The Columbus Blue Jackets have a ton of depth along its blue line with a prospect class led by players such as Ryan Murray, Mike Reilly, and Dalton Prout. Its defenders seem to be improving consistently and its undersized forwards keep getting quicker. Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner lead the playmaking forwards with quick routes to the net and crisp passing. Columbus’ prospects awards shed light on some of the key players who we could see dominating the NHL in a few short years.
Most Improved Prospect: Dalton Prout, D, Springfield Falcons (AHL)
For the second consecutive year, Dalton Prout was given a chance to show what he can do in the NHL. This time he did not disappoint. After being held pointless through five games last year, the Ontario product registered seven points and 25 penalty minutes in 28 games with the Blue Jackets. His experience from last year allowed Prout to enter the NHL comfortable and he put his physicality on display with 51 hits. The former Barrie Colts’ captain improved his play in his own zone. He finished the year with a plus-15 rating in the NHL, which ranks second highest in his career.
The 23-year-old defender also skated in 40 games with the Falcons. He was a force at the blue line and increased his penalty minutes from 54 to 73, despite playing in 22 fewer games. Prout finished his AHL season with nine points.
Best Defensive Prospect: Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Ryan Murray did not need to play a full season to prove that he is the Blue Jackets’ top prospect. The 6'0 defensive force would have started the season with Columbus, but the lockout forced him to return to the WHL to captain the Silvertips. Unfortunately his trip back to Everett was the downfall of the extremely intelligent two-way player’s season.
On January 10, Murray underwent surgery on his shoulder which sidelined him for up to six months. Although he played in just 23 games, the 19-year-old showcased his stellar passing, strong shot, ability to join the rush, and maintained his stay-at-home duties. Murray finished his shortened season with 17 points and 14 penalty minutes.
Murray is going to be a player that will be manning the Blue Jackets’ blue line as a top 4 defender for a very long time.
Prospect of the Year: Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Boone Jenner became a fan favorite at the Blue Jackets’ developmental camp last summer and his fan base only increased with a phenomenal performance in his final junior season. The second-round pick posted a career-high 45 goals and 82 points in 56 games as the General’s captain.
The Ontario product’s two-way consistency tailed off in the playoffs which resulted in Oshawa’s second round elimination. But despite not playing lock-down defense, Jenner posted eight points in nine playoff games.
The Falcons brought up Jenner for the final five games of the year and the playoffs. The 19-year-old fit right into Springfield’s system and finished with nine points through 13 games.
Fastest Skater: Daniel Zaar, RW, Rogle (Elitserien)
Like many scouts have predicted, Zaar has increased his strength and speed. He is not a blur on the ice just yet, but as a 5’11 winger, increasing his speed was crucial for his development as a playmaker. The 19-year-old has played better on the rush and his speed allows him to get in a comfortable position for one-timers.
Freshman Phenom: Mike Reilly, D, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Along with his brothers, Connor and Ryan, Mike Reilly joined the Golden Gophers at the beginning of the season. Due to a preseason injury to Connor, the trio that earned the Penticton Vees of the BCHL a 54-4-2 record in 2012 has yet to skate together sporting a capital M on their uniforms. That did not stop the highly-touted Mike from having a statement freshman campaign.
The Minnesota native compiled 14 points (three goals and 11 assists) in 37 games this season. He also played on the gold medal winning US World Junior Championships team. Through seven international games, Reilly posted three points and four penalty minutes.
Breakout Player 2012-13: Cam Atkinson, C, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
If there was any doubt that Cam Atkinson has what it takes to play professional hockey, the 24-year-old put that to rest this season. The 5’7 forward dominated the AHL with 38 points in 33 games. Atkinson was not done there. After being called up to the Blue Jackets after the lockout, the Avon Old Farms product posted 18 points in 35 games.
His NHL numbers are not startling, but Atkinson’s balanced game with nine goals and nine assist show his potential to fulfill the role of a playmaker.
Underachiever: T.J. Tynan, C, University of Notre Dame (CCHA)
T.J. Tynan exploded onto the scene with 54 points in 44 games as a freshman. His production dipped a bit during his sophomore season, but the Illinois product still played above a point-per-game rate. This changed during his junior season. Tynan’s production dropped to a career low as he tallied just 28 points in 41games.
In just one season, Tynan went from a playmaker that looked like a steal in the third round to an inconsistent, undersized forward. The 21-year-old needs to get back on track during his senior season with the Fighting Irish.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Seth Ambroz, RW, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Seth Ambroz’s stock has been dropping since the first day of the 2011 draft. The once highly-touted power forward in the making dropped to the fifth round where the Blue Jackets picked him up. The Minnesotan’s size leave him an extremely high ceiling if he can fine tune some of his skills, but his production has not been there yet.
As a freshman, Ambroz fell into the Golden Gopher’s checking line and posted just eight points in 41 games. His production increased during his sophomore year, which saw him tally 16 points in 38 games. Ambroz has the natural size to be a force in the crease, but he has not shown the drive to be successful in the dirty areas. Unless the 20-year-old can increase his hockey IQ, he may become another big forward that falls through the cracks.
Hardest Worker: Kevin Lynch, C, University of Michigan (CCHA)
Kevin Lynch has not impressed any scouts with his totals in goals or assists, yet the Michigan native heard Columbus call his name during the second round of the 2009 draft. The Blue Jackets were not looking for an elite scorer when they called Lynch up to the podium. Instead they were looking for a depth forward and upon his graduation from the University of Michigan, that is what Lynch has become.
The 22-year-old is not out there to score goals. Lynch works the boards and gets in the dirty areas in order to move the puck. The durable forward’s work ethic is uncanny and as a result he has only missed two games throughout his college career.
Breakout Player 2013-14: Oscar Dansk, G, Erie Otters (OHL)
Despite Oscar Dansk standing on his head between the pipes, the Erie Otters finished dead last in the OHL’s Western Division. The Swedish netminder played with basically no supporting cast and was left out to dry on odd man rushes on more than one occasion.
As a result of his team’s lack of depth, Dansk posted a career-worst 4.11 goals against average through 43 games. The second round pick showed his potential when he played in two games with the Swedish national team. The 19-year-old posted a 1.35 goals against average in two games of international play, which shows just how much of a ceiling he has. If he can find a way to lead the Otters out of the OHL’s basement next year, it will show just how great of a goaltender Oscar Dansk may one day become.