Expectations into hype. Hype into delivery. Delivery. The one word that describes perfectly what rookie forward Rick Nash has done this season. As an 18 year old, Rick Nash signed his first professional contract, and weeks later he was in training camp with the likes of Ray Whitney, Marc Denis and Rostislav Klesla. The following weeks, he was dressed in the Columbus Blue Jackets line-up. Months later, he was playing in his 41st NHL game, moving him from the ‘Prospects List’ at Hockeysfuture.com, and placing him under the ‘Graduating’ category, joining the likes of the aforementioned Klesla, Derrick Walser, and others.
With the graduation of Rick Nash, a new top 10 prospects have been crowned. Unveiled are the new top ten prospects in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization:
1. Pascal Leclaire – Goaltender – Syracuse Crunch(AHL)
Leclaire is currently participating in his first professional season with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. While there is no denying that he has struggled adjusting to the professional game, his upside remains what it is, and that is a franchise goaltender. Ranked #36 on Hockey Future’s Top 50 Prospect List, Leclaire has the raw talents to battle through his inconsistent play. The French-Canadian goaltender has played 1437 minutes this season in 28 games, with a poor 5-16-3 record with a 3.59 GAA and a .886 GAA. With the emergence of Karl Goehring on the farm, Leclaire will be required to play with much more passion and consistency to not see his minutes dwindle.
2. Kiel McLeod – Forward – Kelowna Rockets(WHL)
Currently in what is being described as ‘negotiations’ with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization with the goal of his first ever professional contract, McLeod has been terrorizing the Western Hockey League. Asking for what has been described as a higher payout then that received by fellow 2001 draftee Tim Jackman despite being selected after Jackman, the agent for McLeod and General Manager Doug MacLean has been at odds off the ice. On the ice, however, McLeod cannot do wrong it seems. Through 54 games, McLeod has registered 64 points (29-35-64) while being +23 and 138 penalty minutes.
3. Andrej Nedorost – Forward – Syracuse Crunch(AHL)
The 2002-2003 season was Andrej Nedorost’s 2nd in North America, and 2nd with the Syracuse Crunch. Acquired with the Jackets 10th pick, 286th overall in 2000, they did not expect to find such a diamond in the rough. Nedorost is currently one of the Crunch’s most popular players, and is one of the teams’ most productive scorers as well. He is third in scoring with 25 points (10-15-25) playing in 43 games. Amongst fans, he is almost the unanimous decision for a call-up if/whenever someone from the top two lines goes down with an injury. Although this season was projected to be one in which the Trencin, Slovakia native would break through with the big club, look for him to make his impact next season.
4. Tim Jackman – Forward – Syracuse Crunch(AHL)
Another member of the Syracuse Crunch makes an appearance on the new Top 10 Prospects List, which is encouraging for Jacket fans – help is on the way. Jackman, selected early in the 2nd round of the 2001 Entry Draft, left MSU-Mankato where he was playing in the WCHA, to turn professional. Jackman, who stands 6’3 on a 190lb frame, has played in 51 games for the Crunch, the most on the club. Jumping from college hockey to professional hockey lends itself to a longer schedule, yet Jackman has yet to show signs of wearing out. Through his 51 games, Jackman has registered 12 points (7-5-12). His point totals may look insignificant, but Tim still needs time to round out his professional game.
5. Aaron Johnson – Defenseman – Quebec Remparts(QMJHL)
The only Columbus Blue Jackets prospect in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Aaron Johnson is simply the best defenseman in the system today. Johnson was dealt halfway through the season from the Rimouski Oceanic to the Quebec Remparts, where he’s been able to elevate his game around more skilled teammates. The previous two seasons, Johnson had been invited to the Canadian Junior Team Selection Camp, only to fail to make the cut twice. Last season he seemed to use it as motivation, finishing strong with Rimouski. He appears to do be doing the same this season, with the Remparts. Johnson currently sits tied for 3rd in the Q with 44 points (5-39-44) in only 42 games, 17 games fewer than the leader.
6. Tim Konsorada – Forward – Brandon Wheat Kings(WHL)
Tim Konsorada may very well be the diamond in the rough every general manager in the National Hockey League hopes to find in the late rounds of every Entry Draft. Taken with the Jackets 8th pick, 168th overall, Konsorada finished last season in Brandon with 45 points (17-28-45) in 71 games. Already this season, Konsorada has 59 points (21-38-59) in just 58 games. His solid two-way play has earned him both time on the penalty kill and special teams, and is definitely one of the biggest contributors to the successes of the Wheat Kings this year.
7. Shane Bendera – Goaltender – Dayton Bombers(ECHL)
Two years removed from a Memorial Cup victory with the Red Deer Rebels, Shane Bendera finds himself in his first professional season with the Dayton Bombers. Bendera has solidified himself as the starting goaltender in Dayton. With statistics like a .911 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against average, it is a wonder how Bendera only has a 13-15 record, highly indicative of the performance of the team in front of him. Bendera, a native of St Albert, Alberta, will find himself in Dayton for the remainder of the year sans an injury to either Karl Goehring or Pascal Leclaire in Syracuse of the AHL. Although, indicative of the statistics, it isn’t too far fetched that Bendera should already be there.
8. Joakim Lindstrom – Forward – MoDo(SEL)
Joakim is the first non-North American player to crack the top ten list for the Blue Jackets, and the only Columbus prospect to make an appearance at the 2003 World Junior Championships, his second appearance at set games. After starting last season between MoDo’s junior and elite teams, he finds himself up with MoDo consistently this season. Joakim also had the honour of being named to Eliteprospects.com’s Top 100 Swedish Prospects, ranked at #16. Furthermore, he is described by the website as having great offensive skills and vision, who isn’t afraid of the physical aspects of the game.
9. Cole Jarrett – Defenseman – Plymouth Whalers(OHL)
Cole Jarrett is in his 4th season with Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League, and it has been his best both offensively and defensively. Jarrett is a goal shy of having established career highs in all major offensive categories. His defensive play has not struggled as a result, either. Through 55 games this season, Jarrett has 53 points (14-39-53). He has shown his aggressive side this year much more than in recent years, leading the Whalers with 127 penalty minutes. While he doesn’t have the upside of Aaron Johnson, the Jacket organization has to be pleased with his development.
10. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen – Defenseman – Brandon Wheat Kings(WHL)
The 2nd Norwegian in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization (the first being Espen Knutsen), Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was selected 65th in the 2002 Entry Draft. He was welcomed by the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2002 after playing two seasons with Lillehammer in Norway. His adjustment to North American hockey has been a relatively easy one, as Tollefsen plays a relatively similar style as most North American defensemen. Tollefsen plays with a physical edge. In his first Junior season, Tollefsen has been plagued with a variety of injuries from a laceration on his arm to whiplash suffered in a car accident. He’s managed to play in 37 games, registering 17 points (6-11-17).
Questions or comments about the new rankings? Feel free to visit the Columbus Blue Jackets Message Board.