syracuse and Johnstown by next October.
Steven Delisle, D – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
4th Round, 107th Round, 2008 Entry Draft
One of two defensemen selected by Columbus in the fourth round of the 2008 Entry Draft, Quebec native Steven Delisle is currently in the middle of his junior season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. Already an imposing presence along the blueline at the young age of 18, Delisle is still learning to apply his considerable 6’6 frame to the best advantage at both ends of the ice.
Coming off a six-goal, 23-assist performance in 70 games last season, Delisle stepped up his game in the playoffs, tallying 10 assists in Gatineau’s 19-game trek through the post-season. He has not been able to sustain that scoring pace in 2008-09, with only a single goal and four assists in 22 games this season. The advancement of his game, however, will not likely show up consistently in the box score. Long-term, his value to the organization will likely result from the development of a strong physical defensive game to exploit his natural talent and size. Delisle should factor into the AHL picture early in the next decade.
Drew Olson, D – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
4th Round, 118th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft
The lone junior player on the United States side of the border within the Jackets organization this season is 2008 fourth-round pick Drew Olson.
A gifted high school player who earned recognition as a nominee for the Mr. Hockey Award in his native Minnesota earlier this year, Olson made the jump to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL this season. In 13 games, Olson has contributed a goal and an assist, to go along with 30 penalty minutes. While Olson is expected to remain with the Lancers for the entire season, stocky offensive defenseman will likely attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2009.