Wennberg, Milano lead Columbus Blue Jackets 2014 Fall top 20

By Richard Greco

Oscar Dansk - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Oscar Dansk is one of several strong goaltending prospects in the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect pool. Dansk was selected in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a nice flow of prospects over the past few seasons. With players like Boone Jenner and Dalton Prout among others emerging in the NHL, the second wave of Blue Jackets’ prospects are chomping at the bit to get their shot.

Heading the pack of nearly NHL ready players are all three of last year’s first round picks in Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, and Kerby Rychel. Depth is the best way to describe Columbus’ system. From offense straight through to goaltending, the Blue Jackets have very competitive pools.

1. (1) Alexander Wennberg, C, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2013

Wennberg will get his first taste of North American hockey after signing his entry-level deal with Columbus in February. The skilled forward put his fancy stick work and all-around balanced game on display for Sweden during the World Junior Championships. On his way to leading his squad to a silver medal finish, the he had seven points (three goals and four assists) in as many games. He spent a bulk of his time representing Frolunda in the SHL last year. His 21 points in 50 games were enough to name him the SHL’s top junior prospect.

Wennberg plays a balanced game. He has a dangerous shot, can make tape-to-tape passes and can create opportunities around the net. He may not be the fastest player on the ice, but the Swedish product uses long strides to get from zone-to-zone with ease. While there is a huge offensive upside for the 19-year-old, he is also extremely defensively responsible. Columbus’ depth of centers may make it difficult for Wennberg to crack the starting lineup. If that is the case, then he would land a spot in the AHL with Springfield.

2. (NR) Sonny Milano, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2014

Following the 2014 NHL Draft, Sonny Milano seemed to be primed to follow in the footsteps of Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau (CAL) at Boston College. Much like Gaudreau, Milano has a tremendous amount of speed and relies on his exceptional stick handling and agility to evade defenders. Milano seemed to be set on being a force for the Eagles over the next four years. However, in August what looked to be a match made in heaven came to an abrupt end when Milano de-committed from Boston College to play for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL. The Long Island, New York native also de-committed from Notre Dame last November. Although the sloppy divorce put Milano under scrutiny, the move to the CHL will put him on the fast track to the NHL.

Milano spent last season competing on the US National U18 team in the US Developmental Program. He excelled with 86 points, 29 goals and 57 assists, in 58 games. The left handed shooter is the kind of player that wants the puck on his stick at all times. He takes quick strides that pester defenders and often allow him to create odd man rushes. When he gets the opportunity to shot, the 18-year-old knows how to finish. Milano can play both center and left wing.

3. (2) Oscar Dansk, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2012

Dansk’s final season with the Erie Otters did not go the way the Swedish goaltender hoped. Although his 2.39 goals against average and .909 save percentage during the regular season were solid, a second half slump and the emergence of Devin Williams put Dansk on the bench when the playoffs came around. The benching came just a season after he was target practice for opposing teams that barreled their way through Erie’s weak defense. During the postseason, Dansk had a 6.79 goals against average through three games. He started twice in the playoffs and allowed five or more goals both times.

He played in six games for Sweden during the World Junior Championships and had a 1.79 goals against average. He was just as good during other international play and had a .926 save percentage in nine games.

The hybrid netminder has proven that he can carry a team and will need to put that ability on display entering his first professional season. The goalie competition in Springfield is not going to be easy and will pit Dansk against Anton Forsberg.

4. (4) Marko Dano, C, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2013

From the moment he was drafted, Dano believed that he was ready to play in the NHL. Unfortunately for the two-way forward, he returned to the KHL last season. He had five points in 41 games playing on the fourth line for HC Slovan Bratislava. For the second straight year, the Austrian-born forward excelled representing Slovakia in international play, managing three points in five World Junior Championship games. Following the KHL season, Dano got his first taste of North American hockey with Springfield. It did not take him long to find his form and he had six points in 10 games. He made the Falcons’ postseason roster and dished out two assists in five games.

Dano is an averaged sized player that relies on his speed to create opportunities. He works hard in the offensive zone and is able to keep the puck on his stick. He has decent hands and can find the open man in traffic. In the defensive zone, Dano is responsible and knows when to step up on his mark. Playing two years in the KHL has primed the 19-year-old to play a gritty game, which should fit right into Columbus’ hardnosed style. While he will likely start the season in Springfield, Dano could crack the Blue Jackets’ lineup this year. He can play center and both wings.

5. (3) Kerby Rychel, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2013

A mid-season trade from the Windsor Spitfires to the Guelph Storm nearly worked to perfection for Kerby Rychel. He had 38 points, 16 goals and 22 assists, captaining the Spitfires and caught fire in Guelph. He had 51 points, 18 goals and 33 assists, to help the Storm finish atop the OHL with 108 points. Things continued working out for Rychel and the Storm in the postseason as they barreled their way to the Memorial Cup final, picking up the J. Ross Robertson Cup along the way. Guelph eventually fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Memorial Cup final. Rychel finished the postseason with 32 points in 20 games. He also competed for Canada in the World Junior Championships, but was held scoreless through seven tournament games.

Rychel will make his professional debut this season and, much like Dano, could see some time on the Blue Jackets. At 6’1, 203 pounds, the 19-year-old packs a powerful punch. Although he is known for his physical game, Rychel plays with some finesse in the offensive zone. He is a very good passer and can muster up a heavy shot as well. A power forward, he plays well along the boards and is not afraid to mix it up in the crease.

6. (5) Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2013

After dropping to the third round of last year’s draft, Bjorkstrand returned to Portland with something to prove. That is exactly what he did and he finished third in the WHL with 109 points, 50 goals and 59 assists. Behind his consistent play alongside Nicolas Petan (WPG), the Winterhawks finished second in the Western Conference with 113 points. He continued his success in the postseason and led the WHL playoffs with 16 goals and 33 points. The Winterhawks battled to the WHL final before falling to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Oil Kings in six games. He also competed for Denmark in the World Junior Championships Division 1A, where he had six points in five games.

Even though defense may not be the strong front for the Danish winger, he is a capable back-checker and often sees time on the penalty kill. He is a pure goal scorer that makes a living off creating scoring chances. He does not have much strength, but relies on his speed to outlast defenders. In the offensive zone, Bjorkstrand is extremely fun to watch. He has a very deceptive shot release and can do some nifty things with the puck on his stick.

7. (9) Mike Reilly, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2011

Reilly spent his sophomore year honing his ability in both ends of the ice for the University of Minnesota. He led Big 10 defenders in scoring with 33 points and he was at the heart of the conference’s most effective defense, which allowed 2.10 goals per game. He added a goal and three assists during the Gopher’s NCAA tournament run, which ended in the Frozen Four final with a loss to Union College.

Since being drafted, Reilly has added 30 pounds to his once questionable frame. He now stands at 6’1 and weighs 183 pounds, which has made him much more effective in his own zone. The Minnesota prospect has great instincts on when to the join the rush and excels on the power play. His development under Don Lucia and has staff has been swift. Reilly will look to continue taking strides towards the NHL during his junior year back at Minnesota.

8. (7) Dillon Heatherington, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2013

While size was a question mark surrounding Reilly on his draft day, nobody questioned the 6-4, 205 pound frame of Dillon Heatherington at the 2013 draft. Heatherington is a quality shut down defender that uses his long frame to knock players off of the puck. He spent last season with Swift Current in the WHL and had 35 points, six goals and 29 assists, in 70 games. He also racked up 63 penalty minutes, which was 17 less than last season. He had a plus-24 rating for the Broncos. During the postseason he had an assist in six games. While Heatherington’s offensive upside is limited, he consistently makes quality breakout passes out of his own zone. He plays a steady defensive game and will rarely be caught out of position. His reliability primes him to be a worthy penalty killer.

9. (8) Anton Forsberg, G, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 188th overall, 2011

Forsberg was loaned to Modo of the SHL last season and split time with Linus Ullmark (BUF). Forsberg skated in 22 games and had a 2.44 goals against average. Despite a decent season, Modo elected to start Ullmark in the playoffs. Following the SHL season, Forsberg joined the Falcons. He had a 1.13 goals against average through four regular season games and came off the bench as a replacement for Mike McKenna twice during the playoffs. He played a total of 60 minutes and allowed three goals on 36 shots. The Falcons were well out of the game on both occasions.

This season is a crucial one for Forsberg. He is going to be battling Dansk for the starting job in Springfield. He worked his way up level by level in Sweden and now finds himself primed to play the North American game. He is a butterfly goalie with a quick glove and has been known to aggressively move up in the crease.

10. (NR) Ryan Collins, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2014

At 6’5, 205 pounds, it is hard to believe that Ryan Collins is going to get any bigger. However, the University of Minnesota has a reputation for bulking up its players and by the end of his collegiate career, Collins could weigh close to 220 pounds. His size primes him to be a defensive defenseman and he does not stray from that. He uses his massive frame and exceptional reach to simply get in the way of attacking forwards. He is no stranger to throwing the body and is difficult to knock off the puck. He is willing to battle in the corners and looks to clear the zone as often as possible. His skating needs room to improve, but is good enough for an 18-year-old of his size. Through time he will improve his positioning and physicality.

11. (11) Daniel Zaar, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2012

Daniel Zaar returned to Sweden to play for Rogle in the Allsvenskan last year. Through 52 games he had 36 points, 16 goals and 20 assists. Zaar upped his game in the Kvalserien and led the tournament in scoring with 22 points, six goals and 16 assists, in 16 games. He played in eight international games with Sweden U20 and had four points. He agreed to an entry-level deal with Columbus in May.

Zaar brings a ton of offensive upside to the table. He is still a few years from the NHL, but his heavy shot and quick release allows him to be a threat on wings. He was loaned to Lulea and will play in the SHL this season.

12. (12) T.J. Tynan, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2011

Tynan had the bounce back season that scouts were hoping to see from him. He was a passing machine and dished out 30 assists as Notre Dame’s alternate captain. Tynan finished his senior season with 38 points in 40 games. He also had a plus-12 rating, which marked the first season since his freshman year that he was not a minus.

Tynan agreed to an entry-level deal with Columbus in April and got his first taste of professional hockey with Springfield. Through three AHL games, he was held scoreless and did not make the postseason roster. Tynan’s passing allows him to be effective centering speedy wingers that can get to the net. Although his size is not all too impressive, the Illinois product plays with grit and is not afraid to get in front of the crease. He has the potential to develop into a bottom six forward and can be utilized on the penalty kill. He will return to Springfield this season.

13. (10) Michael Chaput, C, 6.5B
Trade with Philadelphia Flyers, February 28th, 2011

Chaput made his NHL debut and skated in 17 games with the Blue Jackets last season. He finished his first taste of the NHL with an assist. He spent the rest of the year playing in Springfield where he was successful. The Quebec-native had 45 points, 19 goals and 26 assists, in 55 games. He chipped in two goals and an assist through five Calder Cup playoff games. Chaput has the ability to get lost in high traffic areas, which makes him dangerous in the offensive zone. On defense he relies on his speed and positioning to slow down attacking forwards rather than his physicality. The 22-year-old took advantage of his time with Springfield last year and could turn out to be a solid bottom six forward for Columbus as early as this season.

14. (6) Tim Erixon, D, 6.0B
Trade with New York Rangers, July 20th, 2012

Erixon continued his success in the AHL last season and led Springfield defenders with 38 points, five goals and 33 assists, in 40 games. He added two points in the postseason. Erixon skated in two games with the Blue Jackets, but saw a good amount of time practicing with Columbus. He has a good amount talent and solid build, however the emergence of David Savard, Ryan Murray, Prout, and Cody Goloubef pushed Erixon to the low end of the depth chart in regards to Columbus’ NHL ready defenders.

Erixon has a nice upside because of his ability to play in both ends of the ice. He is offensively savvy enough to work the point on the power play and defensively responsible enough to kill penalties. He is going to have a chance to make the Blue Jackets’ roster this season, but Columbus’ defensive depth could push him back down to Springfield.

15. (NR) Elvis Merzlikins, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2014

Merzlikins could turn out to be a steal as a third round pick. The Latvian netminder seemed to be getting swept under the rug leading up to the draft, but much like with Dano, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was not hesitant to pull the trigger on the European prospect. Merzlikins played in Switzerland for Lugano in the NLA and had a 2.13 goals against average in 22 games. He also skated for Lugano U20 in the Elite Jr. A and had a 2.07 goals against average in 12 games. He competed for Lugano U20 in the playoffs and had a 1.68 goals against average in 10 games. Merzlikins played for Latvia U20 in the World Junior Championships Division 1A and had a .900 save percentage in three games.

The 20-year-old’s work ethic makes him the kind of player that coaches loves to have between the pipes. At 6’3, he takes up a lot of the net. He is an athletic butterfly goalie that is not hesitant to challenge shooters. His aggressiveness does however get him in trouble from time-to-time. Merzlikins is not afraid to handle the puck and has decent rebound control. He will return to the NLA to play for Lugano this season.

16. (13) Josh Anderson, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2012

Anderson saved his best season with London for his last and had 51 points, 27 goals and 24 assists, in 59 games. He upped his physical game as the Knights’ alternate captain and registered a career high 81 penalty minutes. He continued his success in the postseason and had nine points in nine games. Anderson had a quiet World Junior Championship with Canada and was held to a goal in seven games.

Anderson is well built into his 6’3 frame and has the drive to play a power role in front of the net. Although his grit and determination make standout, Anderson has a good amount of offensive skill as well. His speed allows him to back check as well as get down ice quickly to start the rush. He should be a top nine forward for Springfield and eventually work his way to Columbus, where he would be best suited on the checking line.

17. (14) Joonas Korpisalo, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2012

This past season was a rough one for Korpisalo. Whenever he began feeling comfortable with a team, he was loaned away. Korpisalo was loaned to four different teams last year. He skated in eight games with Ilves in the Liiga and had a 1.42 goals against average. He also competed for Jokerit in the Liiga, Kiekko-Vantaa and LeKi in the Mestis, and Finland U20 during international play. His success was staggered with save percentages ranging from .972 to .813, but he cannot be solely blamed for the lack of consistency. He is going to return to Ilves, where he played his best hockey, next season. He signed his entry-level deal with Columbus in March.

Korpisalo has good size and is extremely athletic, but is in dire need of a bounce back season. He has good lateral movement and his hockey IQ has been growing in the Finnish leagues. The 20-year-old is going to have to prove that he is the guy for Ilves early on. With Columbus deep pool of goaltending prospects, Korpisalo is going to have to put together a consistent season to turn heads.

18. (NR) Jerry D’Amigo, LW, 6.5C
Trade with Toronto Maple Leafs, July 1st, 2014

D’Amigo got his first taste of NHL action last season. Through 22 games with Toronto he posted three points. He played well with the Toronto Marlies, where he was the alternate captain, and had 33 points, 20 goals and 13 assists, in 51 games. He was strong in the AHL postseason too, managing 14 points in 14 games.

The 23-year-old relies on his speed and shiftiness to avoid defenders and get open in the slot. Although he does not have a ton of size, he is well built and his low center of gravity makes him difficult to knock off the puck. He is a solid role player that plays a power game in the crease. The former sixth round pick of the 2009 draft can get the job done in all three zones and has been praised for his marking ability on defense. D’Amigo’s experience and multifaceted game will earn him a shot at cracking Columbus’ bottom six when training camp comes around.

19. (NR) Blake Siebenaler, D, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2014

Siebenaler had a decent rookie season with the Niagara IceDogs and had 30 points in 68 games. The Toledo-product is extremely offensive minded and has the potential to be a force in the offensive zone. He is a good skater that is still learning when to join the rush. His passing is impressive for an 18-year-old and will only get better from this point. He has not displayed the consistency that an offensive defenseman should have, but that should come with time. Like much offensive-minded defenders, Siebenaler is going to have to fine tune his positioning in his own zone.

20. (17) Peter Quenneville, C, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2013

After starting the season with Quinnipiac University, Quenneville left to join his brother John (NJ) with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He went on a tear with Brandon and finished his first junior season with 51 points, 21 goals and 30 assists, in 44 games. He added four points during the postseason.

Quenneville is an offensive-minded forward that relies on his smooth hands to create scoring chances. His stick handling allows him to create opportunities whether he is by himself or coming down ice on odd man rushes. Last season saw him find his scoring touch and improve his vision in the offensive zone. His stocky build allows him to fight for pucks in the corner and along the boards.