Here’s a look at the new Hockey’s Future Columbus Blue Jackets Top Ten, with new players from the most recent draft and surprising developments from the Jackets prospect pool.
#10 – Ben Knopp – LW – Kamloops Blazers (Last Year’s Rank – #5)
Ben Knopp fell from the #5 spot last season to the #10 spot this season, despite setting career high’s in the majority of his offensive categories. However, Knopp is turning into more of a one-dimensional player, floating around in his own end and concentrating more on putting up the big offensive numbers. Also hurting Knopp was his poor playing at the Jackets prospect camp a few weeks ago. In my opinion, Knopp will spend a few years in the AHL with the Crunch until he learns how to play in his own end more affectionately. Knopp may be somewhat of a longshot.
#9 – Cole Jarrett – D – Plymouth Whalers (Last Year’s Rank – #7)
Cole Jarrett, along with Pascal Leclaire, Shane Bendera, and Aaron Johnson, was invited to Canada’s World Junior tryout in December, and to the Canadian camp, held later this summer. Jarrett’s season with Plymouth was one of consistency. His offensive game improved steadily, as well as his puck movement and play within his own end. Jarrett undoubtedly will have an impact on the Jackets lineup in the future, however right now, he is best suited for play in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. With Klesla already the cornerstone of the Jackets defense, Johnson and Jarrett are going to be welcomed additions over the next few seasons.
#8 – Kent McDonnell – RW – Syracuse Crunch (Last Year’s Rank – NR)
Kent McDonnell was arguably the best player on the ice for the Syracuse Crunch last season. He can inject a team with energy, which is something every team needs. McDonnell also has an offensive upside to his game as well, something the Jackets would be looking for. While McDonnell won’t get a look for the Jackets roster next season, he certainly could have an effect on the Jackets lineup a few years down the road. McDonnell is certainly someone to keep your eyes on.
#7 – Andrei Nedorost – C – Syracuse Crunch (Last Year’s Rank – #17)
Andrei Nedorost is the highest ranked professional player to crack the Jackets Top Ten List. Nedorost spent his season in Syracuse, where, when healthy, contributed to one of the best teams in the AHL. The Columbus brass are very high on Nedorost’s ability, and a spot in the opening day lineup is his, if, and only if he has a good training camp. This year could be a make-or-break for Nedorost, depending on how much more patience the Jackets organization. Coming out of camp, Nedorost will likely play a small role on the big club.
#6 – Aaron Johnson – D – Rimouski Oceanic (Last Year’s Rank – #6)
Johnson was one of four Jacket prospects to be given a shot at the silver medal winning Canadian Junior Team. Unfortunately for Johnson, he didn’t win a spot on the team, but is a strong candidate this season, and was invited to the Canadian summer camp. Despite this though, Johnson was always among the top defensemen in the QMJHL in all statistical categories. Johnson is the Jackets premier defensive prospect, now that Rostislav Klesla has a few seasons under his belt. Johnson has some offensive upside, but as the competition gets stiffer, we’ll see Johnson play a stronger defensive game instead of worrying about the other end of the ice. Johnson should start the year in the AHL with the Crunch, he’s ready for it.
#5 – Shane Bendera – G – Kelowna Rockets (Last Year’s Rank – #2)
Shane Bendera fell from the #2 position to the #5 position not because he had a bad year, but because he simply didn’t improve as much as other players. Bendera still had a very good year after being shipped from the Red Deer Rebels to the Rockets, received strong consideration for the Canadian Junior Team, and even managed to take the Rockets deep into the playoffs, playing similar hockey to the previous season which he backstopped the Rebels to the Memorial Cup Championship. Next season bodes a lot of interest and mystery for Bendera, who will likely go to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. However, if Leclaire should be there at the beginning of the year, Bendera won’t likely accompany Pascal. Bendera will likely end up with Dayton of the ECHL with stints in the AHL, and possibly the NHL.
#4 – Tim Jackman – RW – Minnesota State University (Last Year’s Rank – #10)
Tim Jackman is one of few Blue Jackets prospects playing college hockey in the United States. However, this certainly has not been a liability for Jackman, who is learning his trade while getting an education. In the prospects camp recently held by the Jackets, Jackman was considered one of the biggest standouts, especially with his puck handling skills. Jackman, similar to Nash and McLeod, also has good size to him, standing in at 6’3. When he uses his body, he can be a very effective player down low, and gritty in his own end. Jackman will get a serious look to make the big club this year, but the odds are that Jackman will want to return to Minnesota to complete his education before he begins an NHL career.
#3 – Kiel McLeod – C – Kelowna Rockets (Last Year’s Rank – #3)
Kiel McLeod had a difficult season with Kelowna to say the least. He only managed to play in 41 games while battling several injuries, most noticeably a strained groin muscle. Despite this, however, McLeod’s upside is huge. McLeod himself is huge. Standing in at 6’5, when McLeod fills into his frame, he will be a force. Once McLeod fills his frame, he will have the size and the strength, not to mention the offensive touch, to become one of the games top power players down the middle. Should McLeod get the chance to center Rick Nash in the future, Columbus fans would be watching what could possibly be the most dominating line physically and offensively in the league.
#2 – Pascal Leclaire – G – Montreal Rocket (Last Year’s Rank – #1)
Pascal Leclaire was arguably the top goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League. The French-Canadian tender backstopped Canada’s World Junior Team to a silver medal in early January, and was named the tournament’s top goalkeeper. He will be moving on next season. The near-future for Pascal should be very interesting, with the backup position to another French-Canadian, Marc Denis, being vacant. Leclaire will either spend the season in the AHL with their farm affiliate the Syracuse Crunch, or riding the pine behind Marc Denis. He would benefit much more with JF Labbe in Syracuse, with MacLean picking up a backup goaltender on the free agent market.
#1 – Rick Nash – RW – London Knights (Last Year’s Rank – NR)
Everyone knows the story on Rick Nash. The Brampton native was a consensus top 3 pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, but Jackets General Manager Doug MacLean decided to make him the first overall selection, over the likes of Jay Bouwmeester and Kari Lehtonen. Nash’s size and ability to dominate with the puck is phenomenal, and his mental game is just as tough. The thought of Nash being able to step right in a la Ilya Kovalchuk is a touch unfair, since his style of play is significantly different. Nash will have a much more difficult time adjusting to the physical game and not being able to overpower his opponents at an NHL level. Nonetheless, the potential of Rick Nash developing into a dominant power forward in the NHL is what Columbus will be banking on.
Jeff Parzych contributed to this report.