After selecting eight players in the 2013 NHL Draft, it was exciting as ever to watch some of the Columbus Blue Jackets prospects bloom. Kerby Rychel and Oliver Bjorkstrand put together tremendous years at the Canadian major junior level, while Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano got their skates under them in Europe.
The 2013-14 season also saw the Blue Jackets graduate a handful of talented players (Ryan Murray, David Savard, Dalton Prout, and Boone Jenner), that all filled key roles in helping Columbus make it to the playoffs. While there is no shortage of talent in Columbus' system, below are players that will be recognized for their achievements this year.
Prospect of the Year: Kerby Rychel, LW, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Sometimes being traded in the middle of the season can a hurt a player's production, but that was the not the case for Kerby Rychel. Despite being sent from the Windsor Spitfires, where his father Warren is the VP and GM, to Guelph Strom, Rychel did not miss a beat.
He registered 51 points through 31 games with Guelph and put up 38 points in 27 games with Windsor. His 90 combined points were enough to rank him 11th in the OHL and helped the Storm claim the Western Conference title with a league high 108 points.
The scrappy forward's production did not stop in the post season, as he currently has eight goals and 16 assists through 17 playoff games.
While his offensive upside is undeniable, Rychel also brings a level of grit to the ice. At 6'1, 203 pounds, the he is not afraid to take the body. His physicality is evident in all three zones as he works hard on the boards, can skate the puck across the blue line and has an act for catching skaters with their heads down.
This season not only saw Rychel put together the best of his junior career, he also played a mature game on the ice. Last year he spent 94 minutes in the penalty box and this season limited himself to just 43 penalty minutes.
Hardest Worker: Marko Dano, C, Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Dano was regarded as a reach when the Blue Jackets snagged him with the 27th pick of the 2013 draft. The Slovakian center had already played in the KHL and although he flew under the radar for most teams, the Blue Jackets saw potential in Dano.
He began playing in the KHL as an 18-year-old, the season before Columbus selected him and returned to HC Slovan Bratislava following the draft. While his point totals have not been too impressive, five points in 41 games, he has been improving his physicality against men much more seasoned then him. In his limited ice time, Dano averaged just over a shot per game.
Although the 6'0, 198 pound forward is rarely the most physically intimidating player on the ice, he is not going to stray away from a hit and has great awareness when skating the puck through the neutral zone. As a two-way forward, Dano's defensive game has been extremely impressive. His gritty style of play often leaves him clogging lanes and he is willing to getting down on the ice to block a shot.
After Bratislava failed to make the KHL playoffs, Dano joined the Springfield Falcons, where he had five points in nine regular season games. He impressed the coaching staff in his short time in the AHL and made Springfield's postseason roster, where he has dished out two assists in five games thus far.
Hardest Shot: Gianluca Curcuruto, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Armed with a shot that has clocked at over 90 mph, opposing players cannot help but cringe and cover their face when Gianluca Curcuruto winds up for a slap shot.
Although he was only able to rip home seven goals this season, the Toronto product's shots create prime time rebound opportunities for players just outside the crease. As a result Curcuruto tallied 21 assists to finish his third CHL season with 28 points.
Curcuruto is not a shifty skater and stands at just 6'1. Even though he is not much better than average in most areas of his game, the 20-year-old's shot gives him the potential to be a third pairing defender that gets sent out on the power play to let it rip.
Best Defensive Prospect: Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Reilly is one of the best-rounded defenders that the Blue Jackets have in their system. He can skate effectively on the rush, he can make tape-to-tape passes and he can be a shutdown defender in his own zone.
After registering 14 points in his freshman season, Reilly broke out with 33 points, the most out of any defender in the Big Ten. While his offensive ability continued to develop, he also made strides of improvement in his own zone.
He was at the heart of the Big Ten's top defense, which only allowed 2.10 goals per game. Its offense started from the backend and that is where Reilly shined. He effectively made breakout passes from his own zone and finished the year with 24 assists.
Fastest Skater: Markus Soberg, RW, Frolunda (SHL)
Soberg can absolutely fly up and down the ice. Like many European wingers, the Norwegian-product has act for getting open on the fast break and can out race defenders to pucks down ice. The smooth-skating 19-year-old tallied a career-high 38 points in 45 games with Frolunda J20 and finished the year with a plus-18 rating. He played for an overmatched Norway team in the WJC and finished with an assist in five games.
Breakout Player for 2014-15: Alexander Wennberg, C, Frolunda (SHL)
Wennberg showed what he could do in the WJC this season. As an assistant captain, he played at a point-per-game pace to lead Sweden to a silver medal. Even outside the WJC, the 19-year-old played great in international play, tallying 17 points in as many games.
He competed on Frolunda during the regular season and was named the SHL's top junior player after putting up 16 goals, 21 points as a rookie. This season marked the first time in Wennberg's career that he has registered more goals than assists.
Wennberg has all the tools needed to be an exceptional forward. He has great vision on the ice, has the speed to win one-on-one battles and is extremely patient with the puck. Wennberg's patience is the most impressive thing about his game and this season he began to recognize when to pass the puck and when to take a shot.
After an impressive rookie season in the SHL, Wennberg should be more comfortable with Frolunda next season, which should allow him to continue his development.
Most Improved Prospect: T.J. Tynan, C, Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Tynan was a passing machine for Notre Dame this season. He dished out 30 assists and potted eight goals in 40 games as the assistant captain for the Fighting Irish. His strong senior season came just a year after he posted a collegiate-career low 28 points and a minus-one rating. This season, however, he did not only bounce back with his points, but had a plus-12 rating, which was his highest since his stellar freshman campaign. The hard-working winger competed in two games with Springfield following the end of the collegiate season and was held scoreless.
Overachiever: Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
For the second straight season, the Portland Winterhawks are stacked and once again Oliver Bjorkstrand has benefited. After putting up 63 points in his first CHL season last year, people began to notice the Danish forward. This year, however, it has been impossible not to talk about Bjorkstrand.
He finished the regular season ranked third in the WHL with 109 points playing alongside Nicolas Petan (WPG), who had 113 points. Bjorkstrand has spearheaded the Winterhawks run to the WHL championship, where they are facing off against the Edmonton Oil Kings. He currently has 15 goals and 15 assists through 16 playoff games.
Underachiever: Joonas Korpisalo, G, Ilves (Liiga)
Inconsistent is the best way to describe Korpisalo's season. Only a year after putting up great numbers splitting time between Jokerit U20 and Kiekko-Vantaa, Korpisalo was unable to gain steady playing time due to injuries and being loaned to four different clubs. He played in 22 games, starting eight for Ilves. He was the most successful for Ilves and posted a 1.42 goals against average. Korpisalo is slated to return to Ilves next season and will need to play in more than 20 games if he wants to reach his potential.
Highest Risk/Reward: Peter Quenneville, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
After only playing in five games at Quinnipiac, Peter Quenneville left college to play with his younger brother, John, and the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. While he put up 51 points with the Wheat Kings, enough to lead his squad in points per game, the fact that he left a strong Quinnipiac program after minimal games puts a question mark next to his name. The 20-year-old is a great skater that can pass and score. His biggest improvements need to come in the defensive end, where as a center he is expected to play responsibly.