Columbus Blue Jackets boast abundant pool of prospects

By Chris Roberts

Photo: Josh Anderson looks like a shoe-in to make the Blue Jackets for good in 2016-17. (Courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Josh Anderson looks like a shoe-in to make the Blue Jackets for good in 2016-17. (Courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

10. (13) Josh Anderson, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted: 4th round, 95th overall, 2012

The former London Knight has become a more productive and confident player in his second season as a pro, utilizing his 6’3, 221lb frame more effectively and improving his skating ability over the summer. It has translated into more points as well; as a rookie Anderson scored 17 points in 52 AHL games and this season he has 28 in 48 games, including 16 goals, which is second on Lake Erie.

Anderson was rewarded for his play with a pair of stints in Columbus. In November he played three games for the Blue Jackets and recorded assists in back-to-back games, despite playing under 10 minutes, before being sent back down to Lake Erie. Recalled in January, Anderson was trusted with more ice time by head coach John Tortorella and on Jan. 19 against the Washington Capitals played a career-high 14:44. He also scored his first career goal 10 days earlier against the Carolina Hurricanes.

9. (9) Ryan Collins, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2014

It’s easy to see the Blue Jackets have an affinity for tall defensemen. Ryan Collins stands 6’5 in stature and joins a prospect group that includes 6’4 Michael Paliotta, 6’4 Dillon Heatherington, and of course the recently acquired Seth Jones, who projects to anchor the team’s blueline for years to come. Collins doesn’t have some of the offensive skill or mobility that the others have, but his reach and positional awareness are attributes that teams would love to have in a fifth or sixth defenseman.

Collins, who hails from Minnesota, recorded nine points in 32 games as a freshman for his hometown Golden Gophers, but finished this season with just four points in 29 games.

8. (8) Michael Paliotta, D, 7.0 C
Acquired via trade with Chicago Blackhawks

Acquired from the Blackhawks along with Brandon Saad, the former four-year University of Vermont defenseman has been a pleasant surprise for the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters this season. Paliotta gives the Jackets’ farm team valuable minutes on the power play, penalty kill and even strength and currently leads the Monsters’ defensemen in scoring with 21 points in 58 games. On Feb. 27 the 6’4, 212lb blueliner made his Blue Jackets debut against the Florida Panthers (he played his first career game last season with the Blackhawks after leaving college and collected an assist).

Paliotta has taken the time to put the work into his game and it has shown, as he took a big step forward in offensive production from his sophomore to junior season with Vermont, going from 10 to 27 points. In his senior season Paliotta recorded 36 points and was also Hockey East’s Defensive Defenseman of the Year.

7. (14) Joonas Korpisalo, G, 7.0 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2012

Twenty one year old Finn Joonas Korpisalo has leaped Anton Forsberg on the Blue Jackets goaltending depth chart with an impressive first season in North America. The 6’3, 182lb backstopper earned the chance to replace Sergei Bobrovsky once he went down with an injury thanks to a 2.36 goals against average and .917 save percentage with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.

What Korpisalo did best with the Blue Jackets this season was help keep them competitive in every game, earning a 14-9-4 record to go along with a 2.61 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. He hasn’t had any stinkers, either, having allowed more than four goals just once.

6. (6) Dillon Heatherington, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 50th overall, 2013

A bruising shutdown defenseman in junior, 6’4, 220lb Dillon Heatherington has adjusted quite well to the pro game. The former Swift Current Bronco has provided stability to the Lake Erie Monsters defensive core, while logging minutes on the penalty kill as well. He has also shown some offensive capability, scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 54 games – one more point than he recorded last year in 48 games in the WHL.

Heatherington has particularly shown improved play into the New Year, a sign that he is adapting and making changes to better suit the pro game. After Dec. 31 the Calgary native was a minus-four and since has a a plus-11 rating in 29 games. In February, Heatherington had a stretch in which he recorded six assists in six games.

5. (5) Gabriel Carlsson, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall, 2015

Regarded primarily as a defensive defenseman, Gabriel Carlsson has impressed with his puck-moving and playmaking skills as a teenager in the SHL. The lanky, 6’4, 183lb rearguard had nine points in 45 regular season games for Linkoping HC, which was fifth best amongst the team’s defenseman. He also had three assists in seven games for Sweden at the World Junior Championships, a tournament he is also eligible to play in next season.

Aspects of his game that need improving include his gap control and backward mobility, but Carlsson is a tremendous competitor and those are elements of his game that he’ll look to improve moving forward. Once he adds strength to his 6’4 frame, he could become an intimidating rearguard for the Blue Jackets.

4. (4) Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2013

To say that 20 year old Oliver Bjorkstrand is a pure goalscorer might be an understatement; the Denmark native scored 113 regular season goals in 128 games during his final two seasons with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. That skill has transferred over to the pro game; in his first season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, Bjorkstrand has scored 15 goals in 46 games, which is good enough for third on the team.

Bjorkstrand was recalled to the Blue Jackets in March and scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Mar. 18. The sniper isn’t the perfect player, but can become a dynamic offensive option for the Blue Jackets down the road, perhaps as early as next season.

3. (3) Sonny Milano, LW, 7.5 C
Drafted: 1st round, 16th overall, 2014

The Blue Jackets’ other highly-touted American prospect, Sonny Milano, is developing his game in the AHL this season. The 19-year-old was eligible to join the AHL a year early as he was drafted out of the United States National Under-18 development program and the organization thought it better to have the 6’0, 200lb product develop at the pro game rather than make the move from Plymouth to Flint in the OHL. And in retrospect, it appears to have been a sound move, especially considering the atrocity that Flint has been both on and off the ice this season.

In the AHL, Milano hasn’t been setting the league on fire, but he has had some real strong nights and, for the most part, has looked comfortable. Milano’s best game was on Jan. 11 against the Manitoba Moose, when he scored once and added two assists in a 7-3 win for Lake Erie. Overall, he is sixth on the team in scoring with 29 points in 53 games. He also recorded eight points in seven games for the United States at the World Juniors.

2. (2) Kerby Rychel, LW, 7.0 B
Drafted: 1st round, 19th overall, 2013

It has been an up-and-down season for the second-year pro. Rychel, who projects as a budding power forward, began the season in Lake Erie before being recalled by the Blue Jackets in November. He was back down with the Monsters in December, before once again getting the call in early January. Rychel was then sent back down to Lake Erie just prior to the NHL trade deadline at the end of February amidst trade rumours and speculation.

For the time being, the former Windsor Spitfire is still with the organization, but that could change in the summer. It’s also possible he returns next season and claims a permanent spot on the Blue Jackets roster. He had nine points in 32 games with the Jackets this season and 26 points in 36 games with the Monsters.

1. (1) Zach Werenski, D, 8.5 C
Drafted: 1st round, 8th overall, 2015

Werenski was awarded the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and with good reason. The University of Michigan rearguard improved upon a strong freshman season by scoring 10 goals and adding 24 assists in 34 games, which not only led the Big 10 conference in points by a defenseman but was second in the entire nation behind Ethan Prow, a senior at St. Cloud State. Of course, Werenski played for a high-octane Wolverines team, but it wasn’t just his offensive output that was impressive this season.

The 6’2, 214lb smooth-skating rearguard doesn’t turn 19 until July and is already playing well ahead of his age, logging heavy minutes all season long. He can improve his defensive zone decision making, but that will come with experience. Werenski also captained the United States World Junior team to a bronze medal.

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