Several Columbus Blue Jackets prospects get a taste of the big time

By Richard Greco
Several Columbus Blue Jackets prospects get a taste of the big time

Photo: Kerby Rychel has successfully adjusted to the professional game, with 33 points in 51 games thus far. (Courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

 

Injuries forced the Blue Jackets to dig into their prospect pool this season. That allowed highly-touted first rounders Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano and Kerby Rychel to get their first taste of NHL action. Columbus also had a few pleasant surprises; Anton Forsberg came into his own between the pipes, and Austin Madaisky has had a breakout season on the blue line for the Falcons.

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

Wennberg retains the top spot in the Columbus Blue Jackets Top 20 after spending most of this year in the NHL. He recently settled into a role centering Scott Hartnell and fellow 2013 first rounder Marko Dano. As expected, it took the 20-year-old some time to adjust to the NHL game. Through 57 contests he has two goals and nine assists. He has played well, but the bounces just haven’t gone his way.

Wennberg is the most complete prospect in Columbus’ system. Though he is known as a pass first type of player, he is beginning to let shots fly more often, averaging over a shot per game. His speed allows him to be a decent two-way forward despite his minus-29 rating, which can be credited to the growing pains of a rookie on an injury plagued Blue Jackets’ squad. The future is looking bright for a center that can make plays in all three zones.

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

Milano backed out of his commitment to play at Boston College to join the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers in the OHL last fall, but his debut was delayed when he suffered an injury playing in Traverse City. He finally played his first game in late October and did not miss a beat. 45 games later, Milano sits at 37th in the scoring with 61 points. Among the OHL’s top 40 scorers, nobody has played in fewer games.

The New York native’s quick hands and elusive speed turned heads when he joined Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Milano is a pure playmaker that works great with the puck behind the net and along the boards. Although he won’t be utilized much on the penalty kill, the winger’s agility makes him extremely dangerous in power play and odd man rush situations.

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

Playing in the KHL for two seasons has prepared the Austrian product for the North American game. After spending 37 games with the Falcons, Dano was recalled to the Blue Jackets, where he has 8 points in 21 games. Although he is a natural center, he has been utilized on the wing in his time with the big club. Moving from center has allowed Dano to provide some extra defensive prowess to the Blue Jackets. He is a very capable two-way forward that has decent hands and good speed.

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

Rychel has spent most of his 2014-15 campaign with the Springfield Falcons. He has enjoyed a successful rookie season with 33 points (12 goals and 19 assists) in 51 games, enough to rank him fourth on the team. He did not have a problem getting the puck on net as he is tied with Madaisky for the team lead with 132 shots on goal. Rychel has all the makings of a gritty power forward despite not having enormous size. He stands at 6-1, 203 pounds and is difficult to move out of the crease once he gets set. He had three assists in five games during a stint with the Blue Jackets.

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

If there was any belief that Bjorkstrand’s 109-point season last year was a fluke, the 19-year-old put those to rest. The Danish winger leads the WHL with 52 goals and 1.90 points per game, and is third in scoring with 97 points through 51 games. From his keen positioning to his breakout speed, he proved yet again that he is a difference maker for the Winterhawks, who sit at third place in the Western Conference. His offensive dominance was not restricted to the WHL—his point-per-game pace was one of the few bright spots for an overmatched Denmark squad at the World Junior Championships.

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

Reilly has been as good as ever in his junior year at the University of Minnesota, where he leads the team with 32 assists and 38 points. His ability to both shoot and pass from the point and along the boards makes him extremely dangerous in the offensive zone, without missing a beat on defense. Although he is not the most physical defender that takes the ice, the Minnesota product showed some fire and was ejected from two games this season. The All-American defender is tied for second on the team with 41 blocked shots. Reilly has all the tools to become an NHL defender that is threat whenever he sets foot on the ice.

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

Plain and simply, Heatherington is a shutdown defenseman, and his 6-4, 205 pound frame makes him perfect for that role. The Calgary native is always the last guy back protecting the goaltender. His size makes him an imposing force and a valuable asset on the penalty kill. He has 12 points (one goal and 11 assists) in 42 games for a Swift Current team that is in eighth place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Heatherington’s role did not change when he competed at the WJC, where he helped Team Canada win a gold medal.

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

This season was a crucial one in the career of Anton Forsberg. With Curtis McElhinney serving as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s backup, there was a vacant spot between the pipes in Springfield. The spot was not handed to Forsberg, and he found himself in a competition with fellow Swedish goaltender Oscar Dansk, a second round selection in the 2012 draft. Forsberg won the starting job, and through 30 games he has a 20-8-0 record with three shutouts and a 2.01 goals against average. He was named to the AHL All-Star game.

The 22-year-old also got his first taste of the NHL this season, but struggled with an 0-4-0 record and a 4.69 goals-against average through five games. Despite his struggles in a five game stint with Columbus, the future is still bright for Forsberg, who made a clear leap over Dansk in the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool this season.

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

As a freshman, Collins has played well for a Minnesota squad that is stacked on defense. He had eight assists through 27 games with the Golden Gophers and worked his way onto Team USA for the World Junior Championships. There is huge upside with any defender that has the size Collins does. He should add 10-15 pounds of muscle over his four years at the Minnesota, which would make him a very scary shutdown defender.

10. (NR) William Karlsson, C, 7.0 C
Trade with Anaheim Ducks on March 2nd, 2015

Adding a well-rounded center like Karlsson was big for the Blue Jackets prospect pool. He ranked third in scoring for the Norfolk Admirals with 23 points, which led to several call-ups to the Ducks before he was traded to Columbus at the deadline. He is a good two-way player with a sound work ethic. Like most centers that come through Columbus’ system, he is pass first player that has a knack for creating scoring chances. He is not the biggest player on the ice and could stand to bulk up a bit.

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

Chaput has quickly establishing himself as a bottom-six forward that can fill in for injuries in the NHL. At 6-2 and 197 pounds he is no stranger to throwing the body around. He had 21 penalty minutes and five points through 33 games with the Blue Jackets. The rest of his time was spent with Springfield, where he has nine goals and nine assists. He was in a different role with the Falcons and looked comfortable on the power play.

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

Though he is untested, Merzlikins has all the tools to be successful. He is athletic, aggressive, and can handle the puck with confidence. For the second straight year, he successfully competed in the NLA in Switzerland. He had a 2.61 goals-against average through 22 games with Lugano. While his aggressive nature allows him to make some highlight reel saves, it leaves him out of position from time to time.

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

Anderson’s rookie season saw him trying to find his place in the professional game. He has continued to use his physical game to his advantage, which will be important for his development. He had five goals and eight assists with the Falcons, and was held to an assist in six games during an injury call-up to Columbus. At 6-3 and 218 pounds, Anderson is primed to be a checking line forward. He registered 65 penalty minutes and dropped the gloves five times for the Falcons.

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

With Quenneville wearing the C, the Brandon Wheat Kings are currently the top team in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. He has 45 assists and 26 goals, and has helped linemate Tim McGauley to a career year offensively. He has the ability to play all three forward positions soundly and is not going to slack off in the defensive end. Although he is only 5-11, the Edmonton product skates with balance and is very hard to knock off the puck

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

Korpisalo has always been in the shadow of Dansk and Forsberg, and this year is no different. Despite that, the Finnish goaltender has finally found a consistent home after suiting up for six different squads last year. He was loaned to Ilves of Liiga to start this season, where he has a 2.32 goals against average through 37 games. Korpisalo’s 6-3 frame allows him to take up most of the net and his lateral movements put him in good position to make saves. Like Merzlikins, Korpisalo has yet to play in North America.

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

Siebenaler’s rookie success with the Niagara IceDogs was no fluke—this season he is second among IceDogs defenders with 36 points (12 goals and 24 assists). The 19-year-old has the speed and puck moving ability to be a very good offensive-minded defender. At the end of last season, he began to take huge strides in his defensive zone game and that continued this year. He has a plus-10 rating through 62 games just a year after finishing the regular season with a minus-16 rating.

17. (3) Oscar Dansk, G, 7.0 D
Drafted 2nd round, 31st overall, 2012

Following a second-half slump in Erie last season, things have not gotten much better for Dansk in Springfield. He bowed out to Forsberg for the starting job with the Falcons, and served as backup. In the games that Dansk has started, he did not play very well. He had a 7-6-0 record with a 3.49 goals-against average, the highest on the team. The emergence of Scott Munroe forced Dansk to the ECHL, where he has a 3.88 goals-against average through six games with the Kalamazoo Wings. The past year and a half has not gone well for Dansk, and the hybrid netminder needs to get back to the mentally strong game that made him such a highly touted prospect.

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

Following a much-needed bounce back season at Notre Dame, Tynan looked good on offense for the Falcons. He continued to be the gritty, playmaker that Fighting Irish fans fell in love with and leads Springfield with 28 assists. He is tied with Austin Madaisky for second on the team with 35 points. Although his offense has provided a nice spark, Tynan’s minus-11 rating is the second worst on the team. As a center he is going to need to improve his two-way game, but for a rookie that struggled two years ago at Notre Dame, Tynan’s stock rose this year.

19. (NR) Austin Madaisky, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2010

What a difference a year can make. Madaisky is back on the map after struggling to establish himself professionally over the last few seasons. His success could not have been predicted—injuries plagued his first professional season, and last year he was sent to Evansville in the ECHL. This year, however, Madaisky finally came into his own. The 23-year-old leads Springfield defenders with 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists), which ties him for second on the team. Madaisky’s breakout year was enough to earn him a spot in the AHL All-Star game.

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

Zaar was loaned to the SHL, where he competed for Lulea. Playing in the SHL is a step in the right direction after he played with Rogle in the Allsvenskan last year. Zaar has always been a pass first type of player and this year was no different as his 27 points were made up of 18 assists. At 20 years old, the SHL is the right place for a well-rounded winger with an impressive shot to get ice time. In late February, Zaar agreed to a three-year entry level contract with the Blue Jackets and can make his North American debut as early as the conclusion of the SHL season.