The Syracuse Crunch, Columbus’ American Hockey League affiliate,
twenty games in to the 2003-04 season and despite a defensive corps ravaged
due to injuries on the parent Blue Jackets, the Crunch
right in the thick of things in the AHL’s North Division race.
The fact that Syracuse has remained competitive is testament to
Columbus’ prospects currently skating for the Crunch. It is a group
any first round selections outside of goaltender Pascal Leclaire, but one
still should graduate its share of players in the upcoming years.
Pascal Leclaire, Goaltender, Columbus’ first selection, 8th
the 2001 Entry Draft
What a difference a year makes. One AHL beat writer summed
best when he stated that last season Leclaire may have had trouble
a beach ball. However blunt that statement may be, it wasn’t far from
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
Under the tutelage of goaltending coach Rick Wamsley, who frequently
Syracuse to work with the young netminder, Leclaire’s technique has
caught up with his confidence level and it shows in his numbers.
the World Junior Championships in 2001-02, Leclaire has never posted a
against average below 3.00. This year he checks in at a very
2.41 after 12 games played. The key for Leclaire now is consistency.
does over the course of an entire season will be his true measuring
Karl Goehring, Goaltender, Signed as a free agent by Columbus on
After basically stealing the number one job from Pascal Leclaire
season, Goehring has been overshadowed somewhat by Leclaire’s early
success. That doesn’t mean this diminutive netminder has performed
however. His win-loss record may not be that appealing, but his 2.36
against average and his .921 save percentage are solid.
Goehring also displays many of the traits that make for a perfect
and never was that more evident than this past Friday in Syracuse.
watching Leclaire surrender three goals on five shots, Goehring was
to stop the bleeding. He ended up recording 23 saves on 24 shots and
major part of Syracuse’s 5-4 come from behind win.
Aaron Johnson, Defenseman, Columbus’ fourth pick, 85th overall in
2001 Entry Draft
After watching Rusty Klesla, Rick Nash, and now
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
sore Crunch fans eyes. Johnson is the real deal. He bolted right out of
gates with points in three out of his first five professional contests
hasn’t looked back since.
The rookie blueliner has made a seamless transition to the
game with his trademark up-ice rushes to go along with a very
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
losing two more bodies from their already decimated defensive corps. It
probably be just a “carrot and stick” type promotion that works
Columbus. In the short term they plug another hole on their blueline
they also give Johnson a taste of the good life so he remains motivated
on the right track.
Andrej Nedorost, Left Wing, Columbus’ 10th pick, 286th overall, in
2000 Entry Draft
Nedorost remains an enigma for the Jackets. Vastly talented,
widely known for playing better with the Jackets than with the Crunch
this year is no exception. After breaking camp with Columbus, he
nine games, recording two goals and flashed signs of bringing his game
the next level.
Since that time he as appeared in eight games in Syracuse and is
looking for his first goal. His play remains inconsistent and his lack
scoring is amplified by the Crunch’s need for some offensive firepower.
All of this leaves Nedorost in a catch-22 situation. He obviously
better with better talent, but his sub-par play at the minor-league
makes it very difficult for the Jackets to summon him when needed. That
why Nedorost is often subject to long stints away from the big club and
may be facing that same scenario once again.
Tim Jackman, Right Wing, Columbus’ second selection, 38th overall,
the 2001 Entry Draft
The Jackets have to be pleased with Jackman’s progress since
back in 2001. Last season, his rookie year in the AHL, Jackman
times, but that was expected after his exit from MSU-Mankato after only
seasons. He finished the year with a respectable nine goals, seven
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
year and has also registered five goals in just twenty games. The sky
the limit for this young power forward and if he continues to improve
current rate he should join the already impressive group of young
that Columbus continues to stockpile.
Ben Knopp, Right Wing, Columbus’ second selection, 69th overall in
2000 Entry Draft
After a rather disappointing rookie season as a professional, Knopp
one of the few surprises in Columbus’ training camp. He came into camp
possibly the best shape of his young career after spending a good
the summer in Columbus working out under the guidance of the Jacket
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
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,
After last season, an injury-plagued campaign for Moran; Columbus
opted to let the then free agent sign elsewhere. Boy, are fans in
glad they didn’t. Moran has arguably been the best player for the
After surgery to repair a sports hernia, Moran is healthy
and it shows in the gaudy numbers he has posted so far. In just 20
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
Motzko may be somewhat of a sleeper as far as prospects are
After being passed over in the draft, Motzko auditioned in Syracuse to
out last season and was offered a contract by Columbus in the offseason.
Like the aforementioned Brad Moran, Motzko also plays in every
for the Crunch, which is surprising for a rookie. Motzko has also shown
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
Sloan, at Columbus’ request, officially made the switch to forward
defense in training camp. Sloan has embraced the move and he is
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
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
bodies inevitably arrives once Columbus gets healthy.
Mike Pandolfo, Left Wing, Rights acquired in a trade with Buffalo
2002 Entry Draft.
Pandolfo, the Crunch’s other power forward prospect along with Tim
Jackman, has progressed some what slower than his second-year
but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like Ben Knopp, Pandolfo also
extremely hard in the offseason, especially on his skating, and the
are extremely evident.
Maybe it is size (6’3”, 226 lbs.) or his bloodlines (Brother Jay
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
this season have been decent and he displays a real willingness to
which should lead to greater success in the future.