Filatov remains the Columbus Blue Jackets top prospect

By Chris Roberts

Photo: Columbus Blue Jackets eagerly await the return of top prospect, Nikita Filatov (Photo courtesy of blogcritic.com)

For the fourth straight top-20, Nikita Filatov is the Columbus Blue Jackets top prospect, though not as convincingly as in the past. Combined with the struggles of much of the Jackets’ farm team last season and their seemingly successful draft this summer, their top-20 now consists of more junior-aged prospects.

1. (1) Nikita Filatov – 8.5C
2. (NR) Ryan Johansen – 8.0C
3. (2) John Moore – 7.5C
4. (3) Cody Goloubef – 7.5C
5. (5) Matt Calvert – 7.5C
6. (8) David Savard – 7.5C
7. (NR) Petr Straka – 7.5C
8. (NR) Dalton Smith – 7.0C
9. (4) Maksim Mayorov – 7.0C
10. (11) Theo Ruth – 6.5B
11. (14) Cam Atkinson – 7.5D
12. (6) Kevin Lynch – 6.5B
13. (7) Brent Regner – 7.0D
14. (15) Thomas Larkin – 6.5C
15. (12) Will Weber – 6.0B
16. (NR) Matt Rust – 6.5C
17. (NR) Allen York – 6.5C
18. (17) Tomas Kubalik – 7.0D
19. (NR) Gustaf Wesslau – 6.5C
20. (NR) Austin Madaisky – 6.5C

1. Nikita Filatov, LW, 20
6’0, 187lbs
Acquired: 1st Round, 6th overall in 2008

Though it seems like Nikita Filatov has been hanging around the top of the Blue Jackets top-20 prospects for quite some time, the Russian is still just a kid at twenty years old.

One of the main concerns with younger offensively talented prospects is size. Since the beginning of last season, Filatov has added ten plus pounds to his lanky six-foot frame, and though his tenure in Columbus under former coach Ken Hitchcock was unsuccessful, he has admitted to learning a lot about the defensive side of the game. While he was unable to showcase his offensive flair last season, he certainly learned to become a more complete player.

Despite improvements in other areas, there is no denying that if Filatov is to be successful in Columbus, it will be because of his offense. He proved he could produce in a men’s league by registering 22 points in 26 games for CSKA Moscow of the KHL last season, and with top-six minutes in the NHL this upcoming season, he could very well be a contender for the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie.

2. Ryan Johansen, C, 18
6’2, 180lbs
Acquired: 1st Round, 4th overall in 2010

Ryan Johansen is a gifted playmaker who also possesses the size and nose for the net necessary to potentially become an NHL power forward. Outside of Seguin and Hall, Johansen may be one of the more complete forwards to come out of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. For those reasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets had no problem selecting him with the fourth overall choice.

Johansen spent a year in the BCHL before playing out his rookie season for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL last season. The added year gave the Port Moody native time to add size and become a more established puck-mover, enabling him to become a top-six player on a contending team in Portland. In 71 games for the Winterhawks, he was able to net 25 goals while dishing out 44 assists.

With an abundance of centers at the NHL level, Johansen doesn’t have much of a chance to crack the Blue Jackets line-up this season, but there is no doubt that he is being groomed to be their future number one pivot. He’ll return to the Winterhawks for the forthcoming season where he will continue to see top-six duties.

3. John Moore, D, 19
6’2, 189lbs
Acquired: 1st Round, 21st overall in 2009

Moore was known as one of the best skaters to come out of the 2009 draft class. He’s a smooth skating defenseman with tons of offensive upside. Though he isn’t known as a shut-down defenseman, he’s a fairly adept defender. He could also add some bulk to his relatively lean frame.

Moore’s transition from the USHL to the OHL wasn’t exactly smooth, but overall, the American had a successful season for the Kitchener Rangers. He put up three points in his first career game, but would only post two points over his next ten games. However, Moore finished the season with 10 goals and 37 assists in just 61 games, leading all Kitchener defensemen. His minus-5, on the other hand, was second worst on the team for defensemen.

Moore will need several more years of seasoning, either at the junior or minor-pro level, before he is ready to step into the Blue Jackets lineup.

4. Cody Goloubef, D, 20
6’0, 195lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 37th overall in 2008

Throughout his three years at the University of Wisconsin, Cody Goloubef has been one of their most steady defenseman. He is a strong, physical shut-down defenseman, but has shown the ability to provide some offense, scoring 37 points over the course of his NCAA career.

Goloubef had his best offensive output last season with 14 points in 42 games. He scored only three goals but had a career best 11 assists. He was also a +13, earning big minutes on a team loaded with talent on the back-end.

Like Moore, Goloubef will be making the jump to the pro ranks this season. He also has an outside chance at earning an NHL job with the Blue Jackets but it is very likely that he begins the season with the Springfield Falcons.

5. Matt Calvert, LW, 20
5’10, 182lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 127th overall in 2008

It looks as if Calvert’s development was helped by returning to Brandon for his overage season in the WHL. The twenty year old was offered a contract last season by the Blue Jackets, but opted to return to junior for the chance to play in the Memorial Cup. Another season in junior also gave Calvert the chance to add muscle to his frame, as well as improve upon his already impressive offensive totals.

Calvert tied for the scoring lead on the Wheat Kings with 99 points in 68 games, while his 47 goals led the team. Furthermore, his plus-47 rating ranked second on the team. He was also second in team playoff scoring and first in goals. It was certainly a banner year for Calv
ert, but of course, the cynic will say that he was supposed to put up those numbers as an overager.

On the other hand, there is no denying that Calvert is more ready for the NHL now than he was a year ago, which says a lot considering he was a stand out at the Blue Jackets training camp last season. He should be in the mix for a roster spot come September, but a year or two in the AHL wouldn’t hurt his development.

6. David Savard, D, 19
6’1, 200lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 94th overall in 2009

Not only has David Savard become one of the Blue Jackets’ top defense prospects, but for the 2009-10 QMJHL season, he was the league’s best defenseman, winning the Émile Bouchard Trophy. He has steadily emerged as a complete defenseman, playing great on both sides of the puck. His point total rose 33 points this past season as he recorded 77 in 64 games, but he was also Moncton’s top shutdown defenseman; his plus-32 was second on the team.

With John Moore, Cody Goloubef and Theo Ruth also turning pro this season, it’ll be tough for Savard to make the jump directly to the NHL, but he’ll likely be able to log big minutes for the Springfield Falcons by the end of the 2010-11 season.

7. Petr Straka, LW, 18
6’1, 186lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th overall in 2010

Straka made the most of his first season in North America, winning rookie of the year in the QMJHL after scoring 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points in 62 games. He showcased great hands in his rookie season, along with superb speed and skating. Straka was also a staple on Rimouski’s power-play, scoring 13 goals with the man advantage. However, he was a minus-four last season, highlighting the area he needs to work on the most: defensive consistency.

The Czech Republic native is all but assured to spend at least one more season in junior. He’ll return to Rimouski as one of their top players, receiving big minutes in all situations.

8. Dalton Smith, LW, 18
6’1, 196lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 34th overall in 2010

Dalton Smith had an impressive, yet somewhat inconsistent sophomore season for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. He managed to notch 21 goals and 23 assists for 44 points in 62 games, but had two unimpressive stretches in October and December. In December, he went seven games without registering a point, and only registered two points throughout the month. However, when Smith isn’t putting up points, he can still be a very effective player. He’s a known agitator, accumulating 129 minutes in penalties last season, and when the Markham native isn’t creating scoring chances for himself, he’s usually making room for his teammates with his physical play.

Like Straka, Smith will likely return to junior for at least another season. He has to work on more than a few elements of his game, but physically, he is near ready for the NHL.

9. Maksim Mayorov, RW, 21
6’2, 213lbs
Acquired: 4th Round, 94th overall in 2007

Though Maksim Mayorov hasn’t exactly broken out offensively at the AHL level, he has spent the past two seasons bulking up and playing a more physical game. In 74 games last season, the Russian scored 17 goals and added 15 assists for 32 points, well enough for fifth in scoring on a non-playoff team in Syracuse. Since being drafted four years ago, however, he has added nearly 20 pounds to his frame and is at least physically ready for the NHL.

Mayorov at least finished the season on a high note, giving him momentum and confidence heading to the Jackets’ training camp this fall. In his final three games of the season, he notched nine points, six of those points being goals. For the second straight season, Mayorov has an outside chance of making the NHL, but he’ll likely begin another season in the AHL.

10. Theo Ruth, D, 21
6’1, 200lbs
Acquired: Trade with Washington

In Theo Ruth’s 100 game career at Notre Dame, he scored just four goals and registered 17 points, but it is not offense the rugged defenseman provides. A former second round pick, Ruth plays a solid, safe defensive game. He’s a low-risk, stay-at-home type defenseman who plays a physical, rather than finesse, game – proven by his 52 penalty minutes in just 22 games last season. He missed time last season due to a leg injury, but is in full health heading into his first pro season.

Competition for a spot on the Blue Jackets back-end will be tight, and with a number of defensemen whom all play a similar game to Ruth, it’s likely that he spends the season with the Falcons of the AHL. Ruth is more of a long term project, but has potential to be a good shut down defenseman.

11. Cameron Atkinson, RW, 21
5’9, 166lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 157th overall in 2008

One of the fastest rising prospects in the Blue Jackets system, Cam Atkinson has quickly established himself as an offensive dynamo in the NCAA. Not only did he lead his team, Boston College, in points as a sophomore last season, but he led the entire nation with 30 goals in just 42 games. Atkinson was also instrumental in leading his team to a Frozen Four title as the best team in the country. The speedy winger makes up for his small stature with his elusiveness and desire to stay on the puck.

Atkinson will return for another year at Boston College where he is expected to duplicate, if not better, his impressive total of 53 points just a season ago. He is eligible for two more college seasons, but in all likelihood, the 2010-11 season will be his last, especially if he produces at a similar pace to last season.

12. Kevin Lynch, C, 19
6’1, 192lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 56th overall in 2009

After having a strong season for the U.S National Under-18 Team in 2008-09, Lynch struggled out of the gate in his first season of college hockey. It took him until December 29th to score his first goal of the season; he had only recorded one assist prior to that game. Lynch found his game in the second half however, scoring 15 of his 16 points after the semester break. He finished tenth in team scoring, which is great considering the fact it was his freshman season, and he was regarded as one of the more defensive players on the team.

Lynch has the next three years to iron out his game at the University of Michigan, or, if he and the Jackets feel he is ready, he could turn pro before then. With an already polished defensive game however, it is likely that Lynch stays in the NCAA for a few years to develop a rounded offensive game.

13. Brent Regner, D, 21
6’0, 170lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 137th overall in 2008

Brent Regner suffered many growing pains during the 2009-10 AHL season with the Syracuse Crunch. His defensive game, which has been called into question since he was in juniors, was poor, as he was in the bottom three of plus/minus with a minus-13 rating. Regner needs to improve his positioning in his own zone as he often gets caught standing still, and he would also be much better suited by adding weight to his 6’0 frame. With that said, the 21 year old does have quite a bit of offensive potential and could be a power play specialist down the line.

With projections of an offensive defenseman in mind, and only 20 points in 50 games last season, Regner is likely at least a season or two away from making the jump to the NHL. He’ll get much more ice time in the AHL this season, especially with a more youthful blue line.

14. Thomas Larkin, D, 19

6’5, 225lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 137th overall in 2009

The Blue Jackets had many NCAA prospects make great impressions this past season and Thomas Larkin is no exception. A native of Italy, and somewhat unknown in his draft year after playing U.S high school hockey, Larkin finished his first year of NCAA hockey with Colgate University, totalling 19 points in just 33 games – impressive for a freshman defenseman. With his towering size at 6’5 and his already steady defensive play, if Larkin can continue to evolve offensively, the Blue Jackets will surely have something special on their hands. 

With an abundance of NHL ready defenseman and top defensive prospects, there is no need to rush Larkin, and it is likely that he plays out the final three seasons of his collegiate career.

15. Will Weber, D, 21
6’4, 225lbs
Acquired: 2nd Round, 53rd overall in 2007

Will Weber is another of what seems an abundance of big physical defenseman in the Blue Jackets’ prospect pipeline. Though his overall offensive numbers improved in his sophomore season with ten points in 43 games, Weber was only able to score one goal the entire season. His team, Miami University (Ohio), had 31 goals come from their back-end, and it is somewhat troubling that, as a defenseman with offensive potential, Weber had just one of those goals. While his offensive game hasn’t come around as many had hoped, his defensive skills have flourished. Weber finished the year with a plus-12 rating and was named the CCHA’s top defensive defenseman. He was also second on his team with 42 blocked shots.

Weber will be returning to Miami University (Ohio) where he has the chance to work on becoming a more well rounded defenseman.

16. Matt Rust, C, 21
5’9, 192lbs
Acquired: Trade with Florida

Matt Rust is a former fourth round pick of the Florida Panthers. He was acquired at the trade deadline this past season as the Jackets sent defenseman Mathieu Roy to the Panthers. Rust is a gritty, all-around center, who took a tremendous step forward in his offensive output this season with the University of Michigan. He just barely notched a career high in goals with 13, one more than his freshman season two years ago, but he recorded 27 assists, more than his previous two seasons combined. Rust finished with 40 points in 45 games, finishing third in team scoring.

He’ll return to the University of Michigan for his senior year, where he’ll be expected to carry the bulk of the offense along with fellow Jackets prospect Kevin Lynch.

17. Allen York, G, 21
6’3, 180lbs
Acquired: 6th Round, 158th overall in 2007

Allen York’s freshman season in 2008-09 for R.P.I was nothing special to say the least, but the Alberta native rebounded last season, helping R.P.I become one of the biggest surprises in the NCAA. Appearing in 33 games, York went 14-13-4 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. York is a big goalie at 6’3 who certainly takes up a lot of the net, but he’ll need to continue working on his quickness and lateral movement – something he did quite a bit last season – in order to take the next step.

York will return as R.P.I’s starting netminder next season, and will likely play out his four year eligibility in the NCAA.

18. Tomas Kubalik, RW, 20
6’2, 189lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 135th overall in 2008

Kubalik had a dominant season for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL, registering 75 points in 58 games, including 33 goals and 42 assists. Not only was he a scoring machine for one of the league’s top teams, but he also led the team in penalty minutes with 95, showing he isn’t a one dimensional winger; he also brings a physical element to the game that should see him keep up in the AHL. However, the Czech native may need to work on his skating to keep up with the pace of pro hockey.

Kubalik was signed to a three-year entry-level deal this summer and will undoubtedly begin the season with the Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.

19. Gustaf Wesslau, G, 25
6’4, 194lbs
Acquired: Free agent signing

Wesslau never really made a name for himself until he transferred to Djurgården of the Swedish Elite League for the 2008-09 season. He had a successful first full season in the SEL, but it was his play last season that caught the eye of the Blue Jackets’ scouts. Wesslau, in 32 games, posted a 2.29 GAA along with a respectable .917 SV%. He also led his team to a league silver medal with remarkable netminding in the playoffs, registering a goals against average of 1.80 and a save percentage of .940. At 6’4, Wesslau takes up the better part of the net, but like Allen York, may need to work on his quickness to maximize his potential.

With Kevin Lalande unsigned by the Jackets, and Dan LaCosta let go, the starting job in Springfield appears to be Wesslau’s to lose.

20. Austin Madaisky, D, 18
6’2, 199lbs
Acquired: 5th Round, 124th overall in 2010

Madaisky is a smooth-skating defenseman who split the 2009-10 season with the Calgary Hitmen and the Kamloops Blazers, totaling seven goals and 22 assists. Madaisky’s Blazers were swept in the first round, but he showed true offensive potential in that series, scoring three goals and adding three assists. By all accounts, Madaisky is a fitness freak who is committed to getting bigger and stronger, which should work well for the 18-year-old as his career progresses.

Madaisky will likely become one of the top defenseman on Kamloops next season, earning big minutes in all situations. It should very well be a telling year as to how much potential the Surrey, B.C native has.