Blue Jackets AHL prospect update

By Jeff Parzych

The Syracuse Crunch, Columbus’ American Hockey League affiliate,
are
twenty games in to the 2003-04 season and despite a defensive corps ravaged
due to injuries on the parent Blue Jackets, the Crunch
are
right in the thick of things in the AHL’s North Division race.

The fact that Syracuse has remained competitive is testament to
many of
Columbus’ prospects currently skating for the Crunch. It is a group
void of
any first round selections outside of goaltender Pascal Leclaire, but one
that
still should graduate its share of players in the upcoming years.

Pascal Leclaire, Goaltender, Columbus’ first selection, 8th
overall in
the 2001 Entry Draft

What a difference a year makes. One AHL beat writer summed
it up
best when he stated that last season Leclaire may have had trouble
stopping
a beach ball. However blunt that statement may be, it wasn’t far from
the
truth.

Leclaire struggled mightily in his rookie season, a year in which he
admits he may not have prepared properly for. All that is behind him
now.
Under the tutelage of goaltending coach Rick Wamsley, who frequently
visits
Syracuse to work with the young netminder, Leclaire’s technique has
finally
caught up with his confidence level and it shows in his numbers.
Outside of
the World Junior Championships in 2001-02, Leclaire has never posted a
goals
against average below 3.00. This year he checks in at a very
respectable
2.41 after 12 games played. The key for Leclaire now is consistency.
What he
does over the course of an entire season will be his true measuring
stick.

Karl Goehring, Goaltender, Signed as a free agent by Columbus on
May
7, 2001

After basically stealing the number one job from Pascal Leclaire
last
season, Goehring has been overshadowed somewhat by Leclaire’s early
season
success. That doesn’t mean this diminutive netminder has performed
poorly
however. His win-loss record may not be that appealing, but his 2.36
goals
against average and his .921 save percentage are solid.

Goehring also displays many of the traits that make for a perfect
back-up
and never was that more evident than this past Friday in Syracuse.
After
watching Leclaire surrender three goals on five shots, Goehring was
summoned
to stop the bleeding. He ended up recording 23 saves on 24 shots and
was a
major part of Syracuse’s 5-4 come from behind win.

Aaron Johnson, Defenseman, Columbus’ fourth pick, 85th overall in
the
2001 Entry Draft

After watching Rusty Klesla, Rick Nash, and now
Nikolai
Zherdev
all bypass the AHL and head right to the big stage, seeing
a legitimate prospect like Aaron Johnson don a Syracuse sweater is a
sight for
sore Crunch fans eyes. Johnson is the real deal. He bolted right out of
the
gates with points in three out of his first five professional contests
and
hasn’t looked back since.

The rookie blueliner has made a seamless transition to the
professional
game with his trademark up-ice rushes to go along with a very
underrated
nasty streak. Combine his obvious talents with his personality and the Jackets have a real star in the making.

Columbus now must decide just how quickly they want to bring Johnson
along. They were forced this past week to beckon Johnson from Syracuse
after
losing two more bodies from their already decimated defensive corps. It
will
probably be just a “carrot and stick” type promotion that works
two-fold for
Columbus. In the short term they plug another hole on their blueline
plus
they also give Johnson a taste of the good life so he remains motivated
and
on the right track.

Andrej Nedorost, Left Wing, Columbus’ 10th pick, 286th overall, in
the
2000 Entry Draft

Nedorost remains an enigma for the Jackets. Vastly talented,
Nedorost is
widely known for playing better with the Jackets than with the Crunch
and
this year is no exception. After breaking camp with Columbus, he
appeared in
nine games, recording two goals and flashed signs of bringing his game
to
the next level.

Since that time he as appeared in eight games in Syracuse and is
still
looking for his first goal. His play remains inconsistent and his lack
of
scoring is amplified by the Crunch’s need for some offensive firepower.

All of this leaves Nedorost in a catch-22 situation. He obviously
plays
better with better talent, but his sub-par play at the minor-league
level
makes it very difficult for the Jackets to summon him when needed. That
is
why Nedorost is often subject to long stints away from the big club and
he
may be facing that same scenario once again.

Tim Jackman, Right Wing, Columbus’ second selection, 38th overall,
in
the 2001 Entry Draft

The Jackets have to be pleased with Jackman’s progress since
drafting him
back in 2001. Last season, his rookie year in the AHL, Jackman
struggled at
times, but that was expected after his exit from MSU-Mankato after only
two
seasons. He finished the year with a respectable nine goals, seven
assists,
to go along with 48 penalty minutes.

Flash forward to the present and Jackman continues to improve on an
almost daily basis. Jackman has already matched his assist total from
last
year and has also registered five goals in just twenty games. The sky
may be
the limit for this young power forward and if he continues to improve
at his
current rate he should join the already impressive group of young
players
that Columbus continues to stockpile.

Ben Knopp, Right Wing, Columbus’ second selection, 69th overall in
the
2000 Entry Draft

After a rather disappointing rookie season as a professional, Knopp
was
one of the few surprises in Columbus’ training camp. He came into camp
in
possibly the best shape of his young career after spending a good
portion of
the summer in Columbus working out under the guidance of the Jacket
staff.

That training paid immediate dividends as Knopp impressed in his
appearances with Columbus in the preseason and was also a standout in
Syracuse’s exhibition season. Unfortunately for Knopp, success has been
harder to find in the regular season. He has only recorded two points
(1 goal, 1 assist) in 19 games, but Knopp is still contributing in different
areas. He
has worked extremely hard on his overall game and that has shown in his
strong play away from the puck and also on the forecheck.

Brad Moran, Center, Signed as a free-agent by Columbus on June 5,
2000.

After last season, an injury-plagued campaign for Moran; Columbus
almost
opted to let the then free agent sign elsewhere. Boy, are fans in
Syracuse
glad they didn’t. Moran has arguably been the best player for the
Crunch
this season.

After surgery to repair a sports hernia, Moran is healthy
again
and it shows in the gaudy numbers he has posted so far. In just 20
games,
Moran already has 7 goals to go along with 10 assists. He plays in all
situations on the ice and is also a key faceoff man for the Crunch. If
Moran continues to produce he can almost guarantee a look from the
Jackets at some point this season.

Joe Motzko, Right Wing, Signed as a free agent by Columbus on May
15,
2003.

Motzko may be somewhat of a sleeper as far as prospects are
concerned.
After being passed over in the draft, Motzko auditioned in Syracuse to
close
out last season and was offered a contract by Columbus in the offseason.

Like the aforementioned Brad Moran, Motzko also plays in every
situation
for the Crunch, which is surprising for a rookie. Motzko has also shown
a
knack on the offensive end and is on pace for a 40-point season,
astounding numbers for a first-year forward. He is definitely someone
to keep an eye on.

Tyler Sloan, Left Wing, Signed as a free agent by Columbus on
September
24, 2000.

Sloan, at Columbus’ request, officially made the switch to forward
from
defense in training camp. Sloan has embraced the move and he is
beginning to
show signs of becoming a decent checking line forward.

He also has proven to be very valuable to the Crunch because of his
versatility. With the rash of call-ups by Columbus, the Crunch were
forced
to slide Sloan back to the blueline on more than one occasion. Sloan’s
ability to be multi-faceted may bode well down the road when the influx
of
bodies inevitably arrives once Columbus gets healthy.

Mike Pandolfo, Left Wing, Rights acquired in a trade with Buffalo
at the
2002 Entry Draft.

Pandolfo, the Crunch’s other power forward prospect along with Tim
Jackman, has progressed some what slower than his second-year
counterpart,
but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like Ben Knopp, Pandolfo also
worked
extremely hard in the offseason, especially on his skating, and the
results
are extremely evident.

Maybe it is size (6’3”, 226 lbs.) or his bloodlines (Brother Jay
plays
for the New Jersey Devils), but it just seems like Pandolfo has more to
offer and he is struggling to find his niche. On the other hand his
numbers
this season have been decent and he displays a real willingness to
improve,
which should lead to greater success in the future.