Murray and Jenner among those expected to have big seasons for Columbus Blue Jackets

By Richard Greco

Oscar Dansk - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Goaltender Oscar Dansk enters his second season as the starter for the Erie Otters. Dansk struggled last season behind a shaky Erie Otters squad, posting a record of 11-23-3-3. (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)

The 2013-14 season could be a potential preview of things to come for the Columbus Blue Jackets, as the organization has several prospects making their NHL debuts as well as prominent players returning to college, Europe, and the CHL. Most of Columbus' young talent has steadily improved and if that trend continues, the Blue Jackets will be a very dangerous young team.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)/Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Ryan Murray's long awaited pre-season debut came against the Pittsburgh Penguins on September 15th and the defenseman stole the show with an overtime game winner. His game winning goal is not the most impressive thing about that game. Alongside James Wisniewski, Murray was given the task of locking down Evgeni Malkin.

After suffering a torn labium last season, Murray seems to have returned to form and looks comfortable on the ice. As Jackets' coach Todd Richards increases his ice time, the former second overall pick will have more room to show off his passing game and join the rush. Murray is competing with Tim Erixon, David Savard, Cody Goloubef, and Ilari Melart for the two remaining stops on Columbus defense.

NHL-Bound Prospect
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)/Springfield Falcons (AHL)

When you look at Boone Jenner play one thing is certain, he can find the back of the net. This ability has followed him to every level of hockey that he has competed in. He dominated amateur hockey, was a force with Oshawa in the OHL (111 career goals), brought his scoring touch to the AHL and has found success in the preseason.

The former second round pick may not just start the season with Columbus, but most likely will do so alongside Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik. His two-way game primes him to work well with a gritty player like Dubinsky, while his scoring touch makes him extremely dangerous playing the wing with Gaborik.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Jake Hansen, RW, Springfield Falcons (AHL)

Jake Hansen has not become the star that the Blue Jackets were hoping for when they selected him 68th overall in the 2007 draft. He consistently improved at the University of Minnesota and nearly played at a point-per-game pace during his senior season, but that success did not carry over to professional hockey. The 6'1 winger did not stand out in his AHL debut last season as he tallied nine points in 46 games. He was invited to training camp, but was among the 17 players to get sent back down to the AHL in the first round of cuts. Hansen needs to throw the body and play a consistent game if he wants the Blue Jackets to renew his contract.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Kerby Rychel heads into 2013-14 looking to make the most of his fourth season with the Windsor Spitfires. The 6'1 agitator has led the Spitfires in scoring the past two seasons, tallying a career-high 87 points last year. He picked up right where he left off and opened this season with a two-goal performance.

Much like his father, former enforcer Warren Rychel, Kerby is a gritty player that is no stranger to dropping the gloves. Although he possesses more skill than his father, the 18-year-old loves to bang bodies and spent 94 minutes in the penalty box last year. Rychel has the ability to get under his opponents skin which can be a crucial spark to any team he suits up for.

Bounceback Junior Prospect
Oscar Dansk, G, Erie Otters (OHL)

When looking at the Erie Otters abysmal record last season, the blame should not be put on Oscar Dansk. The 19-year-old goaltender faced an average of 34 shots per night and finished among the top 15 in the OHL for saves. Dansk finished last season with a 4.11 goals against average and allowed five or more goals in 14 games as the Otters finished with the second worst record in the OHL.

Dansk also suffered a concussion as well as a knee injury last season. Coach Robbie Ftorek and the Otters' goaltending coach were both fired midseason, Ftorek was replaced by Kris Knoblauch. Playing under Knoblauch for a full season should benefit Dansk, who appears off to a good start in 2013-14.

Offensive Breakout
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW/LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

With Ty Rattie (STL) and Seth Jones (NSH) playing professionally, the Portland Winterhawks have some offense to make up for. This primes Oliver Bjorkstrand for a breakout. The skilled winger excelled as a role player for Portland last season and finished playing nearly at a point-per-game pace. This season, Bjorkstrand needs to embrace a more premiere role on the Winterhawks' wing. Although he is just 5'11, Bjorkstrand is strong on the puck and uses his speed to skate through the neutral zone. Aiding to his speed is his strong, accurate shot, which Portland should be seeing a lot of this year. In the young season, Bjorkstrand has tallied seven points in three games.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big 10)

Mike Reilly had a freshman season to remember at the University of Minnesota as he led all Gopher freshmen with 14 points. Not only did he perform for the Golden Gophers, he also got the job done on the Gold Medal winning Team USA squad at the 2013 World Junior Championships.

Offensively, Reilly's game is just starting to blossom. The left handed shooter can stretch the ice with the first pass from his own zone, lead the rush, and send sharp wrist shots at the net. Although his freshman season saw him only score three goals, as a sophomore Reilly should easily surpass that total.

Bounceback Amateur Prospect
T.J. Tynan, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)

T.J. Tynan's point totals dropped from 41 his sophomore year to just 28 last season, continuing a rapid decline from a stellar freshman campaign that saw him rack up 54 points. Although his point totals dropped, Tynan was still an intricate part of Notre Dame's run to capture the last-ever CCHA playoff title.

Tynan was named the Fighting Irish's assistant captain for his senior season and should thrive as a pass-first playmaker in that role.

Freshman to Watch
Peter Quenneville, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

With their last pick in this year's draft, the Blue Jackets selected Peter Quenneville, who will make his collegiate debut at Quinnipiac University this season. He is joining a strong program that reached the national championship game and will need to fight for playing time at center. He played a very balanced game with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in USHL and tallied 33 goals and 37 assists in 60 games. When the puck is on his stick, the sky is the limit for this nifty playmaker. The collegiate game is a step up from the USHL and the key for Quenneville is going to be maintaining a strong two-way game.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Alexander Wennberg, C, Frolunda (SHL)

Alexander Wennberg may be one of the smartest players in the Blue Jackets' system. He made a living on his passing to make high-percentage plays. He rarely gets himself out of position and when he does he uses his smooth skating to get back into the play. He can improve his off the puck game and has room to play more physically, but as of now there are few negatives surrounding the 19-year-old. The 2013-14 season will be crucial for Wennberg as he competes with Frolunda in the SHL for the first time.

Offensive Breakout
Marko Dano, C/W, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL)

Marko Dano used the World Junior Championships as a way to get scouts to start talking about him. He finished the WJC with nine points leaving him in the tournament's top 10 in scoring. Dano is entering his second year with Bratislava in the KHL and should play more comfortably this year. Last season, he was only able to tally seven points in 37 games, but he was an 18-year-old playing against veterans. With a year of experience under his belt combined with his explosiveness on the rush and increased ice time, Dano should see improvements in his scoring totals.

Goaltender to Watch
Anton Forsberg, G, Modo (SHL)

Anton Forsberg returns to Modo of the SHL where, last season, he had a 3.05 goals against average through 14 games. He just signed a three-year entry-level deal with Columbus which adds some stability to his future. However it does not make his job easier. The butterfly goalie will have to fight for playing time amongst Buffalo Sabers' prospect Linus Ullmark and veteran Bernhard Starkbaum.