Blue Jackets organizational depth analysis, Fall 2009

By Chris Roberts

There is no doubt that the Columbus Blue Jackets have a talent-laden prospect pool. They have two top prospects at forward in Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov, a high-potential defenseman in John Moore, and two older, but solid goaltending prospects in Dan LaCosta and Kevin Lalande. But beyond them there is good depth as well.

The Blue Jackets are fairly deep at every position, but are without a top prospect at the right wing position. Depth at center may also be a concern.

Left Wing

The Blue Jackets are at a position of strength when it comes to the left side of the ice. With two highly-skilled Russians in Nikita Filatov and Maksim Mayorov, and hard-working success story Matt Calvert, they are fortunate enough to have three potential top-six forwards at left wing. Although he’s been a healthy scratch the recently in Columbus, many believe Filatov is ready for a scoring role at the NHL level, and there is no question of his offensive talent. Mayorov slides under the radar mostly due to the fact that Filatov was the prized Russian draft pick of 2008, but Mayorov shouldn’t be forgotten. The 20-year-old has great speed and a large frame at 6’2 and 213 lbs. He is off to a solid start this season with five points in seven games for Syracuse.

Calvert is a player who has persevered many times throughout his young career. He has had to overcome his small stature at every level of hockey, and had the unfortunate break of missing team Canada’s World Junior evaluation camp due to injury last season. Calvert turned many heads at the Blue Jackets training camp, scoring four points in four pre-season games. The Manitoba native was offered an entry-level contract, but has decided to play one more year in junior due to his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings hosting the Memorial Cup. So far he’s recorded six goals in eight games.

Beyond these three, the Jackets have a trio of left wingers with the Syracuse Crunch who may not advance to become wingers in a scoring capacity, but certainly have the potential to fill out the bottom six on the NHL club. Alex Picard is the most intriguing case as he was once highly-touted, taken eighth overall in 2004 by Columbus. To date, he has just two points in 58 NHL games, but his production as of late shows signs that he could perhaps be ready to finally break out. He netted a career-high 22 goals last season in just 49 AHL games, and so far this season has seven points in six games. If Picard can stay healthy and continue to increase his production, he may be able to land an NHL job by next season, if not in Columbus, then elsewhere.

Tom Sestito is a career checking-line player who isn’t afraid to mix it up. He recorded 168 penalty minutes last season with Syracuse to go along with 20 points. In his lone NHL game, Sestito recorded 17 penalty minutes. With a 6’5 frame, if Sestito continues to add weight, he could be an effective checker in the NHL. Drafted by Atlanta in 2005, Jordan LaVallee has proven he can score at the AHL level, recording 20 goals in 2007-08. He was traded to Columbus recently, but in all probability doesn’t factor into their NHL plans for the near future with their depth at left wing. 

Center

Without Derick Brassard, the Blue Jackets would be severely short of talent up the middle. Brassard, who is now a full time NHL’er, has excellent playmaking skills and is an all-around offensive player. He has centered the Blue Jackets top line this season alongside Rick Nash as the club hopes the two can develop chemistry as the season progresses.

There is no question that Brassard has the potential to be a top center in the league for years to come, yet beyond Brassard the Jackets are very thin at center. Kevin Lynch, a 2009 second-round pick, is somewhat well known in most hockey circles but it would be a stretch to say the same for the Jackets other two center prospects – Sean Collins and Kirill Starkov.

The stock of Lynch rose drastically last season with his performance at the Under-18 World Championships. He helped lead the United States to the gold medal with 10 points in seven games, but it’s his ability to back check, his work effort, and hockey smarts that has many scouts believing Lynch could become a solid NHL’er. He is currently enrolled at the University of Michigan and has yet to record a point in his first two collegiate games. Kirill Starkov played a year of Canadian junior hockey in 2006-07 hoping to get acclimated to the North American game and also played parts of two seasons with the Syracuse Crunch; however the 22-year-old has since returned overseas. He is playing limited minutes on Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League, and has one point 10 ten regular-season games. He is all but out of the picture for the Blue Jackets. Sean Collins was a seventh-round pick in 2008 and is more so a project at this point in his development. He had six points last season for Cornell University and looks to factor in as a bigger part of the offense this season, especially if he has NHL aspirations.

Right Wing

The Blue Jackets recently traded one of their most promising right wing prospects – a group who consists largely of players associated grit rather than skill. Stefan Legein was the player traded on Tuesday as he was sent to Philadelphia. With the exclusion of Legein, the Jackets’ depth on the right side certainly takes a hit.

Derek Dorsett and Michael Blunden sit at the top of the Blue Jackets list of right wing prospects, given that the two cracked the team’s opening night 23-man roster. Blunden has played 11 games in the NHL and the 22-year-old has yet to record a point thus far. His size has certainly helped his progression, however, as he uses his 6’4 frame effectively in getting to the net and battling for loose pucks along the boards. If he continues to develop, he should have a career as a third or fourth liner in the NHL.

Dorsett is likely to max out as a third or fourth liner as well, but in a different capacity. He doesn’t have the big body that Blunden has but he has shown through half a season with Columbus last year that he can be a quality role player, agitator, and of course, fighter. His 150 penalty minutes were impressive, albeit he recorded 289 in just 64 games with Syracuse the year previous. Expect Dorsett to fill the role of a Matthew Barnaby type for the length of his career.

Behind the two current Blue Jackets are a bunch of mostly unknowns. Cameron Atkinson, Jake Hansen, Trent Vogelhuber, and Tomas Kubalik aren’t on the top of any prospect lists, but there is still potential in all of the late-round project picks. Atkinson likely has the most scoring potential out of the four prospects, registering 19 points in 36 games as a freshman for Boston College, although his size may put him at a disadvantage in the pro game. Jake Hansen, a prolific scorer at the USHL level and former third-round pick, has struggled adjusting to the college game. He recorded just seven points in 33 games last season and is pointless thus far in his sophomore campaign. Vogelhuber is also in his sophomore season, but the seventh-round pick in 2007 doesn’t appear to have much of an NHL future at this point.

Tomas Kubalik, a fifth-round pick, has taken the CHL route. The product of Plzen, Czech Republic, left home this year to play for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. He has seven points in 11 games. Finally there is Kyle Neuber – a 2009 draft pick. Nueber will likely be nothing more than a heavyweight enforcer if he is to ever crack an NHL roster.

With the lack of depth at center and right wing in terms of prospects, and the abundance of prospects on the back end, it would not be unimaginable for the Jackets to unload an excess defenseman or two for a player at either of the two needed positions.

Defense

The Blue Jackets have made a point of drafting and acquiring defense prospects over the last few seasons, particularly since Scott Howson has been the General Manager. Led by 2009 first-round pick John Moore, the club has a total of 15 prospects on the blue line.

Perhaps two of the most promising offensive defensemen in the system come out of the Canadian Hockey League – John Moore and David Savard, both 2009 draft picks. Moore was selected with the 15th overall pick while Savard was a fourth-round selection. Moore was originally expected to follow the NCAA route to continue his development but has since opted to play for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. The smooth-skating defenseman looked solid at Blue Jackets training camp and has carried over that play to his rookie season with Kitchener. He has five points in seven games thus far and has been a key part of the Rangers power play.

Savard stepped up his play during the latter part of last season with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL and it certainly effected his draft position. Like Moore, he has carried over the experience attained at the Blue Jackets camp and is near a point per game with the Wildcats. He is expected to be a top defenseman this year not just for the Wildcats, but for the whole league. Savard and Moore both may get a look for their respective countries at the upcoming World Juniors.

Steven Delisle is Columbus’ other CHL defense prospect. Delisle also plays in the QMJHL, for the Gatineau Olympique. He isn’t much of an offensive threat, but at 6’6 his size gives him an advantage to succeed as he furthers his development.

The NCAA happens to be a hotspot for Blue Jackets defense prospects. Scott Howson has particularly made a point of drafting defensemen who follow the collegiate route, giving them more time to develop and advance their game before adjusting to the pro game. Currently, the club has five defense prospects playing NCAACody Goloubef, Teddy Ruth, Will Weber, Drew Olson and Italian-born Thomas Larkin. Goloubef has been a steady defenseman for the University of Wisconsin the past two seasons, and has even captured World Junior gold for team Canada. Goloubef is hardly an offensive presence from the back end but his offensive game has slowly been maturing and he currently has the makings of a top four defenseman. Behind John Moore, Goloubef is the club’s top prospect on the point.

Ruth is an intriguing case as he is a former second round pick, but has consistently slid down the Jackets depth chart since being acquired. He has the build and style of a top shutdown defenseman, but needs to improve his skating in order to receive a legitimate look at the NHL level.

Weber has the size and tools needed to be a physical shut-down defenseman, but it is his improving offensive game that will give him a better shot as a pro. The Miami University blue liner had three goals last season, but just two assists in 38 games, however, this season Weber has recorded three assists in his first three games. This will be a big year in terms of his development, with increased ice time, to determine Weber’s true potential.

Drew Olson and Thomas Larkin are in their freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Colgate University respectively. Olson is pointless in four games, while Larkin has two points in his first four games, and should see decent ice time for the Raiders this season.

For the most part, the Blue Jackets have stuck to drafting defenseman out of North America, but the club currently has two prospects playing overseas in Anton Blomqvist and Andrei Plekhanov. Blomqvist has played ten games this season for Malmö in Sweden’s second tier league. He is another tall defenseman at 6’4 as it seems General Manager Scott Howson has made a point of drafting big in the past few seasons. Andrei Plekhanov was highly touted within the Blue Jackets system for the past two years. His 25 points in 40 games for Syracuse in 2007-08 signify that. He had a respectable year last year playing on the Crunch’s top four pairings recording 19 points, but his decision to return to Russia this year may have marred his NHL chances.

The AHL is of course the location of the most NHL-ready prospects. Grant Clitsome, Jonathan Sigalet and Nick Holden all have shots at playing NHL action this season, while Brent Regner and recent acquisition Michael Ratchuk will look to continue their development with top-six AHL ice time. Clitsome, a ninth-round pick in 2004, has certainly made the most of his opportunities. He had a great four-year career at Clarkson University and earned a pro contract in 2008, playing his first full pro season last year. He will be relied upon heavily by Syracuse this season and will likely be one of the top call ups should a defenseman on Columbus go down to injury.

Sigalet will get a look as well, should there be an injury on the big club. The Boston Bruins selection had two very successful seasons with Providence statistically before being dealt to Columbus. He continued his strong play with 11 points in 19 games last season while missing most of the year due to injury. Nick Holden had a great rookie season last year with Columbus as an undrafted free-agent signing. A big body, Holden put up 22 points in 61 games for the Crunch. He should see significant ice time again this season.

Regner likely won’t be getting any calls to Columbus this year, but he is perhaps the most promising offensive defenseman the Jackets have had in Syracuse since Kris Russell. Regner was near a point per game in his final season as a WHLer. His 67 points included 15 goals and his ability to run a power play is something the Blue Jackets have been lacking for quite some time. He has even surprised some early this season with four points in six games. Regner has a good chance to lead the Crunch defensemen in scoring in his rookie year.

Michael Ratchuk, Columbus’ most recent acquisition is a small defenseman, much like Regner, and also has some offensive potential. The former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers posted 17 points in his first full season at the AHL level last year. He has yet to suit up for the Crunch. He joins a blue line full of potential NHL’ers.

Goaltending

The Jackets have only three goaltending prospects, two of them fighting for the starting job with the Syracuse Crunch. Since Kevin Lalande was traded to Columbus at the trade deadline last season, he has been a quality AHL starting goalie, and certainly has potential to back up Steve Mason. He is out of action with an injury, but when he returns he will likely steal most of the games away from Labrador product Dan LaCosta, who has struggled early on. Working for LaCosta, however, is his memorable three-game stint with Columbus last season in which he recorded a shutout, and his consistent play with Syracuse over the past two seasons.

Allen York is the Blue Jackets only goaltending prospect playing out of the AHL. The 20-year-old has yet to suit up for an NCAA game this season, and doesn’t project to be much more than an AHL fringe player. He’ll need to take big steps in his development over the next few seasons to earn a pro contract.

Related Articles