Depth players occupy Columbus Blue Jackets European and collegiate prospect pool

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Towering defenseman Anton Blomqvist is currently the only European prospect the Columbus Blue Jackets have in their prospect pool. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

In the past few years, the Columbus Blue Jackets, under General Manager Scott Howson, have become increasingly hesitant to select prospects playing in Europe; in the past two drafts, sixth round selection Anton Blomqvist was the club’s only European selection.

They have, however, been keen on players planning to go the NCAA route, selecting nine in the past three seasons. Despite the high numbers, their overall depth at the collegiate level is thin, yet they do have one promising prospect at forward, defense, and goal – Cam Atkinson, Will Weber, and Allen York.

Europe

Anton Blomqvist, D, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 167th, 2009

Blomqvist remains relatively unknown amongst Blue Jacket prospects, but mostly due to the fact he plays in Sweden, on a team in the second-tier league no less. He’s a towering defenseman with little offensive ability, registering just one assist in 27 games, though earning limited minutes on his club, Malmö. Despite that, Blomqvist does have potential, mostly because of his size – at 6’5, he towers over most of the opposition, though he does need to bulk up in the coming years.


NCAA

Kevin Lynch, C, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2009

Highly regarded in his draft year for his two-way play, Kevin Lynch has been a fairly solid addition for the University of Michigan, but has yet been able to flourish offensively. This season, he’s boosted his goal totals from a year ago, but has ultimately been on par with last season’s production in terms of points, with 13 points in 38 games this year opposed to his 16 points in 45 games as a freshman.

Lynch’s offensive inconsistencies have been his downfall this season, having experienced an 18 game pointless drought in the middle of the season. In the two games prior to that drought he had recorded four points, and in the four games since, he has also recorded four points. In much of those 18 games, however, Lynch was playing the wing. He has since gone back to his natural position at center. He will assuredly spend at least one more year at Michigan before turning pro, in hopes of improving his offensive game.


Matt Rust, C, 21
Acquired: Trade with Florida, March 2010

A teammate of Kevin Lynch at the University of Michigan, Matt Rust has also been experiencing somewhat of a down season, especially considering his numbers last season – 40 points in 45 games. In contrast, the senior has just 24 points in 37 games this season, despite playing largely on one of Michigan’s top two lines for the majority of the season. Rust does have scoring ability, but certainly hasn’t met expectations this season and while it’s still likely he earns a pro contract, it isn’t exactly a sure thing. One thing working in Rust’s favor is the current lack of pro depth at the center position.


Sean Collins, C, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 187th overall, 2008

A lanky center, Sean Collins is a defensive minded role player for Cornell University. His offense has been stagnant since arriving at Cornell for the 2008-09 season, amounting just 13 points in 30 games this season. By many accounts, the Saskatoon native is a great role player for his team, but that may not be enough to earn an NHL contract. However, he’ll likely be given increased offensive responsibilities next season as a senior, and it’ll be up to him to take full advantage if he’s to be given an opportunity playing pro hockey.


Cam Atkinson, RW, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 157th overall, 2008

Taken just a round before Sean Collins, Atkinson has experienced much greater tangible success in terms of production. The diminutive forward, at 5’9 and near 170lbs, had a breakout sophomore season last year, leading Boston College with 53 points, and has continued that pace into this season; through 35 games, he’s scored 28 goals and notched 20 assists, accumulating 48 points. More than that, Atkinson comes from a successful program at Boston College and has already experienced his share of success, having won the national title last season. After a strong regular season, Atkinson and Boston College look poised to win another title.

Given his success, there doesn’t seem to be much left for Atkinson to gain by playing out his senior season at Boston College – it would be ideal for him to turn pro. That said, the Connecticut native turned down an offer to turn pro last season, electing to spend another year playing college hockey. Certainly, it hasn’t been a bad choice for Atkinson, but one has to wonder if he’ll forego turning pro once again this off-season, given the continued success and resume he has built at Boston College.


Jake Hansen, RW, 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 68th overall, 2007

Hansen’s production certainly hasn’t been overwhelming, but the third round selection seems to be hitting his stride in his junior season with the University of Minnesota. After registering a combined 19 points in his first two seasons, he’s managed 20 points in 35 games this season, sitting seventh in team scoring. More than that, on a team that largely scored by committee, Hansen finished third in goals with 11, and will likely be relied upon to provide even more next season as a senior.


Trent Vogelhuber, RW, 22
Acquired: 7th roundm, 211th overall, 2007

Certainly as a seventh round selection expectations for Vogelhuber are fairly low, but much like the aforementioned Hansen, Vogelhuber has experienced a breakout in his junior season. He managed just 12 points last season in 40 games, but has jumped to a total of 20 points in 36 games this year, currently sitting seventh in team scoring. Still, he remains a long shot to earn a pro contract, but continued improvement throughout his senior year next season will go a long way to determining that.


Will Weber, D, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2007

In his third season at the University of Wisconsin, Will Weber has emerged as one of the top defensive defensemen in college hockey. He’s even been acknowledged as such, winning the top defensive defenseman award within his conference last season. In his junior season, Weber has continued his impressive defensive consistency, while improving his offensive pace at the same time; he’s a point above his production last season – with 11 points – in 13 fewer games. Accounting for his drastic drop in games this season is a horrific incident in which he required 100 stitches and 15 staples to close a gash on his neck. A scary incident indeed, but attesting to his determination, Weber has since returned to action, continuing to be a vital part of the Badgers’ blue line.


Thomas Larkin, D, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2009

Larkin emerged as a legitimate, yet still raw, prospect last season with Colgate University after a solid freshman season in which he amassed 19 points in 33 games, leading his team in points by a defenseman. His offense has slowed a bit this season as Larkin works on improving his defensive game – he has recorded just 10 points in 39 games. With his size – he currently stands at 6’5 – he doesn’t necessarily have to continually improve his offensive game; rather, it is the finer points of his defensive zone coverage in which will be the key to him becoming an effective NHLer. He’ll likely spend two more full seasons at Colgate before turning pro.


Drew Olson, D, 20
Acquired: 4th round, 118th overall, 2008

Drew Olson is often lost in the mix of the Blue Jacket’s defense prospects; through his first two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he’s been largely adept offensively, and has been in the shadow of defenseman like Weber, Larkin, and former collegiate players like Theo Ruth and Cody Goloubef. He remains a project at best. Next year will be quite telling in terms of which direction his career path follows.

Allen York, G, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 158th overall, 2007

An important part of R.P.I’s success last season, York has not only continued his individual success, but has bettered it, becoming a standout goaltender at the collegiate level. Through 33 games, he has posted a record of 18-10-4, with a 2.05 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. He has recently been named a finalist for the Ken Dryden award, annually presented to the ECAC’s top goaltender. Since his freshman season, York has vastly improved his numbers in the following season, leaving it reasonable to suggest that the Alberta native could likely forego his senior season and accept a pro contract in the offseason, if one is indeed offered.


Martin Ouellette, G, 19
Acquired: 7th round, 184th overall, 2010

An extremely raw talent, Ouellette has a ways to go before ever being considered worthy of an NHL contract, but the freshman for the University of Maine has handled himself quite well in his first season, especially considering the sporadic starts he’s entrusted with as the team’s backup. In total, he’s appeared in nine games, sporting a 3.18 goals against average and a .862 save percentage. Inconsistency has been a problem, which is to be expected given his age and role, but he has posted a shutout this season. One of the major problems facing Ouellette however is the fact that the team’s starting goaltender is also a freshman. Thus, if he is to ever become a starting goaltender at the collegiate level, he’ll likely have to outplay the team’s current starter for an extended stretch.