Top 10 Prospects:
Up front, the Blue Jackets enter the summer with just ten players from last season under contract. If Jakub Voracek is retained and Nikita Filatov can finally stick with the big club, the team will have their forward core filled out; however, for a club that finished in the bottom third for goals scored for this past season, changes may be ahead. With a relatively weak free agent crop, general manager Scott Howson may look for a trade to ignite his offensive core.
While Columbus has a few decisions to make up front, their back-end may undergo a complete revamping; as of now, the club has just two returning defensemen, Kris Russell and Fedor Tyutin, under contract. Jan Hejda, Grant Clitsome and Craig Rivet are unrestricted free agents, while Sami Lepisto, Anton Stralman and Marc Methot are restricted. It’s fairly safe to say that at least two of Methot, Clitsome, and Hejda come back, but after that it’s uncertain. Needless to say, the Blue Jackets will have holes to fill on defense this summer, even with the growth of the promising trio of David Savard, John Moore and Cody Goloubef, they’ll need veteran insurance on the point.
Columbus is committed to Steve Mason for the next two seasons; so while he’s struggled with consistency the past two seasons, it’s unlikely that he is bumped from his starter’s position. Mathieu Garon will likely test the free-agent market in July so the Jackets may look for a replacement in free agency or through trade.
Over the past few seasons the club has continued to stockpile defensemen, and it seems to be paying off; John Moore, Cody Goloubef, and David Savard all appear close to NHL-ready, while several other young defensemen progressed well last season. They do not lack in quantity either; in total, they have 15 defense prospects in their organization.
For the past few seasons the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool was very uninspiring in regard to scoring forwards, especially as Nikita Filatov continued to disappoint. Yet, entering the 2011 off-season, there’s hope within and outside of the organization for an influx of young offensive forwards. Of course, the club’s 2010 first round selection Ryan Johansen is now one of hockey’s top prospects, but the surprising play of both Matt Calvert and Tomas Kubalik last season has elevated expectations. Former sixth round pick Cam Atkinson, though undersized, looks to be a legitimate prospect as well after finishing a banner year at Boston College with 52 points in 39 games.
For the past few seasons, the Blue Jackets have been among the top third of the league in terms of overall prospect depth. The addition of Ryan Johansen, currently one of the top prospects in hockey, certainly helps to boost an already impressive prospect crop. While their true strength is in defensive depth, their talent up front has improved since last year’s draft. That said, with two of their top four prospects likely to graduate in 2011-12 – Nikita Filatov and Matt Calvert – the Blue Jackets will once again be lacking depth in terms of offensive potential, especially considering the regressions of both Dalton Smith and Petr Straka last season. While it is possible that several of their current prospects could have a breakout season, the Blue Jackets would be smart to look for offensive talent in the 2011 Entry Draft.
While not so much a weakness as it is a question mark, goaltending should remain high on the Blue Jackets list of priorities heading into the draft. Both Allen York and Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault had career seasons last year, but the club ultimately won’t know what they’ve got in each goaltender for at least another year or two.
Prior to last year’s draft, general manager Scott Howson had continually displayed a commitment to selecting players choosing to follow the collegiate route to the NHL; however, the 2010 draft was a departure from that method. The Blue Jackets had a total of eight picks last year, and with the first seven the club chose to select players from the CHL; seventh round selection Martin Ouellette was selected out of high school. In his first three drafts with the organization, exactly half of Howson’s selections were players opting to play NCAA – the 2010 draft may have simply been a result of going after the best player available, or it could be the case that the organization has begun placing more stock in junior hockey.
Aside from a few divergences – Brent Regner and Cam Atkinson – Howson and brass have generally selected bigger, physical players, or at least players with a frame to fill out. This has particularly been the case with defensemen as the organization has drafted eight blueliners in the past four drafts that stand at least 6’2. The club hasn’t shown much of a pattern in terms of selecting forwards, though it does appear they often prefer forwards with a feisty side to their game – Dalton Smith, Kevin Lynch, and Stefan Legein, to name a few.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No. 8: Doug Hamilton, D
At 6'4, Hamilton brings a much needed blend of size, mobility, and offensive ability to the Blue Jackets defensive pool.