Gilbert Brule, C — Vancouver Giants, WHL
Height: 5’11 Weight: 175 lbs.
D.O.B: January 1, 1987
The most exciting prospect in the system, 19-year-old center Gilbert Brule turned the lemons of a January demotion out of Columbus into hard lemonade. Plagued by freakish (and severe) injuries in his first tour of duty with the Jackets, Brule managed to appear in only seven games with Columbus this season, posting two goals and a pair of assists in a somewhat unfocused trial by fire. In an effort to get the freshman regular playing time while easing him back from the time missed due to injury, Columbus sent Brule back down to the WHL on Jan. 18.
Back with his junior club in Vancouver, Brule has spent the better part of the past two-plus months tearing through the WHL, rolling off 23 goals and 15 assists in just 27 regular-season games. Viewed as something of a work-in-progress after his brief seven-game look with the Jackets this past winter, the sixth overall pick in last year’s NHL draft has done everything in his power to dispel that notion in the Giants’ march towards the post-season. Twice named the WHL Player of the Week, most recently for his four-goal, seven-point effort in Vancouver’s first round rout of Prince George, Brule has looked the part of a potential impact scorer.
Still only 19 years old, Brule has the steep upside of a top-tier NHL prospect and has shown flashes of the brilliance that captured the attention of scouts and the Blue Jacket front office. Barring another stint in the medical ward (a place he became all too familiar with over the first few months of the 2005-06 season), it would be difficult to see the Jackets holding Brule back from competing hard for a permanent role on the Nationwide Ice come September.
Kris Russell, D — Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL
Height: 5’10 Weight: 167 lbs
Perhaps the fastest-rising player in the Jacket system after his selection in the third round of the 2005 draft, gritty defenseman Kris Russell turned in another stellar campaign for the Tigers this season. Following up an impressive 2004-05 season with Medicine Hat, Russell continued to impress at both ends of the ice, tallying 14 goals and 33 assists, good for the team lead from the blue line and seventh overall in defensemen scoring in the WHL. Named team captain entering the current season, Russell led the Tigers to 47 wins and the best record in the circuit. In addition, the teenager turned in a solid effort for Team Canada at the World Juniors this past winter in Vancouver, teaming with Medicine Hat defensive partner (and highly-touted Blackhawk prospect) Cam Barker.
While Russell may be looking towards his future in professional hockey, he is currently embroiled in the heat of the WHL playoffs. Coming off an opening-round sweep of the Swift Current Broncos, Russell and the Tigers are now preparing for a second-round showdown with Saskatoon.
Derek Reinhart, D — Regina Pats WHL
Height: 6’3 Weight: 204lbs
Having already made a name for himself in his rookie camp with the Jackets last September thanks to a pile-up with Rick Nash that landed the franchise winger in the pressbox with an ankle injury, young defenseman Derek Reinhart has a long road ahead to avoid becoming a footnote in Columbus hockey history. In his third season on the Regina blue line, the physical Reinhart spent another campaign honing his defensive capabilities and further growing into his large 6’3 frame. His offensive output was another story, as he failed to improve upon his 13-point effort in 2004-05, posting only five assists and zero goals in 49 games this season. Reinhart did, however, record 104 penalty minutes, which is a leading indicator as to his skill-set.
With the Pats 4-2 series loss to Saskatoon, Reinhart’s junior campaign with Regina is at an end. At this point, it seems highly likely that Reinhart will return to the Pats next season, and will need to show marked improvement at both ends of the ice, as well as further physicality, to have a realistic chance at a turn in Syracuse down the road.
Trevor Hendrikx, D — Peterborough Petes, OHL
Height: 6’2 Weight: 205 lbs
Another season, another year of improvement for a player drafted twice by the Blue Jackets. Originally thought of as an aspiring fighter, Trevor Hendrikx’s all-around game and strong physical presence at both ends of the ice has come as a revelation for the Peterborough Petes. The 21-year-old led the first-place Petes in scoring from the blue line for the second straight season, posting nine goals and 47 assists in 60 games this year. Those 56 points were good for seventh in the circuit on defense.
With the final games of his amateur career directly in front of him, Hendrikx is taking every opportunity to make a lasting impression. Hendrikx currently sits atop the leader board for defensemen scoring in the playoffs, already accounting for a pair of goals and seven assists in the Petes seven post-season games so far. The highlight was undoubtedly his game-winner in the second overtime of Peterborough’s opening-game win over Ottawa. While it’s difficult to imagine Hendrikx vaulting over the ECHL and straight to Syracuse next year, his current run in leading the Petes towards an OHL title may be a sign of his upward potential for a professional career.
Jared Boll, RW — Plymouth Whalers, OHL
Height: 6’3 Weight: 195 lbs
A rugged, physical presence on the wing, this North Carolina native enjoyed a strong rookie campaign this season with Plymouth. A veteran of the USHL, Jared Boll declined a spot with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, opting instead to sign with the Whalers. In 65 games this season with Plymouth, Boll tallied 19 goals and 22 assists, good for tenth in rookie scoring in the OHL. It wasn’t just his offensive game that opened eyes, however, as he also managed to record 204 penalty minutes on the season, the seventh-highest total in the league.
Favorably compared to Brendan Shanahan, albeit by a former coach, Boll has to continue to mature on the ice, both physically and emotionally, before he can be considered a top prospect in the system. This season has seen a good deal of improvement, and Boll logged regular ice time in Plymouth’s first-round win over Windsor, in which he contributed a goal and three assists. Next up for the Whalers is Guelph, where Boll may get the chance to mix it up with fellow Blue Jacket prospect Kyle Wharton.
Dan LaCosta, G — Barrie Colts, OHL
Height: 6’3 Weight: 195 lbs
After three seasons of league-average goaltending in the OHL, Daniel LaCosta turned a corner this season in establishing himself as one of the top netminders in the league. A tall, lanky presence in the net, LaCosta’s technique had never quite matched his talent in three seasons with Owen Sound. Moved to Barrie in the middle of the 2004-05 campaign, LaCosta laid claim to the starting job in the offseason and turned in the best performance of his career. In 59 games this season, LaCosta has posted a 36-17-1 record, with a 2.55 GAA and .915 save percentage, stats which place him in the top handful of goalies in the league.
While a minor injury forced LaCosta to the sidelines for Barrie’s first-round sweep of Toronto, he has returned to the nets for the Colts Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with Brampton. If he can prove that the gains made this season are tangible through a solid showing down the stretch over the next two weeks, the Jackets may have the eventual backup to Pascal Leclaire in the system already.
Kyle Wharton, D — Guelph Storm, OHL
Height: 6’2 Weight: 189 lbs
Playing for his third team in two seasons, offensive-minded defenseman Kyle Wharton has yet to establish himself as the type of top-tier prospect the Blue Jackets were hoping they acquired with their second pick of the 2004 draft. What Wharton has done in the two seasons since being picked up by the Jackets is make continual gains on the stat sheet, topping out this year with an eight-goal, 30-assist, 90-PIM season between Sault Ste. Marie and Guelph. While these totals can be considered a modest improvement over previous seasons, the talent behind the numbers is still tantalizing enough that Wharton may eventually play a role in Syracuse.
Adam McQuaid, D — Sudbury Wolves, OHL
Height: 6’3 Weight: 210 lbs
D.O.B: 1986 -10 -12
One of the better defensive defensemen in the OHL, 19-year-old Adam McQuaid spent the 2005-06 campaign manning the blueline for the Sudbury Wolves. Taking a regular shift with highly-touted NHL prospect Marc Staal (NYR), McQuaid turned in another strong season, in spite of a slight downturn in his offensive output. In 68 games this season, the Prince Edward Island native accounted for three goals and 14 assists, just off his 19-point effort last season. As McQuaid was originally targeted by the Jackets for his sound defensive ability and stature at a young age, those totals are not unexpected. Of some concern was his -3 plus/minus rating this season, but that may be indicative of Sudbury’s rocky regular season campaign, and not an indictment of McQuaid’s talents. Currently pitching in on the Wolves’ postseason run, which included a six-game victory over Kingston in the first round, it seems highly probable that he will return for another season in Sudbury blue and grey before attempting the jump into the professional ranks.
Philippe Dupuis, C — Moncton, QMJHL
Height: 6’0 Weight: 195 lbs
One of the most exciting players in the QMJHL this season, center Philippe Dupuis has developed into an offensive force on former NHL coach Ted Nolan’s Moncton Wildcats. Coming off an eye-opening 34-goal, 50-assist effort last season with Rouyn-Noranda, Dupuis has stepped up his all-around game this year under the exacting eye of Nolan, while markedly increasing his offensive output. The Laval native finished the year with the ninth-highest point total in the circuit, including 32 goals and 76 assists, in spite of missing 10 games to participate in the World Junior Championships. In the first round of the QMJHL playoffs, Dupuis managed to step his game up even further, tallying seven goals and 10 assists in the Wildcats five-game victory over Victoriaville.
The fourth round selection of the Jackets in the 2003 Entry Draft, it remains to be seen if Dupuis can translate his recent gains with Moncton into a long look in the Columbus system. The flourishing of his offensive game in the grinding, gritty system preached by Nolan may be a leading indicator as to the overall development of Dupuis’ game. The uptick in production may, however, be the function of Dupuis’ advanced age for the QMJHL. Regardless of where Moncton’s fortunes take Dupuis in this season’s playoffs, this will most likely be his last season in the amateur ranks.
Adam Pineault, C — Moncton, QMJHL
Height: 6’3 Weight: 202 lbs
Another young Blue Jacket prospect who has flourished under the leadership of Ted Nolan this season with Moncton is American-born Adam Pineault. Perhaps the most complete power forward currently in the Columbus system, Pineault followed up an impressive rookie campaign with Moncton last year with a 29-goal, 30-assist effort in 55 games this season. In addition, the imposing forward spent 94 minutes in the sin bin this year, evidence of his aggressive, attacking style of play. Already enough of a talent to earn an invite to the Jackets training camp this past September, Pineault has the size and upside to challenge for a spot with the parent club down the road, especially if he has absorbed the solid work ethic necessary for success in the Nolan system. Given the progression of both Pineault and sometimes linemate Philippe Dupuis this season with Moncton, the Jackets owe Nolan a hearty thanks for his mentoring of the two youngsters.
Peter Pohl, RW — Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL
Height: 5’11 Weight: 170 lbs
A true work-in-progress after making the jump from the Czech Republic three seasons ago, shifty winger Petr Pohl may finally be adding to his improving finesse game. Posting almost identical offensive stats this season with Acadie-Bathhurst, Pohl may need to add to his repertoire if he is to have a legitimate shot at a professional career on this side of the pond. After scoring a respectable 27 goals and 32 assists in 62 games with Gatineau last season, Pohl matched his goal total in the exact same number of games this year with the Titans, while slightly increasing his assist total up to 43 on the year. Somewhat surprisingly, his penalty minutes nearly tripled in his third time around the circuit, as he found himself in the penalty box for 44 minutes this year. That marked increase may be the tangible evidence of a developing physical game to match his offensive package. To have any chance at a future with the Jackets, Pohl needs to continue developing his all-around game and eventually make the transition out of the QMJHL.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.