The Columbus Blue Jackets are stacked with defensive talent lurking in their system. Ryan Murray leads the pack of NHL-ready defenders, but the positional depth is uncanny. From puck-moving defensemen to stay-at-home guys, Columbus’ blue line is going to be set for years to come.
Behind their capable defenders sit four goalies with a ton of upside. Ranging from North America to Europe, the Blue Jackets have goalies that excel playing different styles between the pipes. Columbus’ biggest challenge is to produce forwards who would rather shoot the puck than pass. Daniel Zaar and Cam Atkinson could be blessings for the Jackets’ playmaking team.
Tim Erixon should make the Columbus Blue Jackets roster when the NHL season gets underway. He played in 18 games with the Rangers last year, but despite only setting up two goals, he showed improvement in his defensive game. No one doubted Erixon’s ability as a great puck-moving defenseman, but at 6’2”, he needs to play more physical. The former first-round pick will look to build upon the 30 assists he posted playing with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale last season in his first full year with the Jackets’ affiliate, the Springfield Falcons. This year needs to be when Erixon separates himself from Columbus’ pack of strong defenders. He has good stick work in his own zone and his offensive decision-making is great, but Erixon needs to improve his positioning in his own zone in order to become the top defender that the Calgary Flames believed they were drafting at 23rd overall in 2009.
Unsigned for 2013-14 Season
David Savard, D, Springfield Falcons (AHL)
At 21 years old, potential RFA David Savard is on his way to becoming a household name in Columbus. He scored two goals and set up eight in 31 games with the Blue Jackets, his first stint in the NHL. Just a year after being praised for his discipline (18 penalty minutes in 72 games in 2010-11), the Quebec product served 72 penalty minutes in 44 AHL games. Even in the NHL, he had trouble staying out of the box with 16 penalty minutes last year. The 6’1” defender’s low slap shot has proven that he can be an offensive factor, but to maintain his standing within the Columbus organization, Savard’s biggest task is going to be continuing to play a physical style while cutting down on his penalty minutes.
Cam Atkinson, RW, Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Cam Atkinson finds himself in a similar situation to David Savard, because he is also set to become a restricted free agent next summer. Last season was Atkinson’s coming-out party as he posted seven goals and just as many assists in 27 games with the Blue Jackets. At 5’7”, he is often deemed an undersized forward, but after a rough start to the year with Columbus, he found his game in Springfield. The former Boston College Eagle was a perfect fit for the American World Championships team this summer, where he had three points in eight games. Atkinson proved he had a scoring touch posting back-to-back 30-goal seasons at BC. If he continues to improve his accurate wrist shot, he can become the elite goal scorer that Columbus needs on their roster.
Top Junior Prospect
Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Ryan Murray was considered the most NHL-ready defender in the 2012 NHL Draft, but the lockout will force the 6’1” defenseman to return to Everett and wear the “C” on his chest for another season. Through four games of the WHL season, Murray already has four points (three assists). He played on both Canada’s U20 and World Championships team, but played a low risk defensive style during international play that earned him only three assists in nine games. The 18-year-old will continue to develop his strong legs, and with time, his quick slap shot should become more accurate. There is a reason the Islanders offered all their draft picks for Murray on draft day, and it is because he has the balanced talent to become an elite defender in the NHL.
Goalie Oscar Dansk flew to Canada to join the Erie Otters, the worst team in the CHL in 2011-12, for his first season in North America. The two goalies drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft ahead of Dansk, Andrey Vasilevskiy (TBL) and Malcolm Subban (BOS), put a chip on his shoulder that has left him looking to prove himself with Erie. Although he has gotten off to a slow start with a 5.47 goals against average in four games, he and the rest of the Otters should come into their own as the season develops. The Swedish goalie has a knack for playing head games with himself, which has been evident in the early OHL season. As long as he can keep his head on straight and bring the same poised confidence with which he proved himself in the Swedish leagues, Dansk will have no problem living up to Columbus’ expectations.
Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
After a great development camp, Boone Jenner left Columbus as a fan favorite with a new-found sense of confidence. He will once again be captaining Oshawa, which was eliminated after six games in the OHL playoffs to end last season. The Ontario product plays a balanced offensive game and had 22 goals and 27 assists in 43 games last year. The 6’1” center does not play physical, but is extremely strong on the puck. His offensive position is nearly flawless which only compliments his hockey intelligence. Jenner is a playmaker who can find the back of the net just as well as he passes. The 19-year-old will be looking to improve on his breakout season last year.
Top Amateur Prospect
T.J. Tynan, C, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Even though Tynan’s point totals dropped from the 54 he had during his fantastic freshman campaign, he still managed to post 41 points in 39 games with the Irish last season. The playmaker made the USA U20 World Junior Championship team where he had four points (three assists and one goal) in six international contests. The Illinois native is a shifty skater who often finds open ice in the offensive zone. At 5’8” he needs to skate with his head up more often, but he has still been able to dominate the NCAA game with offensive awareness and crisp passing. He is not a prolific goal scorer but finds other ways to contribute offensively, mostly revolving around his positioning. Tynan will be looking to bounce back from a relatively-average sophomore season and prove that his size does not limit his ability.
Seth Ambroz, LW, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Eight points in 41 games was not the freshman year that the Blue Jackets were hoping to see out of Seth Ambroz. The season after he was visibly upset about where he was drafted, the Minnesota native proved all the naysayers right. Ambroz needs to enter his sophomore year with a new attitude and work ethic. At 6’2” and 209 pounds, he does not stray from throwing the body but has the potential to be so much more than a checking line forward. His positioning was a weakness last year and his 53 penalty minutes have been credited to a lack of discipline. As a power forward who throws the body it is not unexpected to take a good amount of penalties, but he must focus on using that ability to help the team. The Gophers will return most of their forwards next season, but there will still be expectations for Ambroz to show signs of progress in his sophomore season.
Top European Prospect
Joonas Korpisalo, G, Jokerit U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
With Dansk’s departure to the CHL, Joonas Korpisalo has become Columbus’ best goalie playing in Europe. After being drafted by the Prince George Cougars, the Finnish goaltender decided to stay overseas instead of testing his game in the WHL. Korpisalo is currently being loaned from his junior club to Kiekko-Vantaa of Finland's second-tier professional league, Mestis, where he has a 2.67 goals against average through three games. He is an aggressive goalie with great lateral movement, but there will be no indication of how well his talent will transfer over to the NHL game until he follows Dansk’s footsteps to the CHL.
Daniel Zaar, RW, Rogle J20 (SuperElit)
Daniel Zaar could be a steal as a sixth-round pick for Columbus. He possesses a powerful, accurate wrist shot that can lead to a lot of goals if he is paired with the right linemates. He had 38 points in 44 games as a 17-year-old with the Rogle J20 last year and is already off to a fast start with seven points in five games for the same club this year. The Swedish winger’s biggest asset is his speed that allows him to get into great scoring positions. Columbus is stacked with playmakers, which will only benefit a sniper like Zaar who will thrive off the Blue Jackets’ pass-first system. His second year with Rogle J20 should highlight his scoring ability off one-timers and start distinguishing him from other Swedish prospects.