Blue Jackets Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Chris Leary

Top 20 at a glance

1. Nikita Filatov, LW
2. Derick Brassard, C
3. Cody Goloubef, D
4. Maxim Mayorov, LW
5. Teddy Ruth, D
6. Jonathan Sigalet, D
7. Will Weber, D
8. Tom Sestito, LW
9. Jake Hansen, RW
10. Andrei Plekhanov, D
11. Dan LaCosta, G
12. Kevin Lalande, G
13. Matt Calvert, LW
14. Derek Dorsett, RW
15. Allen York, G
16. Grant Clitsome, D
17. Stefan Legein, RW
18. Brent Regner, D
19. Nick Holden, D
20. Alexandre Picard, LW

For the first time in the short history of the Columbus franchise, the annual migration of attention away from the present in favor of the future has been replaced by tangible success and the very real prospect of playoff hockey. That success comes as the prospect pool within the organization approaches a favorable crossroads, with several single-digit draft picks well on their way towards carving out an NHL career while leaving in their wake a system full of much longer development curves.
   
Derick Brassard, thanks to an unfortunate injury that cut short an impressive start to the season, and the teen phenom Filatov remain to fight it out for the top spot and, more importantly, ice time in Columbus.

Moving beyond the top two, Columbus has a group of defensemen within the system at different stages of development. The clear standout is Cody Goloubef, last year’s second-round pick and an easy choice for the top of the system after the big guns. Behind Goloubef are a pair of imported defensive prospects in Teddy Ruth and Jonathan Sigalet, who combine with the improving Grant Clitsome and the declining Andrei Plekhanov to suggest that the Jackets should shake at least one full-time NHL defenseman out of this group within the next two years. Joining Goloubef on the longer career path are Will Weber and Brent Regner, both interning in the amateur ranks and likely to move up the prospect ladder as they develop within solid systems.

The most upwardly-mobile prospects in the system remain enigmas as they finish off their first professional years. Maksim Mayorov made the jump to the AHL as a teenager prior to the season, and has flashed the tools that made him a much more highly-regarded prospect than the fourth-round pick the Jackets expended to grab him at Nationwide in 2007. A full step behind the top duo of Brassard and Filatov, Mayorov looks like he’s still a year or two away from challenging for ice time at the NHL level. Along with Mayorov, Syracuse fans have been witness to the return of Stefan Legein. The former second-round pick came back from a quixotic early retirement to resume his hockey career, and the early returns are still ambiguous.

In the end, this current parsing of the organizational prospect ladder is overshadowed by the playoff chase in Columbus, and the contributions of some on this list to that new-found success for the Blue Jackets.

1. Nikita Filatov, LW

First round, sixth overall, 2008
Age 18, 6’0, 172 lbs.

Russian phenom Nikita Filatov has shown flashes of top-tier potential in his first year on this side of the pond. After appearing in three different uniforms this season, Filatov appears settled in for the remainder of the year with Syracuse. In a 28-game, injury-riddled season with the Crunch, Filatov has managed to contribute nine goals and 11 assists to go along a +4 rating, all impressive totals considering his age and current state of the Crunch lineup. Around his AHL appearances, Filatov has also showcased his NHL-caliber offensive capabilities at the World Juniors with Team Russia, contributing eight goals and three assists in seven games en route to a bronze medal. Upon his return to the Jackets following the tourney, Filatov opened eyes with a hat trick against Minnesota, becoming the first Blue Jacket rookie to accomplish the feat. The teen phenom is expected to make a strong push for an NHL job at training camp this autumn, and will likely be considered a top contender for the Calder next season.

2. Derick Brassard, C
First round, 6th overall, 2006
Age 21, 6’0, 172 lbs.

Entering the 2008-09 season as a likely candidate for a job centering one of the top two lines in Columbus, Brassard stormed out of the blocks as one of the hottest young players in the NHL. After earning the NHL Rookie of the Month award for October and regular shifts for the first time in his short NHL career, the Jackets lengthy quest for a true No. 1 center appeared over. Over the season’s first 31 games, Brassard had accounted for 10 goals and 15 assists, a realistic +12 rating (while averaging over 13 minutes of ice time per contest), and consistent opportunities on the power-play unit.  Flash forward several months, and Brassard finds himself on the outside looking in again, thanks to a severe shoulder injury suffered in December that effectively ended his season much too prematurely. As has been the case throughout his short career, Brassard’s steep upward potential is held in check by unfortunate injuries. Expected back and fully healthy this autumn, Brassard will be expected to assume an even larger role in what will be his third lap around the NHL, and how many games he logs next season will be almost as important as his impact on the scoreboard.

3. Cody Goloubef, D
Second round, 37th overall, 2008
Age 19, 6’0, 195 lbs.

One of the top defensive prospects in the Blue Jacket system (both this year and over the past half-decade), Mississauga native Cody Goloubef has already turned in another impressive season, both for the Wisconsin Badgers and Team Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior team. In 30 games with the Badgers this season, Goloubef has accounted for four goals (including two game-winners) and eight assists on 47 shots, in addition to a team-leading +6. Add in an impressive +10 rating with Team Canada at the World Juniors, good for second overall in the tournament, and it quickly becomes apparent that Goloubef may yet develop into the two-way presence on the blueline the Jackets have long sought after within the system. A strong, intelligent player at both ends of the ice, Goloubef has started to add a strong physical presence to his already impressive skill set, and should remain atop the Jackets prospect ladder into his last two years at the collegiate level.

4. Maxim Mayorov, LW

4th Round, 94th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
Age 19, 6’2, 187 lbs.

Considered on the top foreign-born players in his 2007 graduating class, left wing Maxim Mayorov has made a quick transition as a teenager to the North American game this season with Syracuse of the AHL. As he slipped down draft boards due to transfer agreement issues, Mayorov was considered a sleeper within the organization, and was a pleasant surprise when he made the jump over prior to the current season. In 55 games as a rookie with the Crunch, Mayorov has tallied 10 goals and 13 assists, good for fifth on the team in scoring, which is offset by a -17 rating. While a three-game appearance with the big club in January did not produce any evidence that he is ready to compete for ice time in Columbus, the fact that he has progressed so rapidly is an indication that there is recognized potential in Mayorov’s developing game. A return engagement with Syracuse next season appears likely on the near horizon, and there is every reason to believe he will be pushing for a real audition with the Jackets by 2011.

5. Teddy Ruth, D

2nd Round, 46th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft (Washington)
Age 20, 6’1, 199 lbs.

One of three defensemen selected in the second round of the 2007 Entry Draft currently in the Jackets organization, Illinois native Teddy Ruth may be the most well-known of the group. Traded to Columbus for NHL vet Sergei Fedorov at the 2008 trade deadline last February, Ruth is a dependable, stay-at-home rearguard who has already been singled out for his leadership and work ethic as an underclassman with the Fighting Irish. His style of game does not manifest itself well on the scoreboard, however, as he has just a pair of goals on 19 shots and five assists in 31 games this season with Notre Dame. Still very much at the far end of his development curve as an NHL-level defensive defenseman, Ruth still has several collegiate years to provide a significant return on the Jackets trade deadline deal.

6. Jonathan Sigalet, D
4th Round, 100th Overall, 2005 Entry Draft
Age 24, 6’1, 198 lbs.

Acquired this past off-season from the Bruins organization, defenseman Jonathan Sigalet was considered a candidate for the sixth spot along the Columbus blueline. The change of scenery was viewed as a positive for Sigalet, and he did not disappoint. In the opening 19 games of the season for Syracuse, Sigalet posted 11 points and a +13 ratio and appeared pointed towards a mid-season call-up. Unfortunately for everyone involved, a dislocated shoulder effectively ended Sigalet’s 2008-09 campaign. He’ll likely open back up next season with Syracuse, with a legitimate shot again at an NHL job so long as his recovery from shoulder surgery goes as expected.

7. Will Weber, D
2nd Round, 53rd Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
Age 20, 6’4, 205 lbs.

Another freshman learning to swim in the deep end of the NCAA pool, rearguard Will Weber has been a regular contributor right around the corner from Columbus for the 10th-ranked Miami RedHawks. Considered one of the better blueline prospects available in the 2007 draft, the Jackets added Weber to the organization just 16 selections after Cody Goloubef, which provided much-needed depth to a system which has not been kind to defensive prospects. In 31 games this season, Weber has tallied two goals and an assist on 42 shots to go with 26 blocked shots, the latter of which provides some indication of his defensive upside. Granted, the stat line (which includes 71 penalty minutes on the year) is not eye-opening. What is, however, is the regular ice time Weber has earned as a freshman for a top-tier NCAA side, and he joins fellow Blue Jacket Trent Vogelhuber to provide Columbus fans with a reason to keep an eye on Miami’s fortunes in the NCAA tourney for the next few years.

8. Tom Sestito, LW

3rd Round, 85th Overall, 2006 Entry Draft
Age 21, 6’4, 209 lbs.

A rough, physical presence on the wing, sophomore forward Tom Sestito has yet to manifest a consistent offensive game to compliment his obvious physicality at both ends of the ice. Once a 42-goal scorer at the OHL level, many have hoped that the rugged winger’s scoring touch would transfer to the professional level. Limited by injuries to just 37 games this season, Sestito has contributed just seven goals and 10 assists to a struggling Syracuse attack desperately looking for scoring help. Now healthy and locked in between the second and third forward line in Syracuse, he’ll be afforded every opportunity to either grind or score his way upward through the system over the next few seasons.

9. Jake Hansen, RW
3rd Round, 68th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
Age 19, 6’1, 182 lbs.

Another Blue Jacket prospect who has carved out real ice time as a freshman at the collegiate level is 2007 third-round pick Jake Hansen. In 29 games as a rookie, Hansen has had a modest impact on the stat sheet, posting a pair of goals on 24 shots, to go along with five assists, a -2 rating and 38 penalty minutes. While not eye-opening, those statistics pretty much tell the story of a freshman learning the ropes for a big NCAA ice hockey program, and should increase as he continues to develop with the Gophers. A standout with the USHL prior to making the jump to the college ranks, Hansen still has several years ahead with Minnesota before fighting for position within the organization.

10. Andrei Plekhanov, D

Third round, 96th overall, 2004
Age 22, 6’1, 187 lbs.

Coming off an impressive rookie campaign with Syracuse last season, Russian defenseman Andrei Plekhanov was viewed in many circles as an upwardly-mobile option within a system looking for additional help along the blueline. In light of his 25-point, 40-game rookie year, this season’s travails with Syracuse have been acutely disappointing. In 52 games this season, Plekhanov has only accounted for a pair of goals and 16 assists, a meager total that accurately reflects his contributions to the team in what was expected to be a growth year in preparation for an audition with the big club in 2010. There is still enough talent here to suggest that the talent is still present, and that 2008-09 was something of a lost season in what will be his first year in the North American game. Only under contract with Columbus through next season, and with a wealth of blueline talent percolating upward throughout the system, Plekhanov will need to show significant improvement over the next 12 months to remain a factor within the organization.

11. Dan LaCosta, G

3rd Round, 93rd Overall, 2004 Entry Draft
Age 22, 6’1, 186 lbs.

And in the third season, a starting job.  For LaCosta, the opportunity afforded fellow netminder Steve Mason to assume the mantle in Columbus opened up the Syracuse net for LaCosta, who has begun to mature into a real asset within the organization. After bouncing between part-time spot starts across three levels, LaCosta has settled in as the primary goalie in Syracuse, posting a respectable 18-17-2, 2.80 GAA, .912 save percentage season for the floundering Crunch. That performance earned him three appearances in the Columbus net when the injury bug hit again in early February, and the former Barrie Colt standout made the most of the short opportunity. LaCosta won two of his three appearances, allowing just four goals on 76 shots and highlighted by a 31-save shutout over Colorado. His short, successful stint with the Jackets has not translated entirely since his return to Syracuse, which may be more of an indication as to the current state of the lineup as LaCosta’s ability. With Pascal Leclaire now out of the organization, the second spot behind Steve Mason in Columbus is in play, and LaCosta will likely factor in that competition into the next decade.

12. Kevin Lalande, G
5th Round, 128th Overall, 2005 Entry Draft (Calgary)
Age 22, 5’11, 175 lbs.

Acquired via trade with the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline for the Jackets fourth-round selection in the 2009 draft, Lalande was brought in to provide additional depth in goal within the system to go with LaCosta and the recently-demoted Sebastian Dahm. Stuck behind the impressive duo of Leland Irving and Matt Keetley on Calgary’s depth chart, Lalande will now be provided the opportunity to at least split time in Syracuse, and instantly becomes a challenger to LaCosta for the second spot in the Columbus net as early as 2010. While limited to just six games with Quad City, Lalande posted an impressive 1.94 GAA and .929 save percentage, the latter of which mirrored his .925 save percentage in 21 games with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL this season. At the very least, the situation in the Syracuse net this autumn should be very interesting.

13. Matt Calvert, LW

5th Round, 127th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft
Age 19, 5’9, 164 lbs.

Building off a solid rookie campaign with Brandon of the WHL, left wing Matt Calvert has stepped up his overall game in his sophomore season at the junior level. The tenacious, undersized forward has built from an impressive pre-season at the Traverse City Tournament and at Blue Jackets training camp, accounting for 26 goals and 38 assists in 55 games this season. His play has stepped up significantly in the past month, as a 10-point start to his February and first career hat trick garnered him recognition as the WHL Player of the Week. Still just 19, Calvert will likely head back to Brandon next season before graduating into the minors at the start of the next decade.

14. Derek Dorsett, RW
7th Round, 189th Overall, 2006 Entry Draft
Age 22, 5’11, 178 lbs.

The ultimate late-round success story, Dorsett has already earned his stripes as a fourth-line enforcer with the big club at the tender age of 22. Rushed through the system after just a year internship with Syracuse, Dorsett has appeared in 42 games this season, chipping in just a pair of goals and a lone assist while holding down regular ice time. Utilized almost exclusively at even strength, Dorsett stands second on the team in penalty minutes (with 138 to team leader Jared Boll’s 140) and major infractions (12 to Boll’s 20), and ranks first in misconducts with four. Already typecast as a role player at the end of an NHL bench, Dorsett still has enough latent hockey sense to work himself into an asset as a third or fourth line regular.

15. Grant Clitsome, D

9th Round, 271st Overall, 2004 Entry Draft
Age 23, 5’11, 206 lbs.

Perhaps the best rookie debut this season with the Crunch has been turned in by Clarkson University graduate Grant Clitsome. A steady, dependable presence along the Syracuse blueline, Clitsome has contributed at both ends of the ice in this, his first professional season as an overage rookie at age 23. In 57 games this year, Clitsome has contributed four goals and 11 assists, which suggest that he is not out of his depth at the AHL level. Still a longshot for an NHL job, the offensive-minded defenseman will likely be given an opportunity at some point next season to see whether his late-blooming skill set will translate to the NHL.

16. Allen York, G

6th Round, 158th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
Age 19, 6’3, 175 lbs.

An impressive track record in juniors has not followed York into his freshman year with RPI, which has been a learning experience for the oversized netminder. In seven appearances as a freshman for RPI this season, York has posted a meager 1-5-0 record, with 25 goals allowed and a porous .879 save percentage. Given that he is still a freshman backstop in a very challenging ECAC environment, reason for optimism remains. What York does next season as a sophomore, when he is expected to challenge for the starting job with the Engineers, will likely prove more telling as to his upper ceiling within the organization.

17. Stefan Legein, RW

2nd Round, 37th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft
Age 20, 5’9, 170 lbs.

Following a much-publicized quixotic journey through early retirement, forward Stefan Legein has worked his way through several injury issues and is only now making his professional debut. It may well be appropriate to view his lost year in the same light as a lengthy trip to the injured reserve, and this season with Syracuse as part of his rehabilitation towards the player he was viewed as entering the 2007 draft. While he has yet to register a single point in 11 games, there is still cause for optimism in his improbable return. The fact remains that there are not many comparables to Legein, and who he will eventually be and who he is now are still likely far apart.

18. Brent Regner, D

5th Round, 137th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft
Age 19, 5’11, 175 lbs.

Coming out of relative obscurity after getting overlooked in the 2007 draft, Regner has developed into a strong offensive defenseman for the Vancouver Giants over the past two seasons. Building off of a solid sophomore season last year, Regner has exploded this year, potting 15 goals and 49 assists in 67 games, good for second in scoring at the position in the WHL. While the undersized Regner will need to add more muscle to his still-developing frame, his talent and hockey awareness at both ends of the ice put him on the radar within the organization.

19. Nick Holden, D

Not Drafted
Age 21, 6’4, 200 lbs.

Signed as a free agent out of Chilliwack of the WHL late last season, defenseman Nick Holden may have begun to turn the corner with Syracuse in his first season as a professional. Coming off a solid final year in the amateur ranks with a 22-goal, 38-assist campaign last year, Holden has contributed a solid effort with the Crunch this year. In 47 games with Syracuse, the Alberta native has tallied 3 goals and 10 assists. While not eye-opening totals, Holden has contributed at both ends of the ice and appears to be gaining confidence with more ice time as the season winds down. Already comfortable in his large frame, Holden joins Clitsome as a newcomer on the near-term radar in Syracuse, and both should be in the mix for an audition in Columbus by the autumn of 2010.

20. Alexandre Picard, LW

1st Round, 8th Overall, 2004 Entry Draft
Age 23, 6’2, 190 lbs.

One of the better and more consistent forwards this season with Syracuse, former eighth-overall pick Alexandre Picard remains trapped on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL in this, his fourth season as a professional hockey player. A solid contributor at both ends of the ice as a junior, Picard has never been able to consistently score in either Syracuse or Columbus, with his downward regression in point production with the Crunch this season further evidence that any NHL future is predicated upon his contributions as a defensive forward. Now with 176 AHL games under his belt and running out of opportunities to make an impact in Columbus, something will have to give for Picard to provide even a modest return on the Jackets first-round investment.