Columbus Blue Jackets prospects Bjorkstrand, Rychel finished 2013-14 season with strong playoff performances

By Richard Greco

Oliver Bjorkstrand - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Winger Oliver Bjorkstrand led the WHL in playoff scoring with 16 goals and 17 assists through 21 games. (Courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

When the Columbus Blue Jackets took their best shot at the Pittsburgh Penguins this postseason, their roster was littered with home-grown players like Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray. While the recently graduated prospects were getting a chance to take on one of the NHL's best teams, there were a handful of players making statements in their own respective league's playoffs.

From the CHL to Europe, the Blue Jackets had a lot of players in action this past spring. Two picks from the 2013 NHL Draft, Kerby Rychel and Oliver Bjorkstrand, had particularly long and productive postseasons with their respective teams.

OHL

Rychel was traded to the Guelph Storm to give the team a chance to compete for a Memorial Cup. It almost worked too, as the Storm nearly took home the junior hockey championship, falling short at the hands of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

The 19-year-old power forward scored 32 points in 20 games to lead the Storm to J. Ross Roberston Cup. The Storm won every series, 4-1. They defeated the Plymouth Whalers in the first round, London in the quarterfinals, Erie in the semifinals, and North Bay in the final. Rychel had nine points in the OHL final.

Rychel remained hot in the Memorial Cup and had seven points in four games. Guelph went 3-0 through the round robin play and earned a bye to the final. Despite receiving two points from Rychel, both assists, Guelph fell to Edmonton, 6-3.

When the Storm toppled London in the quarterfinals, it pitted Rychel against fellow Columbus prospect Josh Anderson. Even though Anderson had three goals and two assists, the Knights were not able to slow down Guelph's high-powered offense. The defensive let down came after London held the Windsor Spitfires to three or less goals in a first round sweep.

The Storm's next opponent was the Erie Otters in the semifinals. While the series kicked off with Columbus prospect Oscar Dansk taking a back seat to Devin Williams, Dansk received the start for game two. He played the whole game, but allowed seven goals on 30 shots. Rychel scored two goals and dished out an assist against his future teammate.

The next action for Dansk came when he replaced Williams for the final 17:56 of game three. With his team already trailing 5-1, Dansk allowed two goals on 14 shots. Both goals came on the power play. Rychel scored the first goal and assisted the second.

Dansk's only other action came in the first round against Nick Moutrey and the Saginaw Spirit. With the Otters ahead in the series, 2-0, Dansk received the start but was pulled five minutes into the third period after allowing his fifth goal. Saginaw went on to win in overtime, but Erie took the series 4-1.

Moutrey finished the postseason with three assists, two of which came off goals scored on Dansk.

WHL

Bjorkstrand rode into the playoffs with a ton of momentum after finishing the regular season with a career-high 109 points. The Danish forward continued to play at a high level and tallied 33 points (16 goals and 17 assists) through 21 postseason games as the Portland Winterhawks battled their way back to the WHL final to defend their crown.

Bjorkstrand and the Winterhawks breezed through the tournament leading up to the finale. Portland swept the Vancouver Giants in the first round and the Victoria Royals in the quarterfinals, and bounced the Kelowna Rockets in five games in the semifinals. After averaging 5.7 goals per game through the postseason's first three rounds, the Winterhawks were held to under three goals a game against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL final.

The dream of repeating as WHL champions and earning a chance to redeem last year's Memorial Cup loss came to a close in game seven after a four goal second period propelled the Oil Kings to a 4-2 triumph. Bjorkstrand finished the WHL final with a goal and four assists.

On the opposite side of the bracket, Dillon Heatherington and the Swift Current Broncos ran into the Medicine Hat Tigers first round. Heatherington finished the series with an assist and a minus-six rating. The Broncos defense allowed 3.2 goals per game and Swift Current fell in six games.

Peter Quenneville and the Brandon Wheat Kings made it to the quarterfinals before falling to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Quenneville had four points through eight playoff games.

NCAA

Martin Ouellette and the Maine Black Bears battled their way to the Hockey East quarterfinals, where they were bested by Providence in two games. Maine defeated Merrimack in the first round behind a 29-save shutout performance from Ouellette. The 22-year-old netminder went on to make 47 saves on 53 shots against Providence, but was pulled from the second game after giving up three goals through 43 minutes.

After falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Seth Ambroz and the Minnesota Golden Gophers came into the NCAA tournament looking to make a statement. The Gophers breezed through the West Regional, topping Robert Morris and St. Cloud State by a combined score of 11-3. The regional round saw Ambroz register two points and versatile defender Mike Reilly tally a goal and two assists. The University of Minnesota went on to defeat North Dakota, 2-1, in the Frozen Four semis, but fell to Union, 7-4, in the final. Reilly dished out an assist and Ambroz was held scoreless.

Europe

Daniel Zaar was an assist machine for Rogle in the Kvalserien, a Swedish round-robin tournament that is played at the end of the Allsvenskan regular season. He led the tournament in scoring with 22 points (six goals and 16 assists) through 16 games. Despite the Swedish-product's best efforts, Rogle finished third in the Kvalserien and will return to the Allsvenskan for another year.

Anton Blomqvist competed with Malmo in the Kvalserien. The 24-year-old defensive defenseman was held scoreless through 10 games. Malmo finished fourth in the tournament and will return to the Allsvenskan next season.

Alexander Wennberg competed with Frolunda in the SHL playoffs. The 19-year-old was held to a goal through a seven game series in which second-seeded Frolunda fell to Linkopings HC, the ninth-seed.

Linkopings HC also put an end to Anton Forsberg's season. Modo elected to start Linus Ullmark (BUF) over Forsberg and eighth-seeded Modo was eliminated by Linkopings HC in a two-game play-in round.

Markus Soberg tallied a goal in three games with Frolunda J20 in the SuperElit playoffs.

AHL

The Springfield Falcons fell to the Providence Bruins in a best of five series, 3-2. Newly-acquired Carter Camper tied Ryan Craig for the team lead with five points. Tim Erixon and Marko Dano added two points apiece, while Jake Hansen, Lukas Sedlak and Sean Collins each had a point.

Forsberg made his playoff debut in game four after Mike McKenna allowed five goals in the first 45 minutes. Forsberg played the final 15 minutes and allowed a goal on 10 shots as the Falcons fell, 6-3. McKenna was chased again in game five after giving up three goals in the first period. Forsberg allowed two goals on 26 shots in the final 45 minutes and Springfield was eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs in another 6-3 loss.

Notes and Signings

The Blue Jackets spent much of the last month locking up former draft picks to entry-level deals. Last year's first-rounders Dano and Wennberg were signed to three-year contracts as well as former third-rounder Joonas Korpisalo. Columbus also signed Notre Dame product T.J. Tynan to a two-year deal.

Columbus also agreed to an entry-level deal with former sixth-rounder Zaar.