Despite relocating their AHL affiliate in the 2010 off-season, the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ farm team had a rather unsuccessful season for the second straight year. The club had a number of individual standout performances, but collectively the team fell short, finishing 35-40-2-3 for just 75 points and outside the playoffs for the third straight season. Rookies Tomas Kubalik and David Savard, in particular, were rather impressive, but the team was hampered by inconsistent goaltending and a lack of scoring depth. Their ECHL affiliate, the Gwinnett Gladiators, finished last in their division with 68 points and was one of only four teams in the 19-team league to miss the post-season.
Nikita Filatov, LW, 21
In what was supposed to be Filatov’s breakout season with the Blue Jackets, the enigmatic Russian winger played his final 36 games of the season with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. He was unable to hold a spot on the top two lines in Columbus, failing to register a goal in his 23 game stint. The decision was made to send him to Springfield for increased ice-time and scoring responsibility in mid-December, but even then he failed to meet expectations, registering a mediocre 20 points in 36 games. Next year, he’ll again be expected to breakout – or at least earn consistent ice-time – with the Blue Jackets, but unless he can stick with the top two lines or drastically improve his defensive game, he’ll be forced to continue working on his game in the AHL.
Maksim Mayorov, LW, 21
Mayorov has played three seasons in North America now, playing the majority of his games with Springfield and Syracuse, while playing a small sample of games for Columbus in each season. Certainly he has showed no signs of regression, but soon-to-be twenty-two-year-old has failed to show any signs of breaking out, scoring 31, 32, and 33 points in successive seasons. He has continued to provide solid board play however, and he did record a career high 19 goals this season in just 69 games. Currently under contract for one more season, he’ll be expected to make a much bigger impact this season if he is to earn another contract from the club.
Tomas Kana, RW, 23
Expected to be a major contributor to Springfield’s offense after a productive 2009-10 season, Kana was hampered by injuries this season, limiting him to just 31 games, and when he was healthy, he was often receiving his ice-time skating on the fourth line. In his 31 games, he was held to just six points while scoring just twice. Kana is not under contract for next season, but as a restricted free agent with little risk, it is likely he returns to Springfield for the 2011-12 season. Not surprisingly, it will be key for Kana to remain healthy next season if he aims to duplicate, or even build upon, his 2009-10 season.
Tomas Kubalik, RW, 21
Kubalik was undoubtedly one of the most pleasant surprises within the Blue Jackets organization this past season, and was certainly one of the top players on the Falcons, leading the club in scoring with 53 points in 76 games and finishing fourth in rookie scoring throughout the AHL. Kubalik was easily the most consistent forward on an offensively challenged club, registering double digits in points in four months. More than providing offensive output, he also proved to be adequate in skating – an area in which there was some concern amongst scouts. After getting his first taste of NHL action near the end of the season, there is at least a decent chance that Kubalik makes the Blue Jackets out of camp next season.
Mike Blunden, RW, 24
Blunden has bounced back and forth between Columbus and their minor league affiliates – Syracuse and Springfield – since coming over in a trade with Chicago. Blunden was unable to stick with the big club after making the Blue Jackets out of training camp in the 2009-10 season and suffered further disappointment this past season, only playing in one game with the Blue Jackets and missing the second half of the season with an injury. In his 37 games with the Falcons he managed 21 points, scoring 12 goals and adding nine assists. After failed attempts to secure a spot on the Blue Jackets in consecutive seasons, Blunden may have to look elsewhere for his ice-time in 2011-12.
Kyle Neuber, RW, 22
Limited to just 15 games mainly due to injuries, Neuber was all but a non-factor this past season. As expected, he brought little offense to the Falcons, registering just one assist, but was able to accumulate 45 penalty minutes. He’ll return to Springfield next season as the team’s pugilist.
Cody Goloubef, D, 21
Opting to skip his senior season at the University of Wisconsin, Goloubef had a fairly successful rookie season for the Falcons, registering 17 points in 50 games. He displayed an impressive offensive game throughout the season, but there were some growing pains in the defensive end, particularly in the month of March in which he was a horrendous minus-10 over the course of nine games. Overall, the smooth-skating defenseman transitioned well to the pro game, even displaying improved offensive instincts. Along with David Savard and John Moore, Goloubef has a shot at making the Blue Jackets next season, but out of the three, he is probably the most likely to begin the season in Springfield.
David Savard, D, 20
David Savard came to Springfield’s training camp almost as an afterthought to highly touted defensemen John Moore and Cody Goloubef, however, things were different by the end of the season: Not only had Savard proven himself at the AHL level, but he became the club’s top offensive defenseman, scoring 43 points in 72 games. To put those numbers in perspective, the next highest scoring defenseman on the team was Nick Holden with just 25 points. His offensive numbers have not solely come with the man advantage either as nine of his 11 goals have come at even strength. Given his consistent production over the last three seasons with both Moncton of the QMJHL and Springfield, if the Blue Jackets are looking for offense from the blueline next season, Savard might have an edge over both Goloubef and Moore.
John Moore, D, 20
Considering he came into Blue Jackets training camp with an outside shot of making the club, John Moore’s AHL stats are rather disappointing. His offensive numbers were mediocre – 24 points in 73 games – but it is his plus/minus that is far more concerning. While not necessarily a completely accurate representation of his defensive play, Moore’s minus-27 rating was the worst of any Falcon defenseman by a fair margin, Theo Ruth’s minus-18 is the next worst. Inconsistent play surely attributed to Moore’s abysmal plus/minus rating: apart from January and March, Moore had a plus-one rating whereas he was a combined minus-28 in the aforementioned months. Moore is a great skater with good offensive instincts, but he’ll need to work on his defensive consistency if he is to reach his top-four ceiling.
Nick Holden, D, 24
While the trio of Savard, Moore and Goloubef certainly provided an infusion of skill to the Falcons’ back-end, it was third-year defenseman Nick Holden who was perhaps the most consistent and reliable defender. Holden neither had a particularly great month nor a bad month throughout the entire season, but he was constantly slotted in the Falcons top two defensive pairings. His consistent play even earned him his first career NHL game in what ended up as a five game stint with the Blue Jackets. He finished the season with Springfield, notching a career high 25 points in 67 games.
Theo Ruth, D, 22
Ruth’s offensive numbers – or lack thereof, with just six points – in his first professional season are not quite surprising. The big blueliner was known for his defensive soundness and physical play at Notre Dame University, yet he left much to be desired in both areas this past season with Springfield. His minus-18 was second worst amongst Falcon defensemen, behind only John Moore and he recorded just 21 minutes in penalties, all the while being in and out of the line-up for the first half of the season. Still in his entry level contract, Ruth will return to Springfield next season hoping to earn more consistent ice-time.
Brent Regner, D, 22
With the glut of young defensemen turning pro this past season, Brent Regner had a difficult time finding his way into the Falcons’ lineup throughout the first month of the season, playing just one game. He was in and out of the lineup for the next two months before cementing his spot in the second half of the season. While it was by no means a breakout year for the former Vancouver Giant, he proved that at the very least he can be an effective AHL defenseman, scoring six goals and adding 13 assists for a total of 19 points in 56 games. He was also able to improve his defensive zone coverage this season and it was reflected through his plus/minus: he was only a minus-four on a team that struggled for offense, as opposed to his minus-13 rating last season. He is all but assured to be back in Springfield next season.
For the second straight season goaltending was a problem for the Blue Jackets’ minor league affiliate. After letting go both Dan LaCosta and Kevin Lalande who had unsuccessful seasons with Syracuse last year, the club signed Wesslau as a free agent out of Sweden. He failed to impress in the 31 games he played in, posting a 3.17 goals against average and .897 save percentage. He was only signed to a one-year contract last summer and given his unimpressive play, it is likely the club lets him go and lets collegiate stand-out Allen York take the reins between the pipes.