Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and his brain trust molded the future of the surging organization with a pair of trades and a fantastic draft in June. At the draft, the Blue Jackets identified a need to boost their defense and came away with a number of high-quality rearguards.
The influx of talent through the draft and the Brandon Saad trade resulted in eight new additions to the preseason version of the top 20 list. These new faces pushed long-serving role players like Michael Chaput, Peter Quenneville, and T.J. Tynan off of the list, surely serving as notice that the Blue Jackets have set themselves up for success in the very near future.
20. (NR) Vladislav Gavrikov, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2015
Falling in line with a familiar trend, Columbus went to the well and found a defenseman with leadership abilities of the defensive mold. You may not recognize him from his time as captain of his MHL team, or even his two-month stint in the KHL with Lokomotiv, but Vladislav Gavrikov’s 2015 appearance in the World Junior Championships put him squarely on the map. During that tournament, Gavrikov was a shot blocking machine and made headlines for his dangerous, sometimes over-the-line physicality, including one incident where he tossed a stick in the stands out of frustration.
Gavrikov has very limited offensive upside, but he is a safe bet to eventually find his way to Columbus. He has two years remaining on his contract in the KHL, and will very likely honor that contract in its entirety before coming to North America.
19. (19) Daniel Zaar, RW, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 152nd overall, 2012
Daniel Zaar gained a bit of a cult following in Rogle, where he came up through their junior system. He was a tremendously talented scorer, and just recently started to realize his potential against grown men. After leading the Allsvenskan in rookie scoring, Zaar took his talents to the SHL and joined Lulea. There, he played in a middle-six role, scoring nine times and assisting on 18 others in 55 games—adequate totals for a player working to adjust to new challenges.
Zaar will participate in his second training camp in Columbus, but is likely going to join the Lake Erie Monsters to begin the first of three years on his entry-level contract. He has filled different roles throughout his career and has proven versatile, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the AHL.
18. (18) Austin Madaisky, D, 7.0 D
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2010
Looking deep down the Blue Jackets depth chart on defense uncovers Austin Madaisky, who just finished the final year of his entry-level contract. He has quietly garnered attention progressively through those three years, and was one of the breakout stars in the AHL last year. Madaisky was named to the AHL All-Star Classic, and finished the year as the leader in goals, assists, and points for the Blue Jackets AHL squad.
Formerly considered as just a depth defenseman with very little professional upside, Madaisky has proven those thoughts incorrect and will have another opportunity in the system. He was signed to a one year, two-way contract and will be one of the leaders on defense in Lake Erie, and perhaps a longshot to make his NHL debut next season.
Just one year removed from leading all Rockford IceHogs rookies in scoring with 45 points in 75 games, Broadhurst had a tumultuous 2014-15 season. He struggled early on in the season, and did not register a goal until his sixteenth game. Then, he suffered a broken arm that cost him four months of the season. Upon return, Broadhurst struggled to regain momentum and was sparingly deployed.
This summer, the Blue Jackets acquired Broadhurst, along with Michael Paliotta and Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. He will begin this season with the Blue Jackets’ new AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, where he figures to gain a top-six job.
16. (NR) Sam Ruopp, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2015
Sam Ruopp has been able to lean on his older brother, Harrison, who spent the past two seasons in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. After finishing his first full WHL season, the younger Ruopp was given the captaincy and immediately assumed a more prominent role. He performed admirably, adding an additional 10 points from the previous year and took on all comers in a physical role. As a defensive defenseman that prides himself on being in position and playing the body, the additional offense was a nice bonus.
Overall, Ruopp is a tidy package in a 6’4” frame. With his leadership abilities and team-first mentality, Ruopp will head back to Prince George for the 2015-16 season.
15. (15) Blake Siebenaler, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2014
The Niagara IceDogs have been a pipeline lately for high-end defensemen, and with Dougie Hamilton, Jamie Oleksiak, and most recently Vince Dunn coming through the system, it’s easy to forget about the always-steady Blake Siebenaler. Featuring a cannon of a shot, Siebenaler doubled his goal total from the year before, and improved his overall defensive prowess in the meantime. Consistency has always been a key point of contention for Siebenaler, but he did enough last season to shake that label.
The organization rewarded Siebenaler for his quality year and overall improvement by signing him to a three year, entry-level contract in June. He will return to the IceDogs for his third year in the OHL, and will again team with Dunn to create one of the top pairings available to Head Coach Marty Williamson.
14. (14) Joonas Korpisalo, G, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2012
In his first ever professional season, Joonas Korpisalo was 14-13-7 while playing for Finnish club Tampere, logging a 2.34 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. More notable than his work overseas, the organization brought Korpisalo over for the final few weeks of the season, where he gained valuable time acclimating himself to the North American game. He is a technically sound goaltender that relies upon his instincts and reflexes, sometimes too often, to make highlight-reel saves.
Columbus boasts one of the deepest groups in goal, and with Oscar Dansk heading back home to figure things out, the Blue Jackets need one of Korpisalo or Anton Forsberg to step up. The tandem will split time in Lake Erie, where the competition should push one of these two to emerge as the top-option in goal moving forward.
13. (12) Josh Anderson, RW, 6.5 C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2012
Like many other prospects in the system, Josh Anderson recently finished his first full season in professional hockey. He was a reliable role player in the AHL, and with a limited offensive ceiling, Anderson worked on the finer points of the game. He plays an in-your-face style, often frustrating opponents with his consistent physical nature and ability to protect the puck under pressure.
Anderson was rewarded with a six-game stint in January, and will have an opportunity in training camp to make the Blue Jackets. If that doesn’t materialize, he will head to Lake Erie to assume a bottom-six role.
12. (NR) Paul Bittner, LW, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2015
No player in the system projects quite like Paul Bittner, who has been a Jekyll and Hyde winger that struggles with consistency. When he’s on, Bittner appeared as the go-to guy in Portland along with fellow Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand. Other times, Bittner’s game had a different look as someone who doesn’t quite realize his 6’4 frame and lofty potential. Despite the questions, Bittner has an NHL-ready shot, an improving and deceptive release, and a proven ability to maintain puck possession.
Bjorkstrand and a number of others have graduated from the Winterhawks in the WHL, leaving Bittner behind as the marquee attraction. He will garner increased attention this year, and it will be interesting to see if the production continues without the stellar support that his linemates provided him. Overall, Bittner is an intriguing package worth keeping an eye on this year.
11. (NR) Kevin Stenlund, C, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2015
One under-the-radar name that has eluded most prospect lists is Kevin Stenlund, who garnered attention as a possible first-round pick but fell due to questions about his skating and offensive prowess. Upon first look, Stenlund doesn’t stand out for the obvious traits that make a center desirable, but manages the game well and thinks it even better. He spent the past three years playing junior hockey for HV71, and even made his SHL debut recently.
Stenlund protects the puck and is regarded as a difficult player to play against, and if his offensive game starts to round into form, Columbus may very well have a sleeper prospect in the making. The foundation has been built, and since he is at least two years away from North America, it will be up to him to progress his game enough to earn full-time SHL action.