Below is the inaugural edition of the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect awards. The Blue Jackets remain among the bottom feeders in the NHL standings though unlike other teams who've languished at the bottom of the standings for several years, they lack a large stable of elite young talent. Instead there is a mix of moderately skilled, hard-working forwards and defensemen with loads of unrealized high-end potential.
Most Improved: Jake Hansen, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Jake Hansen started to show more offensive punch to his game last year, where he registered 20 points in 35 games, but this year, in his fourth and final year with a young University of Minnesota team, the former third-round selection put up 38 points in 43 games. He finished fifth in team scoring. He didn't look out of place in two games with Springfield towards the end of this season either, and he recently earned an entry-level deal with the organization. He'll be an interesting player to watch next season.
Best Defensive Prospect: Will Weber, D, Miami Redhawks (CCHA)
While David Savard is perhaps the most ready blue line prospect for the Blue Jackets, Will Weber, who recently finished his four years at Miami University, has been a great shutdown defenseman for the past two seasons. He has brought little offense to the team, but was honored two years ago with the top defensive defenseman award for the CCHA conference. The blueliner was considered by many to be a first-round talent heading into the 2007 Entry Draft, and it's becoming clear why as the 53rd overall selection has great size and smooth skating strides. He's exactly the type of defenseman the Blue Jackets need though whether or not he reaches his ceiling is another story.
Atkinson found success with both Springfield and Columbus this season. In his first year as a pro, the 22-year-old led the Falcons in goals with 29 in just 51 games, and finished third in team scoring. While he struggled at times in stints with the Blue Jackets, he ended the year strong with ten points in his final six games. In total, he recorded 14 points in 27 games with the Blue Jackets. A former sixth-round selection, Atkinson has really blossomed into a player with not only an NHL future, but the potential to be a top-six scoring winger. He doesn't quite have a spot on the Blue Jackets locked up for next season, but given the direction the team is heading, he should earn a spot on the top three lines.
Fastest Skater: T.J. Tynan, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Nobody in the Jackets organization can match the speed of diminutive American forward T.J. Tynan. Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson, also speedy wingers lacking size, can skate with the best of them, but Tynan's speed is on another level, and part of the reason he has, in just two years, managed 95 points in 83 games with Notre Dame.
The Blue Jackets don't particularly have any young players with booming shots. They have quite a few strong defensemen – Will Weber, David Savard, and Theo Ruth, to name a few – but none that possesses a cannon from the point. Brent Regner can fire the puck, but he remains without a contract for next season and could very well be let go by the organization. Atkinson, one of the club's best offensive prospects at the moment, doesn't quite put fear into the opposition with a lethal slap shot, but the former Boston College Eagle has a quick, hard, and accurate wrist shot. His shot is one of his biggest strengths, and it is one of the main reasons he will be representing the United States at this year's World Championships.
Perhaps not so much an overachiever than a product of the team in front of him, but the consensus seems to be that Mathieu Corbeil is not as good as his stats indicate. His six shutouts and goals against average hovering near 2.30 is more of a reflection of the team in front of him – The Saint John Sea Dogs, who appear poised to win not only a league championship but also a Memorial Cup. There's no question he has the size and even athleticism to find himself an NHL career, but as of right now, he's not quite there, and his stats are quite deceiving, especially as an overage goaltender.
After a surprising rookie season in which he cracked the Blue Jackets out of training camp, and eventually managed to score 11 goals with the big club, Calvert had a disappointing season this year. He played 13 games with Columbus, adding just three assists before being demoted to Springfield where, while somewhat effective, he was unable to improve on his rookie season. In 56 games for the club, he recorded just 36 points and was overtaken by Cam Atkinson as the Falcons token diminutive, feisty winger with scoring touch.
Highest Risk/Reward: Seth Ambroz, LW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
A big-bodied forward who is just two years removed from being considered a first-round draft talent, Seth Ambroz could be poised for a breakout in the next year or two. He had a fairly uneventful freshman season at the University of Minnesota, but was able to contribute despite receiving little ice-time: his eight points in 41 games ranked 10th among forwards. He has the tools to be a dangerous offensive forward, but it'll all come down to whether or not he can put it all together. His commitment has been brought into question on occasion and he needs to work on building a more complete game. It wouldn't be a surprise to many if he becomes an effective top-six player, and it also wouldn't be a shock if he never plays a game in the NHL.
A real worker-bee type, Boone Jenner had another good season for the Oshawa Generals. Though he played in just 43 games due to injury and playing for the Canadian World Junior team, his offensive production equaled last year's pace at just over a point-per-game. Though his offense didn't quite transfer over to the WJC, the energy he brought was noticeable. The 18-year-old, who is still eligible for next year's Canadian juniors, grew up on a farm in Dorchester, ONT, where he learned the value of hard work. He can often be found mucking it up in the corners and is not afraid to go to the net. He treats the game seriously, and doesn't take anything for granted.
Breakout for 2012-13: Kevin Lynch, C, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Headed into his fourth and final season with the University of Michigan next year, the former second-round selection has yet to meet expectations. Statistically, he had his worst season this past year with just 13 points in 39 games, but with the departure of the team's top center, David Wohlberg (NJ), Lynch will likely be relied upon to shift up on the team's depth chart and provide more offense. If he can keep up his strong defensive tendencies while eclipsing 20 points next season, he could be the organization's breakout player.