Blue Jackets: Top 20 reranked

By Aaron Vickers

Another year has passed, and the Columbus Blue Jackets organization is
a year
older, a year wiser, and a year stronger. A deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft
was
certainly kind to the future of the Blue Jackets, as the likes of
Nikolai
Zherdev and Danny Fritsche were added to the fold. A new hockey season
begs new
expectations, new projections and new rankings.

New rankings for Columbus Blue Jacket prospects means taking a deeper
look at
each player, not only at what they’ve accomplished statistically in the
last
calendar year, but what they are capable of now, the near future, and
beyond.

1. Nikolai
Zherdev

Birthdate: 11/05/1984
Position: RW
Height: 6’1
Weight: 186
2002-03 Club: HC CSKA (RSL)

If there’s anything left to discuss about Nikolai Zherdev, it is his
contract
situation. The crafty sniper apparently has clearance from every institution in hockey
to come across the ocean to play in North America, that is, except his
club
team, HC CSKA. It has been made evident that General Manager and Head
Coach
Doug MacLean has strong desires of bringing Zherdev across the ocean,
and it
appears that Zherdev himself echos the sentiment.

What would Zherdev bring to the line-up in Columbus? The fourth overall
selection
in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft would immediately be another offensive
threat on
whichever line he was placed on. Despite being a teenager, the
offensive
tools in the arsenal of Nikolai are impressive. His stickhandling
ability,
speed and vision make him a threat whenever the puck is in the
opposition’s
end.


2. Pascal
Leclaire

Birthdate: 11/07/1982
Position: G
Height: 6’2
Weight: 190
2002-03 Club: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)

Just as the name Nikolai Zherdev may very well strike fear in opposing
goaltenders, Jacket goaltending prospect Pascal Leclaire has the
potential to
do the same to opposing snipers. Leclaire, the Jackets eighth
selection overall in the 2001 Entry Draft, has the potential to be the
Columbus
Blue Jackets starting goalie somewhere down the road. In fact, it was
perceived
that current Blue Jackets goaltender Marc Denis was merely
‘keeping the
position warm’ until Leclaire was ready. While this may not exactly be
the case
anymore with the emergence of Denis as a strong force between the posts
for
Columbus, it doesn’t diminish Leclaire’s ability or potential.

Although the 2002-03 season wasn’t particularly kind to Pascal
Leclaire, who
posted an unhealthy goals against average of 3.56, coupled with an
equally
unimpressive .890 save percentage, there is reason to keep an eye on
this young
goaltender. As the 2002-03 season closed out for the Syracuse Crunch,
Leclaire
tampered a touch with his goaltending equipment, opting to use longer
pads.
Will his late season success be transferred to the 2003-04 season?


3. Danny
Fritsche

Birthdate: 07/13/1985
Position: C
Height: 6’1
Weight: 198
2002-03 Club: Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Heading into the
2003 NHL Entry Draft, Danny Fritsche was projected as a sure-fire first
round selection. Being ranked 10th among North American
skaters in
what was described as a weak year for European talent, should’ve almost
certainly guaranteed Fritsche being selected among the first thirty
names. He fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets at 46th overall.

Despite
suffering
two shoulder injuries with the Sarnia Sting in 2001-02, the physical
aspect of
Fritsche’s game did not diminish in 2002-03. Fritsche, who prides
himself on
playing in the mould of modern power-forwards, immediately becomes the
top
forward prospect in the organization, behind Zherdev, and the club’s
best hope
at a future No. 1 middle-man.


4. Aaron
Johnson

Birthdate: 04/30/1983
Position: D
Height: 6’2
Weight: 197
2002-03 Club: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

The
No. 4 prospect
position among the Jackets Top Twenty is the top defenseman
prospect
in the organization, Aaron Johnson.
Johnson, who signed his first professional contract in
the offseason, will begin his 2003-04 season with the Syracuse Crunch.
After
choosing not to sign fellow defensive prospect Cole Jarrett,
General
Manager and Head Coach Doug MacLean made sure he was able to preserve a
spot on
the Syracuse Crunch for this offensive defenseman.

Johnson,
who finished up his junior hockey career with the
Quebec Remparts after being dealt from the Rimouski Oceanic, was twice
named to
the Canadian Junior Selection Camp, only to fall shy of joining the
2002 and
2003 clubs. He will push his hockey career further, as he is currently
attending the Columbus Blue Jackets rookie camp.

5. Joakim
Lindstrom

Birthdate: 12/05/1983
Position: C
Height: 6’0
Weight: 197
2002-03 Club: MoDo (SEL)

Joakim Lindstrom, the Columbus Blue Jackets second
round selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft becomes the highest ranked
Swedish-born player to make the Columbus Top Twenty list.

Despite having an
absolute trying season with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League, Lindstrom
still possesses the potential that made him the 41st
selection in
the 2002 Entry Draft. His season was cut short due to a shoulder
injury.
Despite this injury, Lindstrom was able to put up similar numbers to
his
2001-02 season, playing in nearly a dozen less games in 2002-03. 

Lindstrom
is a very
versatile forward whose ability to adapt from wing to center is a
certain
asset. His offensive skills often go unrecognized in the lower scoring
Swedish
Elite League. Joakim has strong playmaking skills, and will not shy
away from
traffic. It is characteristics such as these that have the Columbus
Blue
Jackets organization high on their Swedish selection.

6. Andrej
Nedorost

Birthdate: 04/30/1980
Position: LW
Height: 6’1
Weight: 190
2002-03 Club: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
 

Quite possibly the
most NHL-ready prospect, the eighth to last selection in the 2000
NHL
Entry Draft checks in as Columbus’ No. 6 prospect. Often called the most talented player on the
Syracuse
Crunch, Andrej Nedorost is merely a heartbeat away from cracking the
Columbus
Blue Jackets roster, and expectations are that he will manage to do so
this
season. After seeing action in 12 games with Columbus last season,
management
should be expecting a strong camp from Nedorost, especially with
positions open
on the second, third, and fourth lines in
Columbus.

Arguably the most NHL-ready prospect in the
organization
along with Nikolai Zherdev, Nedorost’s strengths are in his offense.
Despite
not putting up overwhelming offensive numbers in Syracuse of the AHL,
the soft
hands of Andrej would be best utilized in a scoring fashion on the Blue
Jackets
roster. Whether or not he’ll be given the opportunity to play on a
scoring
line, or even on the big club at all remains to be seen as training
camp edges
closer and closer.


7. Dimitri
Kosmachev

Birthdate: 06/07/1985
Position: D
Height: 6’3
Weight: 205
2002-03 Club: HC CSKA (RSL)

The second of three Russian-born Blue Jacket
prospects cracks the Columbus Top
Twenty list with Nizhni-Novgorod native Dimitri Kosmachev.

Kosmachev, the
Columbus Blue Jackets third selection, 71st overall
in the
2003 NHL Entry Draft, brings a strong defensive presence to the future
blueline
in Columbus. In fact, Kosmachev immediately becomes the Blue Jackets
top
defensive defenseman prospect. The 18-year-old already possesses
massive size,
and a mental game to match. Kosmachev plays the game like a veteran,
not a
teenager, and that may have been the biggest attraction for Head Coach
and
General Manager Doug MacLean.

Do not expect
Kosmachev to make the trip across the ocean to participate in the Blue
Jackets
selection camp. The best place for Kosmachev is where he is, and that
is under
the guidance of Viktor Tikhonov, head coach of HC CSKA. A few seasons
of
continued development under Tikhonov should prove exceptional for the
young
defenseman, who could develop into a very impressive thir d or fourth
defenseman for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

 

8. Tim
Jackman

Birthdate: 11/14/1981
Position: RW
Height: 6’3
Weight: 201
2002-03 Club: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
 

Another
Syracuse
Crunch member checks in on the Columbus Top Twenty, as former Minnesota
State U
– Mankato forward Tim Jackman is the Blue Jackets No. 8 prospect. After being selected in the second round of the 2001
NHL Entry
Draft, Tim Jackman spent an abbreviated time playing college hockey, and signed a professional contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets before
the 2002-03
season. Jackman began his professional career with the Syracuse
Crunch.

Jackman, who for the first time played more than 37 games in
a season when he played 77 with Syracuse, possesses an impressive
imposing
frame, which compliments his skating and puck ability. Despite being a
few
years away from taking a regular shift with the Columbus Blue Jackets,
there is
a feeling that Tim Jackman could be ready to push for one of the
remaining
spots on the club’s roster.


9. Ole-Kristian
Tollefsen

Birthdate: 03/29/1984
Position: D
Height: 6’2
Weight: 200
2002-03 Club: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

The
only prospect in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization
who hails from Norway owns the distinction of cracking the Columbus
Top
Twenty, breaking through as the No. 9 prospect for the club.

If anyone had a
trying season in 2002-03, it had to have been Brandon Wheat King
defenseman
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. After coming across the ocean from Lillehammer
to play
in the Western Hockey League, Tollefsen managed to play in a meagre 43
games
with the Wheat Kings. Despite suffering several injuries, which include
a
lacerated forearm, whiplash, a concussion, a separated shoulder, a
bruised hand
and more, Tollefsen still managed to put up twenty points while skating
a
regular shift, as well as seeing time on both the powerplay and penalty
kill.

Tollefsen’s strength
lies in his size and patience from the back end. As a 19-year-old, he
is likely
to increase in size, despite already standing at 6’2”. Tollefsen uses
his frame
effectively, known as a very gritty stay at home blueliner who
possesses some
offensive tools, such as an excellent outlet pass out of his own end.
Much like
Dimitri Kosmachev, Tollefsen has the potential to develop into an
important
defenseman on the Jackets blueline.


10. Ivan
Tkachenko

Birthdate: 11/09/1979
Position: LW
Height: 5’10
Weight: 183
2002-03 Club: Yaroslavl (RSL)

The final Russian in
the Columbus Top Twenty owns the claim as a ‘top ten’ prospect in the Blue Jackets organization. He also happens to be the oldest player to make
the list.

Some may have been
surprised when the Columbus Blue Jackets used their fourth round
selection in
the 2002 NHL Entry Draft to select a 5’10” Russian forward that was
closing in
on his 23rd birthday at the time of the draft. General
Manager and
Head Coach Doug MacLean, however, saw Ivan Tkachenko as much more than
an
undersized, overaged Russian.

MacLean
realized
what he had on his hands with the selection of Ivan Tkachenko. His
explosive
skating combined with a high level of agility makes Tkachenko a
spark-plug
whenever he’s on the ice. Although undersized and lacking the strength
of an
NHL regular, Tkachenko’s speed is rivalled only by his smooth set of
hands. The
only question remains if and when Tkachenko will come across to play
hockey in
North America.

11. Arsi
Piispanen

Birthdate: 07/23/1985
Position: RW
Height: 6’3
Weight: 163
2002-03 Club: Jokerit Jr (FIN Jr)

The
highest ranked
Finnish player checks in as the organization’s No. 11 prospect. Arsi Piispanen has
the potential to play on the top two lines for Columbus. This, however,
isn’t
expected of him for quite some time. Drafted in the 5th
round, 138th
overall, Piispanen stands at an imposing 6’3”, and a less than
intimidating 163
pounds. Despite this, though, Piispanen doesn’t shy away from opponents
at all.
In fact, Piispanen’s combination of soft hands and aggressive nature
allow him
to seemingly go right through defenders.

12. Tim
Konsorada


Birthdate: 03/21/1984
Position: RW
Height: 6’1
Weight: 208
2002-03 Club: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

The
second of two
Brandon Wheat King players, Tim Konsorada managed to establish himself
as a
member of the Columbus Top Twenty. Konsorada, who
began the season as a relative unknown in the Blue Jackets
organization, burst
onto the scene with an incredible first month for the Wheat Kings, and
didn’t
look back. In fact, Konsorada had such a strong season in Brandon, he
was named
to the Canadian Junior Team Summer Evaluation Camp, certainly a special
distinction, the only Columbus Blue Jackets prospect to do so.
Konsorada’s
versatility also shone through this season, as he excelled in every
niche he
was placed, from penalty killing, to quarterbacking the Wheat King
powerplay
from the blueline.

Columbus’
first
collegiate athlete bursts through on the list, as Greg Mauldin is
ranked as the
Blue Jackets 13th best prospect.

13. Greg
Mauldin


Birthdate: 06/10/1982
Position: C
Height: 5’11
Weight: 180
2002-03 Club: UMass-Amherst (HEA)

Greg Mauldin, a 6th
round selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, is on his way to becoming
one of
the premier centermen in college hockey. His skating and puckhandling
ability
make him a threat whenever he hops over the boards and onto the ice.
Leading
UMass in scoring for the second consecutive season, the runner up for
Hockey
East’s All-Star team will only garner more and more consideration as an
elite
prospect as he continues to round out his game.

The
only remaining
member of the QMJHL to make the list is Phillipe Dupuis, who manages to
do so
as the No. 14 prospect.

14. Philippe
Dupuis

Birthdate: 07/13/1985
Position: C
Height: 6’0
Weight: 192
2002-03 Club: Hull Olympiques (QMJHL)


The Central Scouting
Bureau, who placed Philippe 56th among North American skaters, was
selected as
the 104th pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. In fact, it appears that
Dupuis, a
fourth rounder, could be another steal for General Manager and Head
Coach Doug
MacLean and his scouting staff. Dupuis, a big body, plays with a feisty
edge,
complimented by his strong skating ability. 2003-04 should be an
interesting
season, especially if Philippe can regain his form from two seasons
ago, when
he almost single-handedly lead Hull through the first two rounds of the
playoffs, before being eliminated.

The
only Swiss prospect in the Columbus Blue Jackets
organization, Raffaele Sannitz, checks in on the Columbus Top Twenty.

15. Raffaele
Sannitz

Birthdate: 05/18/1983
Position: C
Height: 6’1
Weight: 183
2002-03 Club: Lugano (LNSw)

The 2002-03 season
was not kind to the shoulders of Columbus Blue Jacket prospects, and
Swiss
prospect Raffaele Sannitz is no exception. Suffering a separated
shoulder just
before the 2003 World Junior Championships kept Sannitz watching from
the
bleachers, something that didn’t sit well with the 7th round
draft
selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Almost completely healed now,
Sannitz
can focus on centering Lugano’s first line in preseason action. The
2003-04
LNSw season could belong to Lugano and Raffaele Sannitz, as long as he
is able
to stay healthy.

A Junior from
Harvard, center Tyler Kolarik manages to get his name listed on the
Columbus
Top Twenty.

16. Tyler
Kolarik

Birthdate: 01/26/1983
Position: C
Height: 5’10
Weight: 185
2002-03 Club: Harvard (ECAC)

Tyler Kolarik, an
undersized 5th round selection from the 2000 NHL Entry
Draft, is a
goal-scorer stuck with the ability of a grinder. By this, Kolarik has
good
potential to someday reach the NHL in a checking role, but has also
shown his
ability to put the puck in the net with his sporadic scoring touch.
Just as
injuries shook the likes of Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Raffaele Sannitz
and
others, Kolarik’s season was all but a healthy one, missing over ten
games for
Harvard. Described as being an extremely hard worker with a great shot
and a
clutch performer, Kolarik’s size may be the factor holding him back. 

The first and only
Czech to make the Columbus Top Twenty list is Jaroslav Balastik, who
checks in
as the Columbus Blue Jacket organization’s No. 18.

17. Jaroslav
Balastik

Birthdate: 11/28/1979
Position: RW
Height: 6’0
Weight: 198
2002-03 Club: Zlin ZPS HC (Czech)

Jaroslav Balastik,
who was selected as a 22-year-old in the 6th round of the
2002 NHL
Entry Draft. Balastik, a native of Uherske Hradiste, was brought into
the
organization with hopes that he would join the Columbus Blue Jackets
immediately.
Although he remains across the ocean, there is still hope from the
organization
that Columbus Blue Jacket fans will see Jaroslav in the familiar navy
blue in
the near future.

Another Finnish player sees his
name go on the Columbus Top Twenty
list, as Janne Jokila breaks through as the No. 18 prospect in the
Columbus Blue Jackets organization.

18. Janne
Jokila


Birthdate: 04/22/1982
Position: LW
Height: 5’9
Weight: 180
2002-03 Club: River City Lancers(USHL)


Janne Jokila, who just recently signed a contract with the Syracuse
Crunch, has quick feet, matched only by how fast he can move his hands
when stickhandling down the ice. In fact, he’s impressed many with his
lethal combination. His size, however, leaves something to be desired.
Standing at 5’9″, Jokila will never be mistaken for Tim Jackman on the
ice. Whether or not size is going to be an issue for Jokila as he makes
his professional debut this season with the Syracuse Crunch in 2003-04.

The Columbus Blue
Jackets No. 19 prospect was the only to spend last season in a Junior A
league,
as Kevin Jarman gets ready to move from Stouffville of the OPJRA to
life on
campus.

19.  Kevin
Jarman

Birthdate: 03/12/1985
Position: LW
Height: 6’0
Weight: 184
2002-03 Club: Stouffville (OPJRA)

Kevin Jarman, who
has signed a letter of intent to play alongside Greg Mauldin at U-Mass
Amherst,
was made the 103rd overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry
Draft.
Ranked 99th among North American prospects by the Central
Scouting
Bureau, Jarman possesses strong offensive skills, highlighted by his 43
goals
in 46 games, and complimenting 36 other goals for a total of 79 points.
How
these skills translate onto the college scene, remains to be seen.

Rounding out the
Columbus Blue Jackets Top Twenty List is another collegiate, with
Latvian
Jekabs Redlihs ranked No. 20.

20. Jekabs
Redlihs

Birthdate: 03/29/1982
Position: D
Height: 6’2
Weight: 185
2002-03 Club: Boston University (ECAC)

Columbus 4th round selection in the
2002 NHL Entry Draft saw the
selection of Jekabs Redlihs, who after playing one season in the EJHL
with NY
Apple Core, made a very successful jump to college hockey with Boston
University. In fact, the defenseman’s first season was so successful,
Redlihs
was named to Hockey East’s 2002-03 All Rookie Team. Jekabs, who is a
strong
contributor at both ends of the ice, is a solid skater and very able at
moving
the puck. All these attributes, if developed further, could lead him to
becoming a strong powerplay quarterback, something that the Columbus
Blue
Jackets could use in the future.

Recap of Ranking
1. Nikolai Zherdev
2. Pascal Leclaire
3. Danny Fritsche
4. Aaron Johnson
5. Joakim Lindstrom
6. Andrej Nedorost
7. Dimitri Kosmachev
8. Tim Jackman
9. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen
10. Ivan Tkachenko
11. Arsi Piispanen
12. Tim Konsorada
13. Greg Maudlin
14. Philippe Dupuis
15. Raffaele Sannitz
16. Tyler Kolarik
17. Jaroslav Balastik
18. Janne Jokila
19. Kevin Jarman
20. Jekabs Redlihs

Questions or Comments? Feel free to visit
the Columbus
Blue Jackets Message Board.