NHL-ready defensemen the strength of Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect pool

By Richard Greco

T.J. Tynan - University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Photo: Notre Dame's leading scorer each of the past two seasons, junior forward T.J. Tynan will again be expected to be the driving force behind the Irish offense in 2012-13. (courtesy of Zuma Press/Icon SMI)

 
The Columbus Blue Jackets had top five picks in two of the last three NHL drafts. As a result there system has a good amount of quality prospects that should be seeing formidable playing time in the future.

Many of these top level prospects are jumping at the bits to play in the NHL, but, as a result of the lockout, will be spending time in the AHL. The Springfield Falcons are off to a great start, which could be a glance into the future. Columbus’ offensive and defensive talent headed by David Savard, Cam Atkinson, and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault are beginning to come into their own and Oscar Dansk hopes to separate himself from the other goaltending prospects by venturing over the Atlantic to play in the CHL.

Left Wing

The Springfield Falcons are tied for first in the Eastern Conference with a 5-1-2 record through eight games. With six points in eight games, Matt Calvert is a big reason why. The Manitoba product has played well on the power play this year and has relied on his playmaking ability to create opportunities. He has seen time in the NHL during the past two years and finished with three assists in a 13 game span last season. If not for the lockout, the 22-year-old would be a top-nine forward for the Blue Jackets.

The lockout has also stopped Maksim Mayorov from gaining his chance to skate a full season at the NHL level. He has accumulated 22 NHL games in the past four seasons and played a career-high 10 games last year when he scored one goal and one assist. The Russian winger will spend this year with Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL. Through 15 games, Mayorov has shown he can still finish posting six goals and an assist.

After an uneventful freshman season at the University of Minnesota, Seth Ambroz is off to a quick start. The Gopher has used his big body to carve towards the net and has five points (two goals and three assists) in the season’s first six games. Ambroz finished last year with eight points in 41 games.

After helping the Ottawa 67’s reach the OHL Conference finals, Dalton Smith will get his first taste of professional hockey with the Springfield Falcons. Smith had 25 points during the regular season last year and scored four goals and added as many assists in 18 games in the OHL playoffs. He scored his first professional goal in the Falcons’ 4-2 victory over St. John's in the season opener on October 13th, but has seen limited playing time in games since.

Oliver Gabriel was assigned to the Evansville Icemen of the ECHL and in his second game suffered a leg injury. He was placed on the 21-day IR, but is expected to miss two months of action.

Center

T.J. Tynan was named to the CCHA First All-Star team as a sophomore for Notre Dame last year and also played for the USA U20 team. In the WJC, the playmaker had a goal and three assists in six games. Tynan had a bit of a point drop from his stellar rookie season last year, but is off to a decent start to his junior year with four points in seven games with the Irish.

Lukas Sedlak has 14 points in 18 games with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL. Last season he had 45 points in 50 games for Chicoutimi. The 6’0 winger had zero points six games with the Czech Republic WJC team last winter.

The Oshawa Generals awaited the return of Boone Jenner with open arms and the team captain has responded with 28 points (14 goals and 14 assists) in 18 games. For a player whose stats have always favored the assist column, the 6’1 center’s toughest test will be to show that his scoring ability is just as strong as his accurate passing.

In his final year with the Cataractes, Michael Chaput scored five goals and set up seven in six Memorial Cup games to help the Cataractes capture their first title. The Quebec native had 63 points (42 assists) with Shawinigan last year. The AHL has proved to be a different story for the 20-year-old forward, and through seven games, Chaput has a goal and an assist along with 13 penalty minutes.

After finishing his NCAA career with Cornell last year, Sean Collins joined the Falcons and had five points in eight professional games to finish his 2011-12 season. He has appeared in six games with Springfield this year and has recorded two assists. The versatile forward has had trouble finding significant time on Springfield’s cluttered depth chart.

Kevin Lynch entered his senior at the University of Michigan this fall. The 6’1 penalty-kill specialist has not made a name for himself by scoring goals, but he has one goal and three assists in six games with the Wolverines this year.

Right Wing

The Falcons’ early success is much to the thanks of Cam Atkinson just as much as Calvert. Atkinson is currently tied with Ryan Johansen and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault as Springfield’s leading scorer with three goals. The former sixth-round pick finished last season strong with six points (five goals) in his final two games with the Blue Jackets. Another impressive professional season will solidify Atkinson’s spot on Columbus’ roster when hockey returns.

Another winger who has excelled early in the AHL season is the 21-year-old Audy-Marchessault. The Quebec product led the Connecticut Whale with 40 assists before being signed by Columbus this summer. He currently leads the Falcons with seven points (five assists) in as many games. He put his scoring on display in the preseason and netted a hat trick against the Worcester Sharks. Since the season started Audy-Marchessault has been concentrating on his passing, which makes him a dangerous playmaker.

With no reason to come to North America, Daniel Zaar elected to stay in Sweden for another season. He scored four goals and set up three in eight games with Rogle J20 of the SuperElit. He has not seen the same success with the Elitserien’s Rogle. Through six games Zaar has only found the back of the net twice. At 18 years old, Zaar may be out of his element in the Elitserien, but it should show whether the Swedish winger will exceed the expectations of a sixth-round pick.

Josh Anderson returned to the London Knights after being defeated in the 2012 Memorial Cup by the Shawinigan Cataractes. Through 14 games in his second junior season, Anderson has 11 points (four goals and seven assists). The Ontario product had 22 points in 64 games last year and is currently on pace to double that total this season.

Tomas Kubalik has four points in 12 career NHL games spread out over the past two seasons. The 22-year-old has not had the same quick start in 2012-13 as many of his teammates. Kubalik has three points in eight games but has not been losing playing time. His physicality has been visible and he has already racked up 10 penalty minutes this year.

The lockout brought NHL-caliber players to the AHL which has directly affected the playing time of Jake Hansen and Trent Vogelhuber. Both 6’1 forwards were held scoreless in the only two games they appeared in this year. Vogelhuber was loaned to the ECHL’s Evansville Icemen, where he has two assists in six games. Hansen may join him in Evansville before the season is over.

Defense

Ryan Murray was ready to enter the NHL with the Jackets, but the lockout forced him back to Everett. The Silvertips’ captain has 15 assists and two goals in 18 games this year. The Saskatoon native had 31 points all last season. Another year in junior hockey will let the two-way defender gain confidence in the offensive aspects of his game.

Tim Erixon has been working on the defensive aspects of his game in Springfield. He had 33 points with Connecticut last season and has registered two assists in eight games this year. The biggest knock on the Swedish blueliner was his lack of physicality, which Columbus is hoping will improve in the AHL.

David Savard had 10 points in 31 games with Columbus last season. He has five points in eight games with Springfield to start the year. The Québec native has the ability to run the power play with his patience with the puck at the blue line. Savard’s slap shot is not as accurate as it needs to be, but his consistently improving passing allows him to create scoring chances and stretch the ice.

Cody Goloubef is another defender who made his NHL debut last year. Unlike Savard, Goloubef did not stick around after being held scoreless in one game last season. He finished the year with 11 assists in the AHL. The Ontario native is a stay-at-home defender, who takes the body even if that means heading to the penalty box every once in a while. Goloubef has two assists and eight penalty minutes in eight games with Springfield this season.

Dalton Prout’s physicality has been evident in Springfield’s early season. The 22-year-old is averaging two penalty minutes per game. He made his NHL debut playing in five games with the Blue Jackets last season. Also skating in Springfield is Theo Ruth, who is in his third consecutive season with Springfield. He has had trouble establishing himself as a shutdown defender and has a plus/minus rating no better than -18 in his two professional seasons.

Columbus’ depth at the defense position left no room for Austin Madaisky, Anton Blomqvist, and Will Weber and all three have been loaned to the Icemen. Madaisky, a 50-point scorer with Kamloops last year, has two assists in three games with Evansville this year. Weber and Blomqvist have both been held scoreless for Evansville.

Mike Reilly had 83 points with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees last season and will join Ambroz at the University of Minnesota for his freshman season. Reilly has four assists in six games with the Gophers.

Thomas Larkin is one of three senior defensemen that serve as tri-captains at Colgate University. Larkin has had trouble living up to the physical expectations that come with being a 6’5 defender, but the 21-year-old has a chance to prove his physicality as a senior at Colgate. He played for the Italian national team last season and registered 3 assists in 13 international matches.

Drew Olson will be a senior at Minnesota-Duluth this year. The 22-year-old has never had a scoring touch and has never scored more than ten points in a season.

Gianluca Curcuruto was traded to the Plymouth Whalers to start the season. He is off to a good start with six points in 15 games. The Ontario product’s best year was in 2010-11 when he posted 26 points with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Curcuruto can stretch the ice by sending breakout passes through tight windows.

Goaltending

Oscar Dansk made his way across the world to play for the Erie Otters, one of the bottom feeders in the OHL. The Swedish goalkeeper has a 4-8-2 record, .897 save percentage, and 3.90 goals against average in 14 games to start the year. The team's inability to keep the puck out of their own net is not all on Dansk, who has seen an average of  over 37 shots in each of his games. The second-round pick’s decision to play in the OHL has him paired against the NHL’s top prospects which will benefit his development.

Unlike his fellow 2012 draft pick, Joonas Korpisalo decided to play another season in Europe. The Finnish netminder earned a .949 save percentage in two games with Jokerit U20 before being loaned to Kiekko-Vantaa. In the second-tier Mestis league, Korpisalo has a 2.90 goals against average in nine games.

Anton Forsberg is minding the net in his home nation of Sweden. He has .921 save percentage in 11 games with Södertälje of the Allsvenskan league.

Paul Dainton has solidified himself as the Falcons’ back-up goaltender (behind 29-year-old Curtis McElhinney) and has a 1.85 goals against average after one game. Allen York has yet to appear in a game with Springfield due to injury. 

Martin Ouellette has the fewest start among the three goaltenders on the Maine Black Bears. In his only two starts this year, the Quebec product has lost twice with a .878 save percentage.

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