The Columbus Blue Jackets boast one of the deepest prospect pools in hockey; while they don't have many top tier prospects – ignoring Ryan Johansen, of course – they have an abundance of potential second and third line forwards and top-six defensemen.
While the organization hasn't had that much of a makeover in terms of their prospects – apart from Nikita Filatov's departure – there has been noticeable progression in many mid-round picks, improving the organizational depth drastically; for instance, Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson, Tomas Kubalik, David Savard, and Allen York have all improved their stock considerably.
What's most impressive is the fact that the organization has potential NHL regulars at each position. Up front, they are strongest down the middle with Ryan Johansen and 2011 second-round pick Boone Jenner, but wingers like Kubalik, Atkinson, Calvert and Dalton Smith round out an impressive forward group. On defense, the organization has several players with NHL potential: David Savard, John Moore, and Cody Goloubef, to name a few.
The majority of the team's prospects have either already reached pro status, or are playing NCAA; only six of the team's top twenty prospects are playing junior hockey, and just eight in total.
Grit and energy are two words that can be used to describe the Blue Jackets group of left wing prospects. Matt Calvert and Maksim Mayorov have both spent time in Columbus, and could both be regulars by the end of the season. Calvert was the surprise of last season within the organization, finishing the season in Columbus, registering 20 points in 42 games. He managed to make the team out of camp this season, but has recently been sent down to Columbus. Regardless, he'll likely graduate from the prospect ranks this season.
While Calvert made the NHL in his first pro season, Mayorov has been a different story. After failing to progress, at least statistically, in his first three AHL seasons, there were reports that the big-bodied winger was on the verge of returning to Russia in the off-season. Instead, Mayorov stayed in North America and seems to finally have secured a spot on the Blue Jackets.
Following parts of three seasons with Portland of the WHL, Oliver Gabriel is playing with the Springfield Falcons this season. Gabriel is eligible to play for Portland as an overager, but thus far, he has looked comfortable in the AHL. He has had injury issues throughout his career, particularly with his shoulder, but if he can stay healthy he can become an effective bottom-six forward at the NHL level.
Dalton Smith is an intriguing, if not frustrating, prospect. The Oshawa native had an impressive draft year for the Ottawa 67's in 2009-10, recording 44 points and 129 penalty minutes in 62 games. Last year was a different story, in 64 games, he managed just 29 points. That said, Smith does have quite a bit of offensive skill, which, combined with his aggressive nature, can make him an effective NHLer. He will, however, have to tone down the aggression at times; just two games into this season he was given a ten game suspension for a hit to Belleville goaltender Malcolm Subban.
Seth Ambroz is the most recent left wing addition to the Blue Jackets' prospect pool. The highly talented Minnesota native was once thought to be a first-round talent, but slipped all the way to the fifth round. He's playing his freshman season for the University of Minnesota this season, and his looked comfortable thus far, scoring two goals in four games.
Ryan Johansen, the organization's top prospect and one of the top prospects in all of hockey, is a big-bodied center with elite-level playmaking ability. Not only that, Johansen keeps defenders honest with an NHL-level shot and ability to score timely goals. He is currently playing the wing in Columbus and has just three points in six games. He is eligible to return to Portland of the WHL, and if the Jackets continue to struggle it might be in their best interest to send him back.
The other two center prospects currently playing pro for the Jackets – Ryan Russell and Nicholas Drazenovic – are, at best, fringe NHLers. A former Blues sixth round pick, Drazenovic still has some NHL upside, though he isn't likely to make a team's top-six forward group and doesn't quite have the intangibles to make an effective bottom-six forward. Russell, on the other hand, is a gritty two-way center. While his NHL clock hasn't yet run out, he'll need to have an impressive year in Springfield if he is to find his way into the Blue Jackets lineup.
The organization has two impressive prospects at center currently playing in the CHL – Boone Jenner and Michael Chaput. Jenner, the club's top selection in the 2011 entry draft, is an evolving offensive talent who oozes character. After scoring over a point-per-game last season for Oshawa of the OHL, he is off to a hot start this year with 16 points in 13 games. He plays a physical game, blocks shots, and kills penalties. At this stage in his development, he has the potential to be a solid second line center for Columbus. Chaput, acquired in a trade with the Flyers last season, has similar qualities: he scored near a point-per-game with Lewiston last year, plays well in his own zone, and his 97 penalty minutes ranked third on the team. He doesn't quite have the offensive potential as Jenner, but could very well develop into an effective third or fourth line center.
Out of the club's three center prospects playing NCAA, Kevin Lynch and T.J. Tynan seem to have NHL potential, while Sean Collins, a senior for Cornell University, seems unlikely to earn a contract following this season. Lynch is a former second round pick, known primarily for his defensive work; combined with his skating ability, has the potential to be a decent shutdown center, but will need to show more offense this season to be considered anything more. Currently, through four games for the University of Michigan, Lynch has just one goal in four games.
Tynan, a highly skilled but diminutive center, was drafted last June in the third round. After going undrafted in 2010, the Illinois product went to Notre Dame where he absolutely exploded offensively, recording 54 points in 44 games as a sophomore. There is no question that Tynan has elite-level skill, but whether or not he can handle the rough and tumble NHL game remains to be seen.
The organization is fortunate enough that both Tomas Kubalik and Cam Atkinson seem to be developing into everyday NHL players, or at least, on the right path. Other than those two, the system is not very deep along the right side. Kubalik had a very successful season in Springfield last year, recording 53 points in 76 games as a rookie. He even suited up in four games for Columbus, recording two assists. While he didn't make the team out of camp this year, it seems only a matter of time before the big, physical winger earns his keep on the Jackets roster.
Atkinson has been one of the more pleasant surprises in recent history. The former sixth round pick broke out in 2009-10 with Boston College and hasn't looked back. Last year, his third and final collegiate season, he recorded 52 points in 39 games. Though the speedy winger made the Blue Jackets out of training camp, he has since been reassigned to Springfield where he is off to a good start, posting three points in seven games. He'll be expected to help carry the offense for the Falcons, and will likely see more time in the NHL before season's end.
Petr Straka, a 2010 second round selection, is off to decent start this season after playing in just 41 games last year due to injury – he has eight points in 12 games this year. Still, he hasn't quite progressed as the Blue Jackets had hoped, given that he scored over a point-per-game in his rookie season with Rimouski. The 19-year-old has a nose for the net, but must become a more consistent offensive player if he is to be considered a valuable prospect.
In the NCAA, former seventh round pick Trent Vogelhuber is all but an afterthought within the organization and is unlikely to be tendered a contract following this, his fourth and final season at Miami University (Ohio). Jake Hansen, after earning little ice-time in his first two seasons at the University of Minnesota, seems to finally be settling in. In 35 games last year, the 6'2 winger had 20 points, and this year he seems primed to be the team's top offensive star; already, he has recorded 11 points in six games. If he keeps up his torrid pace, Hansen could possibly be this year's surprise prospect.
The organization is loaded with defensive prospects, including nine defense prospects currently playing pro hockey. David Savard and John Moore are two of the more promising defenders, and both have already spent time with Columbus. Savard, a former Moncton Wildcat, has seen his stock rise drastically since being drafted in 2009. The all-around defenseman has great offensive instincts, recording 43 points in 72 games last season. He made the Blue Jackets roster out of training camp and has not looked out of place. While Moore hasn't been progressing as expected, he still remains a prospect with high potential. His skating is already at elite level, but he'll need to work on his defensive zone consistency if he is to become an NHL regular; last season in Springfield, the American rearguard was a minus-27 in 73 games.
The team also has a number of defense prospects on the cusp of getting a look in Columbus. Nick Holden is an undrafted free agent currently playing his fourth season in the organization. He played five games for Columbus last season and didn't look out of place. At the very least, he is a good depth defenseman in case of injuries, though he may never be more than that.
Cody Goloubef, a second year pro, is another blue-liner on the verge of making the NHL. The former team Canada world junior has more upside than Holden, and could potentially become a top-four defenseman if he continues to progress.
Brent Regner is in the final year of his entry-level contract and with the glut of defensemen in the organization, the diminutive, but smooth skating Regner is going to have to have a career year if he is to earn another contract. In eight games for Springfield, he has three points. He'll certainly be expected to better his career high of 20 points.
The Falcons lineup also currently boasts four defensemen who fit more into the category of project picks: Theo Ruth, Dalton Prout, Anton Blomqvist, and Steven Delisle are all players that, if they are going to make the NHL, it won't be in the near future. Ruth, a former Washington Captials second round pick known for his defensive coverage and physical play, hasn't quite progressed as expected. In 52 games last year, he had six points, but was a minus-18. He is currently on the injured reserve but is due back soon.
Dalton Prout, after spending last year as an overager in the OHL, is entering his first professional season. He has played in all eight games for the Falcons thus far, scoring a goal. As Ruth returns, the 6'2 defender may find his way to the ECHL, and if not, it will likely be Steven Delisle that is sent down. Delisle spent the majority of last season on the injured reserve, playing in only six games for the Fort Wayne Komets of the CHL. He is a towering defenseman at 6'6, but needs to work on his mobility to be an effective pro.
Anton Blomqvist is another project defenseman; like Delisle, he is a lumbering defenseman at 6'4 with limited offensive potential. He's suited up in three games for Springfield this season, and is another candidate to go to the ECHL at some point this season.
General Manager Scott Howson has made a trend of drafting players choosing to go the NCAA route, and the team currently has three defensemen attending college. Will Weber, the CCHA defensive player of the year in 2009-10, is currently in his fourth year at Miami University (Ohio). He'll never be an offensive threat from the point, but at 6'4 he has the physical tools to become a shutdown defenseman in the NHL. He'll finish his collegiate career this season and will almost assuredly earn an entry-level contract. Thomas Larkin, originally from Italy, had an extremely impressive freshman season for Colgate University in 2009-10, but since then, the 6'5 defenseman has stalled offensively. He recorded just 11 points last season, and has just two assists in five games this year. He is, and was at the time of being drafted, a project pick, and he still has two years to develop in the NCAA. Given his size and offensive potential, he should earn a contract upon finishing school. Drew Olson has shown little offense in his first two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but, of course, that is not his game. If he is to earn a contract following his collegiate career, he'll need to continue to develop his defensive game.
Of the team's abundance of defense prospects, they have just two currently playing junior: 2010 draft picks Brandon Archibald and Austin Madaisky. Archibald was a key piece of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defense in 2009-10, but since being traded midseason to the Saginaw Spirit, his production has decreased. He recorded just three assists in 29 games with the team last season and has just two points in 12 games this season. Madaisky, on the other hand, has been progressing offensively after a mid-season trade. In 55 games with Kamloops of the WHL last season, he registered 27 points in 55 games, and is near a point-per-game pace through the first 12 games of this year.
Allen York, in his first pro season, is already expected to carry much of the workload in Springfield, but, given the current state of the Blue Jackets and Steve Mason's struggles, it would be no shock if York was to get an extended look in Columbus at some point this season. The 6'4 goaltender has only played two games for Springfield this year, and due to injuries, is already with the Blue Jackets. He may play as early as this coming week.
After an unimpressive couple seasons with Halifax of the QMJHL, Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault is looking sharp with the Saint John Sea Dogs. While it may have something to do with the fact that the Sea Dogs are one of the top teams in the country and play a much tighter defensive game, there is no doubt that Corbeil-Theriault is starting to show the potential that got him drafted in the fourth round. Like York, he is a towering netminder; he stands at 6'6 and still has room to grow.
Martin Ouellette had a disappointing freshman season at the University of Maine, but as a former seventh round pick, he is more of a project pick. He has good size and style; he just needs more seasoning and coaching. At this point, he's a hit or miss prospect.