Blue Jackets NCAA prospects update

By Chris Leary

Over their first five years as a franchise, the Columbus Blue Jackets have not had good luck in identifying NHL-caliber talent in the NCAA. In fact, only three former college alums currently skate on the Columbus ice, and only one of them, defenseman Duvie Wescott, was developed in-house by the Blue Jackets. With the 2005-06 NCAA hockey season coming out of the holiday break, it is a good time to look in on the seven Columbus prospects currently lacing them up in the collegiate ranks.

Forwards

Jeff Genovy — Clarkson University, Senior, 6’3, 202 lbs.

A highly-touted prospect when Columbus made him their fourth pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft (third round, 96th overall), forward Jeff Genovy has developed into a strong, powerful two-way forward in his final season with the Clarkson Golden Knights of the ECACHL. Following seasons of 13, nine and seven points, the big winger has begun to round out his physical game with the scoring touch he displayed in his single season of action in the USHL, posting the highest totals of his collegiate career with seven goals and 13 assists over the first 24 games of the Knights 2005-06 campaign.

With only a half-season left in his amateur career, Genovy would seem to be ticketed for a spot with Dayton of the ECHL next season. He plays a sound physical game, using his size to his advantage in both zones, and currently leads the Knights in penalty minutes. The big jump in his offensive game over the first half of his senior season has to be welcome news in Columbus, which has yet to promote a third-round selection into a significant role on the NHL roster. Genovy’s size and defensive game are intriguing, and a carry-over of his 2005-06 improvement into the minor ranks may land him a spot on the checking line with the Blue Jackets down the road.

Kevin Jarman — University of Massachusetts, Junior, 6’0, 184 lbs.

Originally recruited by UMass as a fast, scoring forward out of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, the Toronto native has developed into a rugged left wing over his three seasons with the Minutemen. The youngest player in UMass history to be selected in the NHL Entry Draft when the Jackets made him their fourth round pick in 2003, the deft scoring touch Jarman displayed as a teenager in Ontario has not manifested itself in any meaningful way with the Minutemen. Coming off of an underclassman campaign which saw him improve from 10 points as a freshman to 21 points (including seven goals) as a sophomore, the first half of Jarman’s current junior season is something of a disappointment. Entering the home stretch of the Minutemen’s 2005-06 difficult Hockey East schedule, Jarman has only managed to post a single goal and five assists in 19 games on the team’s second forward line.

At this point in his development, it is difficult to project that Jarman will return on the Blue Jackets investment of a fourth-round pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. At the time of his selection, Jarman was coming out of an All-Star career in the Ontario junior ranks, but has been unable to make a significant impact in the Hockey East, and has in fact seen his role on the ice change from that of a scoring wing towards a more physical, defensive-minded game. Jarman seems destined for a position in the low minors, unless the potential Columbus originally saw in 2003 manifests itself soon.

Brian McGuirk — Boston University, Sophomore, 5’11, 200 lbs.

Just entering his second season for one of the top hockey programs in the NCAA system, Massachusetts native Brian McGuirk has found a home on the fourth line for the top-20 Terriers. Coming out of a tough freshman campaign, during which McGuirk managed to post a single point in 33 games and was a healthy scratch in eight of the Terriers final 13 games, the former All-New England forward in high school has begun to adjust to the high level of competition in Hockey East. In 22 games so far this season, McGuirk has found the back of the net four times on 23 shots, including the Terriers first short-handed goal of the season in a 5-1 rout of Dartmouth on December 10.

McGuirk’s future in the Blue Jackets system will be largely defined by his continued improvement for the Terriers. Selected by Columbus in the eighth round of the 2004 Entry Draft, McGuirk has only really begun to develop as a forward. Shuffled between the third and fourth line this season, his four goals to date are a good indication that he does have the potential to progress further. If McGuirk is able to secure a spot on the top two lines for BU in his junior and senior campaigns, it will not be a surprise to see the speedy winger eventually land in the AHL.

Matt Greer — University of Minnesota-Duluth, Freshman, 6’2, 200 lbs.

Following a year off from his educational career to skate with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, left wing Matt Greer has found a spot on the fourth line of the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs of the WCHA. A scoring forward with the Buccaneers, posting 14 goals and 32 points over 60 regular-season games, Greer has been forced to adjust into a more well-rounded role with the Bulldogs. Skating with junior center Jeff McFarland and Mike Curry (LA), Greer’s rookie campaign has seen him post only four points in the Bulldogs first 26 games of the season.

Exactly where Matt Greer figures into the Columbus equation is, at this point, a complete mystery. While Greer did show flashes of potential in his 2004-05 campaign with Des Moines (highlighted by earning USHL player-of-the-week honors on October 11, 2004, following his first career hat trick), his freshman season in the WCHA has been more of a learning experience at the bottom of the Bulldogs roster. Greer will have to exhibit marked improvement in his game over the next three seasons with UMD before he can be considered a factor in the Blue Jacket system.

Defensemen

Jekabs Redlihs — Boston University, Senior, 6’2, 182 lbs.

Cut from the same cloth as fellow Riga, Latvia native and current Colorado defenseman Karlis Skastins, Jekabs Redlihs is a large, gritty stay-at-home defenseman for the Boston University Terriers. Manning the blue line for the same Terrier squad as McGuirk, Redlihs is preparing to finish off a collegiate career shortened by injury. Never a consistent scoring threat, Redlihs has seen his point totals drop off significantly from a career high four-goal, 16-assist freshman campaign. Redlihs followed that up with a six-point sophomore year cut short by a broken collarbone, and a somewhat disappointing one-point effort in his 40-game junior season.

Looking to end his BU career strong, Redlihs instead contracted an unknown ailment at the beginning of the season and spent the better part of the next three months on the sidelines and, eventually, a hospital bed. Redlihs returned to the lineup in early January, and has now appeared in 10 games on the season, matching his point total of 2004-05 with a single assist to date. The strong physical presence Redlihs began to display in his junior season is only now returning, as the mystery virus sapped most of his strength and prevented him from developing in any meaningful way over the past six months.

The decline in Redlihs’ offensive production is not mirrored in his defensive game, which has steadily improved over his four-year career, to the point where he might have a future on a minor league blue line. With his amateur career winding down, Redlihs may be headed to the ECHL for the 2006-07 season, on the strength of his defensive prowess and Columbus’ investment of a fourth round pick in Redlihs (making him the 119th selection in the 2002 Entry Draft). While he is technically sound in his own zone and has increased his physicality, it is difficult at this point to project Redlihs as anything but a long shot to earn a spot on an NHL roster.

Grant Clitsome — Clarkson University, Sophomore, 5’10, 216 lbs.

Manning the blue line for a Clarkson team that includes Genovy, sophomore rearguard Grant Clitsome has developed in a very short time into the primary quarterback of the Golden Knight power play and a top offensive defenseman in Hockey East. The Blue Jackets ninth-round selection in the 2004 Entry Draft, Clitsome led the Knights in defensive scoring during his freshman season, posting a pair of goals and 11 assists. Clitsome has followed up that strong showing with another solid performance, again leading the Knights in defensemen scoring, recording 13 points over the first 23 games of the 2005-06 season.

Already noted for his character and hockey acumen as a junior player with the Nepean Raiders of the CJHL, where he posted 39 points in 55 games for the champion Raiders in 2003-04 en route to his selection as a second team CJHL All-Star, Clitsome has rounded into form as an enticing prospect for the Knights. In just over a season and a half of NCAA action, Clitsome has established himself as the primary weapon on the Clarkson blue line. It is rare for a freshman to step into the critical role of power play quarterback, but Clitsome has handled his role deftly while not allowing his defensive responsibility to lag. His future in the Columbus system is wide open, as he has displayed a higher degree of potential than what can typically be expected from a ninth-round selection. If he continues to improve as the same rate seen over the first 60 games of his collegiate career, Clitsome should be in line for no worse than a role in the high minors.

Rob Page — Yale University, Sophomore, 6’2, 203 lbs.

A former finalist for the coveted “Mr. Hockey” Award, given to the top high school hockey player in the state of Minnesota, sophomore defenseman Rob Page has begun to establish himself as a primary option along the Bulldog blue line. Named the top rookie on the Yale squad following a freshman campaign that saw him finish first in defensive scoring with a pair of goals and nine assists in the Bulldogs 32-game regular season schedule, Page was considered to be one of the top frosh rearguards in the league. His sophomore 2005-06 campaign, however, has been something of a disappointment, only appearing in 11 of the Bulldogs first 19 games and recording a mere five assists on the season.

When Columbus made Page their sixth selection of the 2004 Entry Draft, the Jackets had every reason to believe they were getting a bargain. Page fell all the way to the sixth round, where the Jackets made him the 167th player selected in the draft. After a season and a half of play in the Yale blue and white, Page has shown a solid level of hockey acumen and has, in fact, lived up to his original billing as a top-100 amateur prospect. While injuries have slowed the Minnesota native’s development during his sophomore campaign, the sparkling effort turned in by Page as a freshman provides a better read on his potential within the Columbus system. Given a few more seasons of experience at the collegiate level, it’s not difficult to project Page’s talent landing him a spot at the AHL level.

Summary

Does any member of the current class of Blue Jacket NCAA prospects have a chance at making an impact on the Nationwide Arena ice? Of the seven current collegians, none have the appearance of developing into an NHL regular at this stage of their amateur careers. The poor track record in locating and developing NCAA talent is not for lack of trying; of the current seven, three were selected in the fourth round or above. The most NHL-ready might be the one selected with the highest draft pick, senior forward Jeff Genovy, who is himself several above-average minor league seasons away from seriously challenging for a spot with the Blue Jackets. As the current crop of collegians does not appear to contain a true game-breaker, there should be no expectation that any meaningful contribution will be made from this class before the end of the current decade.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.