Blue Jackets Top 20 prospects

By Matt MacInnis





1

The 2004 draft may prove to have been a great surge of
talent into the Columbus organization.
Five players from the draft class are in the midseason Top 20 Prospects
for the Blue Jackets, including second-round steal Adam Pineault, who was the only one in the top ten to jump forward
this time (largely due to the return of Nik
Zherdev
to the list). The Blue
Jackets have a number of late round picks who are developing well, and several
high risk, high reward types of prospects who could be major contributors to
the team down the road.

 

 

Top 20 at
a glance

 

1. Nikolai Zherdev (Returning
to list)

2. Pascal Leclaire (No
change)

3. Dan Fritsche (-2)

4. Alexandre Picard (-1)

5. Adam Pineault (+1)

6. Aaron Johnson (-2)

7. Sergei Mozyakin (-2)

8. Ole Kristian Tollefsen
(-1)

9. Joakim Lindstrom (-1)

10. Arsi Piispanen (+1)

11. Kyle Wharton (-2)

12. Tim Konsorada (+4)

13. Tim Jackman (-3)

14. Peter Pohl (+3)

15. Greg Mauldin (-1)

16. Phillippe Dupuis (+3)

17. Trevor Hendrikx (N/A)

18. Dan Lacosta (-6)

19. Lennart Petrell (N/A)

20. Andrei Plekhanov (-5)

 

Falling off the list: Dmitri
Kosmachev (13), Steven Goertzen (18), and Rob Page (20)

 

 

1. Nikolai Zherdev
RW – 4th overall, 2003

 

Zherdev is among a handful of
players who find themselves being placed back onto a Top 20 list with Hockey’s
Future’s recent prospect criteria change.
Zherdev is one of the premier prospects in all of hockey, ranking third
in HF’s Top 50 prospects, making him the obvious choice as the Blue Jackets best. Zherdev is an elite skilled played with
great puck handling and shooting, and has great speed to complement his
talent. He prefers to play with the
puck on his stick and has good playmaking abilities in addition to his sniper
qualities.

 

At the start of the season
Columbus agreed to allow him to go back home to Russia to play during the
lockout instead of playing for the Blue Jackets’ farm team in Syracuse. This year he has been playing with CSKA
Moscow of the Russian SuperLeague (RSL), where he currently second in scoring
behind only Alexander Frolov. In 29
games, Zherdev has 12 goals and 25 points.
Zherdev will certainly be in the NHL when it resumes play, and is
expected to be playing a substantial role with the Blue Jackets at that
time. He is expected to make the
transition from prospect to bona fide star quickly.

 

2. Pascal Leclaire – G – 8th overall, 2001

 

Leclaire has been sharing
duties with veteran AHL goaltender Karl Goehring, each having played in 14
games thus far. Despite having a losing
record (5 wins, 6 losses, and 3 shootout losses), Leclaire is posting solid
individual numbers with a save percentage of .926 and a 2.34 GAA. Both put him roughly in the middle of the
young AHL goaltending pack.

 

Leclaire’s strongest assets
are his lateral movement and his ability to perform under pressure. A butterfly goaltender who is aggressive and
loves to challenge shooters, Leclaire possesses an outstanding glove hand that
makes him very difficult to beat to his left.
Currently playing in his third AHL season, Leclaire will battle Arturs
Irbe (who turns 38 in February) for the backup job behind Marc Denis in
Columbus. Leclaire certainly has the
upside of a No. 1 goaltender, but is going to have to supplant Denis to get a
chance to shine in the NHL.

 

3. Dan Fritsche – C – 46th overall, 2003

 

The speedy American pivot has
dropped from first to third in the Top 20 as a result of Zherdev’s return to
eligibility and his injury problems which have continued this season. Fritsche has played in only two games thus
far with the Sarnia Sting (OHL) as a result of a shoulder injury. Fortunately for Fritsche and the
organization, the injury occurred opposite to his previously more damaged
shoulder. He is currently healthy and
participating in the 2005 World Junior Championships, where he will be a huge
contributor to Team USA as they try to defend the gold medal.

 

Fritsche is a complete player
who does not have a glaring weakness.
With good skating skills and great vision, offensively he is more of a
playmaker than a goal scorer. His physical
two-way play fits in very well with the type of team GM Doug MacLean is trying
to put together, and down the road may be an excellent fit centering Zherdev
and Nash, adding some defensive responsibility to an amazing offensive duo,
while still being able to contribute on the score sheet. Fritsche’s upside is between a first line
player or a good second liner. However,
in the absolutely worst scenario, if his offensive skills don’t translate as
well as projected to professional hockey, his grit, speed, and defensive play,
will make him a good role player.
Fritsche, barring injuries, is going to be an NHLer, but time will tell
how big a role he will play.

 

4. Alexandre Picard – LW – 8th overall, 2004

 

“Pic”, as his Lewiston
teammates call him, started off slowly, giving Blue Jackets fans a scare before
kicking it into high gear and tearing up the QMJHL with linemate and friend Alex Bourret (2005 eligible). Despite missing a few games due to a
concussion this year, and being overlooked for Team Canada’s Selection Camp for
the World Juniors, Picard has 50 points in 34 games, as well as 88 PIM. Despite playing the fewest games for a
player ranked in the top ten in points, Picard is seventh in total points for
the league and third in goals scored.
His +17 rating also puts him in the top ten in the league.

 

Picard has been very fairly compared to
Edmonton’s Ryan Smyth. Picard plays a
physical, two-way game with an edge and is a major factor on the score
sheet. He drives the net hard and
refuses to back down from much larger players.
Picard fights for every puck, winning battles along the boards and
recklessly throwing his body at loose pucks in the open ice. He has good speed and a very good wrist shot
that has a quick release and is very accurate.
The biggest concern with this high draft pick may be that his style of
play is conducive to injuries in the long term. According to GM MacLean, Picard will have every opportunity to
make the Blue Jackets whenever the next NHL season begins.

 

5. Adam Pineault
C/RW – 46th overall, 2004

 

Pineault’s season has been
the opposite of fellow 2004-draftee Picard.
While Picard started slowly before exploding, Pineault burst out of the
gates early in the season before cooling off in late November and December. Pineault began the season playing center,
playing on a line with Steve Bernier
(SJ) and Stephane Goulet (EDM), one
of the most dominant lines in QMJHL.
Although the line occasionally plays a shift together, Pineault has
moved to right wing for the majority of the second half of the season thus
far. He has 18 goals and 32 points so
far with the QMJHL-leading Moncton Wildcats, and will play for Team USA at the
WJC.

 

Pineault plays a fairly
physical game, mixing his booming shot with good size and speed down the wings. He is very adept at finding the open space
and unleashing his wicked slapshot. His
howitzer rarely misses the net and was responsible for the majority of his
goals in his rookie QMJHL campaign. His
play this year has proven to the hockey community that he was a steal in the
second round, and the Blue Jackets organization is ecstatic about being able to
get him at 46th. He is a few
years of development away, but Pineault may be a good second line player down
the road.

 

6. Aaron Johnson – D – 85th
overall, 2001

 

The big Cape Bretoner is
currently playing with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. After 27 games his two goals and nine points
are roughly on par to match his 2003-04 stats in the AHL. However, last season he did not have a great
opportunity to gel with his teammates as he was constantly bouncing between the
minors and the NHL. Although Johnson’s
numbers may seem a bit low for a player expected to have noteworthy offensive
potential, the entire Crunch team has had difficulties scoring in the first
half of the season.

 

The 6’2, 197 lbs defenseman
appears to have grown more into his frame, which was a concern for scouts when
he was drafted. Although he could still
benefit from adding more strength to cope with the more physical forwards at the
NHL level, Johnson showed in his final stints in the NHL in 2003-04 that he was
ready for the big leagues. Without the
NHL lockout it is a safe bet to assume he’d be suiting up for the Blue Jackets
right now. He has good offensive skills
and may develop into a point man for the power play in a few years.

e

 

7. Sergei Mozyakin – LW – 263rd overall, 2002

 

As a ninth round pick in
2002, Mozyakin fell because most felt he was very undersized at 5’10, and under
170 lbs. While this remains an obvious
concern, his success in the RSL with CSKA Moscow cannot be ignored. Although he is not putting up the same
numbers as last year (21 goals, 40 points in 45 games) with 6 goals and 16
points in 35 games, Mozyakin continues to showcase his tremendous skill. He continues to play on a top scoring line
with Moscow despite the presence of several NHLers on the team, including
forwards Alexander Frolov, fellow Columbus property Zherdev, Andrei Nikolishin,
and Oleg Saprykin. The significant
increase in the calibre of his teammates has played a major role in the change
in his numbers.

 

The tiny winger remains a
question for management. GM MacLean
recently called Mozyakin a “special” type of player because of the issues with
his size. MacLean also indicated that
the team does have him in their future plans, although he seems to fit in as a
power play specialist primarily, rather than a player who takes a steady
shift. Mozyakin will be 24 in March,
and as a result is mature enough age-wise to make the move to another culture. If he is to play in the NHL, it most likely
will be within two seasons of the NHL starting up once again or never.

 

8. Ole Kristian Tollefsen – D – 65th overall,
2003

 

The rock-steady Norwegian has played most of the season with
the Crunch except for a quick two-game stint with the Dayton Bombers (ECHL) in
mid-December. Although he has not
registered a point with Syracuse, Tollefsen does have 52 minutes in penalties
and has made a success transition from the CHL, where he played for Brandon in
the WHL last season, to professional hockey.

 

Tollefsen plays solid positionally and knows how to take the
body. He’s willing to drop the gloves
as well. He has a wealth of aggression
and toughness to back it up with.
Although his skills are a bit raw at this point, and will subsequently
need some refinement over time, Tollefsen could begin to see NHL action mid-way
into the next NHL season if the Blue Jackets continue their trend to give
prospects a taste of the big show to allow them to gauge where their game is
compared to where it needs to get. His
defensive game appears to be fairly close to ready for top level talent, so he
may get the call-up sometime soon, and allow his puck skills to evolve with
time. Tollefsen has top-four potential.

 

9. Joakim Lindstrom – LW – 41st overall, 2002

 

Blue Jackets GM MacLean
acknowledged in an interview with HF that the organization had made efforts to
sign Lindstrom but ultimately all parties agreed that spending another year in
Sweden, where he is very comfortable, would be best for him. However, with the NHL lockout, a number of
prominent NHL players (Peter Forsberg, Mattias Weinhandl, Henrik and Daniel
Sedin) have appeared in MoDo’s lineup and have significantly cut back on Lindstrom’s
ice time. He has, however, managed to
play in almost every MoDo game, which is a good sign on its own. His two goals and one assist in 25 games are
still disappointing for a talent like Lindstrom, even seeing such limited ice
time.

 

Lindstrom is needs to bulk up
at least another five pounds (currently around 194 lbs) to play professionally
in North America with success. He has
good all around offensive skills and above-average hockey sense. He is a very shifty player who changes his
speed to catch opponents off guard. At
times he tries to force things too much in the offensive zone and can, as a
result, be prone to bad giveaways. When
the NHL clears up the current uncertainly, Lindstrom will most likely be
brought over to play in Syracuse.

 

10. Arsi Piispanen – C – 138th overall, 2003

 

The lanky (6’3, 163 lbs)
center is playing full time in the SM-Liiga with JYP this season, his first
appearance in the SM-Liiga, Finland’s top league. Although his stats (one goal, four points in 32 games) appear poor,
Piispanen is only 19 years old playing on the fourth line in a league of 20 and
30-year-olds. Currently Piispanen is
taking some time away from JYP to lead, as captain, Team Finland at the World
Junior Championships. This is
Piispanen’s second year with the team.

 

He is a very good offensive
player with good puck-handling and goal scoring abilities. Despite his thinness, he plays fairly
physically, challenging for all loose pucks and trying to go through defenders
if he can’t get around them. However,
because of his very narrow frame, there is a great deal of concern about his
ability to endure the rigors of a full NHL schedule, which is gruelling in both
style of play and length. He remains a
hit or miss prospect, just as he was on draft day.

 

11. Kyle Wharton – D – 59th overall, 2004

 

Currently playing his third
season with the Ottawa 67’s (OHL), Wharton was a part of the Blue Jackets
excellent first day of the draft this past June. Having had issues playing significant stretches in a row (he played
39 and 43 games in the past two seasons respectively), the fact that Wharton
has dressed in 29 of the team’s 33 games is a positive indicator. He has 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) and
23 PIM.

 

Wharton’s upside is in his
offensive play. A remarkably good
skater for a defender, he makes a good first pass and can rush the puck. Although he does not shy away from contact
he is not going to intimidate opponents with his hitting, and sometimes seems
to lack intensity. If his defensive
aggression increases and his offensive skills continue to progress, Wharton has
the ability to be a second pairing defender.
However, he remains quite some time away.

 

12. Tim Konsorada – RW – 168th overall, 2002

 

After missing much of last
season with a major injury, Konsorada is back with the Brandon Wheat Kings
(WHL) as an over-ager this season. As a
result, his number must be taken with a grain of salt. After 32 games Konsorada has amassed 40
points, third on the team, behind only Eric
Fehr
(WAS) and Ryan Stone (PIT),
who are having extremely strong seasons.
The bounce-back performance is a great sign for Konsorada, who brought
out the year after being drafted by scoring at near a point per game pace.

 

Although Konsorada’s numbers
are good, the 6’2, 215 lbs winger projects to be more of a checking line player
in the NHL. He is defensively conscious
and plays the body well. He plays
significant time on the penalty kill as well.
Konsorada will graduate from the WHL at the end of this season and make
the move to the AHL. His recovery from
the injury has put him back on track towards the NHL.

 

13. Tim Jackman – RW – 38th
overall, 2001

 

The former second round pick
is back with the Crunch this year after splitting last season between the AHL
and NHL. This is his third season in
the AHL and he continues to struggle to replicate the offense he generated with
Minnesota State in the NCAA. In 28
games this year, Jackman has just five goals and 11 points. The entire team is struggling to put points
on the board. Even so, Jackman’s
numbers are down further than they should be for a prospect that saw action in
19 NHL games last season.

 

At 6’3, 201 lbs, Jackman
continues to bulk up to enable him to play a power forward style of game in the
NHL. It is becoming increasingly
obvious that he is unlikely to become a scoring player in the professional
ranks, but Jackman’s size, strength, and determination make him a good fit for
a third line player who will see minutes on the second power play unit to mix
it up in front of the net and dig out loose pucks along the boards. He is, however, a good bet to make the NHL,
although his upside is not as great as hoped when he was selected back in 2001.

 

14. Peter Pohl – RW – 133rd
overall, 2004

 

Pohl, a mid round pick in
2004, has been one of the more impressive players in the QMJHL this season with
the Gatineau Olympiques. He was
considered a bit of a strange pick last year in the top 150 because of the
questions about his size, but with 38 points in 39 games, he’s shown that the
offensive talent is certainly there. He
is second on the Olympiques in points, and is among the top 25 in the league.

 

The issue, as with Mozyakin
and Piispanen, is purely size. Pohl is
very generously listed at 5’11, 185lbs, and plays very small, even in the
QMJHL, often considered the least physical of the CHL leagues. He is very easily pushed around and seems to
be intimidated by bigger players.
Although he has worked on this aspect of his game, it remains an
enormous concern. With that said, his
offensive skills with the puck are tremendous.
He has experienced winning (with the team winning the Memorial Cup last
season) and is being given an enormous amount of ice time with the third-place
Olympiques. He is a high risk, high
reward type of player, who probably has a similar upside as Mozyakin (power
play specialist) but without the incredible success in the Russian SuperLeague.

 

15. Greg Mauldin – C – 199th overall, 2002

 

Last year the smallish
22-year-old left UMass (NCAA) after finishing an impressive junior season and
saw action in both the AHL and NHL at the tail end of the hockey season. This year he has begun to play his first
full season in the AHL and responded very well, totalling 11 points in 20
games, tied for fifth on the team in points.
He has stepped into an important role on the team as a rookie and
continues to show he is ready for professional hockey.

 

Mauldin does not have an
enormous amount of NHL upside. He is
built into the mold of a third line player who can occasionally chip in on the
stats sheet. Under-sized at 5’10,
180-odd lbs, Mauldin is a workhorse. He
finishes his checks and uses his speed to pounce on loose pucks and create
chances for himself. His skating and
work ethic will likely build an NHL career.

 

16. Phillippe Dupuis – C –
104th overall, 2003

 

The 6’0, 193 lbs Quebecker
has really enjoyed a break-out season this year in the QMJHL for the Rouyn
Noranda Huskies, the second Q team he has played for in his career. He was dealt during the offseason from the
Memorial Cup champion Gatineau Olympiques. After finishing with 55 points in all of last season, Dupuis
currently has 43 points in just 32 games.
He has matched his 18 goal total from 2003-04 already, and is poised to
finish the season around 90 points at this pace. He is currently in the top 20 in league scoring and leads the
Huskies in points.

 

Dupuis moves up the list from
19 as a result of his strong play this year.
Although he has a number of defensive deficiencies, like most junior
players, he is a viable prospect down the road for the team, likely in a third
line type of capacity.

 

17. Trevor Hendrikx – D – 283rd
overall, 2003

 

The long-shot blueliner was
taken at the tail end of the 2004 Entry Draft and is turning out to be a wise
investment if this year is any indication of Hendrikx’s ability. Initially drafted primarily for his
physicality and size, Hendrikx’s offensive game has come a long way over the
course of the past two years. After
scoring 32 points last season, Hendrikx already has 26 points in 36 games this
year with the Peterborough Petes (OHL). Just halfway through the season
Hendrikx has already set a new career high (currently 12) in goals.

 

Hendrikx appears in the Blue
Jackets top 20 for the first time as a result of his outstanding play this year
with the Petes. He has picked up his
play a noticeable amount since being drafted.
Although he needs to put on a bit more weight, Hendrikx looks fairly big
on the ice and has fought a number of times this year, including a brief bout with
imposing OHL power forward Anthony Stewart
(FLA). For a shot in the dark, Hendrikx
is paying off big time. He needs time
still, but could develop into a No. 5 type of defender for the Blue Jackets.

 

18. Dan Lacosta – G – 93rd
overall, 2004

 

The recently selected
goaltender started the 2004-05 season with the Owen Sound Attack but was dealt
to the Barrie Colts after 25 games. He
has a 2.87 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
His 28 games played thus far this season put him in the top five for
appearances, indicating he can handle a heavy workload. He boasts in impressive
17-8 record, but has not had a shutout yet this year after posting four in his
draft season.

 

At 6’3, Lacosta is a tall
goalie. Just 186 lbs, he has some
filling out to do, which should only help him to cover the net. Lacosta relies on his positioning to make
the save, and needs some work with rebound control and must give up fewer bad
goals. Contrary to his win-loss record,
Lacosta has not performed well this season and has not impressed Columbus
staff.

 

19. Lennart Petrell – C – 190th,
2003

 

The feisty Finn received
notoriety when he was penalized with a two-game suspension for a hit from
behind in last year’s WJC. Now 20 years
old, Petrell is not eligible to participate in the same tournament this season. He has spent the year trying to catch ice
time with HIFK (SM-Liiga), where he has managed to skate in 19 of 32 games,
scoring twice and adding a helper.

 

The big competition Petrell
faces with HIFK is Vancouver Canuck Jarkko Ruutu, who is playing for the
SM-Liiga team during the lockout.
Petrell is an agitator much like Ruutu, and as a result, most likely
poses a risk in term of penalty minutes, as well as the fact that Ruutu fills
his role. Petrell has 31 minutes in
penalties, which places him seventh on the team, although every player with
more PIM has played ten or more games than Petrell. He does have offensive abilities in addition to being a pest, but
in North America, Petrell will be expected to play the role of an aggressive
forechecker. Petrell is likely to play
in North America sooner rather than later due to his style.

 

20. Andrei Plekhanov – D – 96th
overall, 2004

 

Plekhanov is an interesting
case. He remains in Columbus’ top 20
based almost entirely on his fairly strong performance during the six-game Russia-Canada
Challenge, when he represented the touring Russian squad. He was a surprise pick in the top 100 last
draft, and most experts felt he was taken due to his strong play the previous
season. He spent much of his draft year
injured. This year has been a strange
one for Plekhanov. After playing some
games very early on with the Neftekhimik junior team, he was loaned to Molot
Prikamye, but he did not play a single game for them, most likely due to the
team’s severe financial crisis. Further
complicating the matter is the fact that his rights were officially transferred
to the Sarnia Sting (OHL) in November.
It is unknown what he will be doing at this point. He has played two RSL games with
Neftekhimik.

 

Plekhanov comes with
extremely high praise from former Neftekhimik (and current Moscow Dynamo) coach
Krikunov, who has reportedly referred to him as “the future NHL star.” Plekhanov does not possess great size at
6’1, 187 lbs, but has a blend of defensive smarts and offensive skills. He’s effective with his stick and is
physical enough to stand up to opposing power forwards. Theoretically the skills are in Plekhanov to
be a top four NHL defenseman, but his injury last season and disappearing act
this year, make him nearly impossible to gauge.

 

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s
Future. Do not duplicate without
permission of the editorial staff.