While the hockey team in Columbus suffered through another losing season in 2007-08, their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch returned to the playoffs and came within one win of making it to the conference finals. Their resurgence should give some level of hope to the Blue Jackets, who will look to some of the Crunch players to help the Blue Jackets reach the postseason in the near future.
Meanwhile, the club’s ECHL affiliate, the Elmira Jackals, were bounced out in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
The leading scorer for the Crunch this season, despite playing 25 games in the NHL, was fourth-year AHL veteran Joakim Lindstrom, who broke out with a 60-point season in only 49 games. Lindstrom, who started the season on a line with rookie Derick Brassard, seems to be finally showing the potential that caused him to be taken in the second round in 2002. Unfortunately, Lindstrom ran out of gas in the Calder Cup playoffs, scoring only seven points in his 13 games.
Another positive presence for the Crunch this season was rookie and former sixth overall pick Brassard. Brassard used his speed, skill, and playmaking to finish third on the Crunch in scoring during the regular season with 51 points in only 42 games. He also scored his first NHL goal, playing in 17 NHL games. Brassard was also one of the best Crunch forwards in the Calder Cup playoffs, scoring 13 points in 13 games. This is encouraging news for the Blue Jackets, who are looking forward to a bright future with Brassard.
Second-year pro Adam Pineault also raised some eyebrows this season, playing a more consistent game. He produced 48 points in 74 games, including 21 goals. Pineault also had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jackets at the end of the season, playing in three NHL games. Pineault must continue to work hard on his consistency and on increasing his speed and strength. He had only two assists in his eight playoff games.
Two rookie Crunch forwards who played regularly and adapted well to their first professional season were Derek Dorsett and Tommy Sestito. Both play a rugged style and can chip in offensively. Sestito, the larger of the two young men at 6’4, 209 lbs., played his first NHL game this season. He scored three goals in the Calder Cup playoffs in nine games. He dressed for 66 regular season games, scored 26 points, and piled up 202 penalty minutes.
Dorsett is a smaller body, at just 5’11, 176 lbs., but his motor never stops working, and he is not afraid to give and take punishment, to which his 289 penalty minutes in the regular season this year attest. Dorsett played in 12 of the Crunch’s 13 playoff games, producing one assist, in addition to his 18 points in his 64 regular-season games. Dorsett will have to bulk up in order to continue to play his style of game in the NHL.
The playoffs saw the professional debut for another rugged player who, chances are, will be seeing regular AHL duty next season. Stefan Legein played two games for the Crunch in the playoffs. He will be a key contributor for them next season, as the 37th overall pick starts his first full professional season. Legein is fast and plays with an edge, a style that more and more will come to define the Blue Jackets as these young players develop into NHLers.
Alexandre Picard continues to battle in the AHL, trying to solidify an NHL roster spot and justify the faith the Jackets had in him when selecting him eighth overall in 2004. To his credit, this season he was battling back from a nasty knee injury, and rebounded quite well after missing the first three months of the season. Picard scored 20 points in 50 games, and scored another three in 13 playoff games for the Crunch. He played in three NHL games as well. Picard still has his work cut out for him, because many of the Jackets’ younger players on the horizon play a similar abrasive style, perhaps are even more accustomed to it. Picard definitely could have a place in the NHL, but he needs to stay healthy and to produce more when given the opportunity. The good news is there is nothing wrong with his attitude.
Brian McGuirk, after finishing a four-year college career, also debuted with the Crunch, where he had three points in six games during the regular season. McGuirk should be in the mix for a roster spot this season.
Kirill Starkov, another AHL rookie, spent part of his season with the Crunch, tallying eight points in his 20 games. Starkov spent the better part of the first half of the season with the CHL Youngstown Steelhounds, where he scored 22 points in 25 games. He did not dress in the playoffs.
The Crunch started out the season with five rookie defensemen, and spent the majority of the rest of the season trying to acquire a professional calibre defense. Certainly their defense was improved as the season progressed.
In November, the Blue Jackets acquired Aaron Rome and Clay Wilson from the Ducks. The move gave the Crunch two solid AHL defensemen, both of whom have some NHL potential. Rome is a former 2002 fourth-round selection. This was his fourth AHL campaign, and he continued his solid play, posting a career-best 29 points in 55 games with the Crunch and Anaheim’s AHL affiliate the Portland Pirates combined. Rome was also called up to play with the Jackets after the trade deadline and dressed in 17 NHL games, scoring his first career NHL goal. Rome may well earn himself an NHL roster spot next season on the Jackets’ blue line.
Clay Wilson is a versatile player who can play either defense or forward. This was his third AHL season, and he also put up a career high in points, with 47 points in 71 games combined between the Pirates and the Crunch. Wilson played in seven NHL games this season, also scoring his first NHL goal. He was returned to the Crunch for the Calder Cup playoffs where he had seven points in 13 games.
Third-year professional Marc Methot continued to play a steady game from the back end this season. Methot, a big man at 6’3, 224 lbs., is more of a defense-first defender, and is tough to beat one on one. The Blue Jackets would like to see Methot play a little meaner, which led him to take a larger number of penalties this season, a career-high 130 minutes. For the second straight season Methot saw playing time in the NHL, appearing in nine games. Methot scored 13
points in 66 games for Syracuse, and had another six points in 13 playoff games. Methot will challenge for an NHL roster spot next season.
A pleasant surprise for the Crunch this season was the play of Andrei Plekhanov. The young Russian rearguard, who stands at 6’1, 187 lbs., dressed in over half the Crunch’s games, scoring 25 points in 40 games. Plekhanov, a former third-round pick in 2004, also played in eight playoff games, and had a goal and two assists. The defenseman has a cannon from the point and skates well. His current contract situation is very much in the air, but Plekhanov certainly showed plenty of promise, and hopes are high that next season Plekhanov might be able to increase his production.
Former WHL defender Nick Holden had his pro debut with the Crunch after Columbus signed him to a three-year entry-level contract. Holden played in only one regular season game for the Crunch, but he should be in the mix for next season.
Grant Clitsome, a ninth-round selection in 2004, made his pro debut after a four-year standout college career with Clarkson. He dressed for one game in the Crunch’s playoff run, and will also be in the running to play with the Crunch next season.
Finally, although he did not play with the Crunch in 2007-08, Jonathan Sigalet, recently acquired from the Bruins in exchange for Matt Marquardt, finished his third AHL season with the Providence Bruins, helping them to the best record in the AHL this season. Sigalet is a good defender who could possibly suit up for the Jackets next season. He had 23 points in 74 games this year, and had three assists in 10 playoff games. The Bruins were hoping Sigalet’s offensive production would be higher, but the 6’1, 185 lbs. defender is a solid two-way player who moves the puck well. Sigalet should be a big addition to a defense corps that is undergoing a major overhaul.
This was a very unfortunate season for Tomas Popperle, who suffered a very serious knee injury in late November. His status going forward is not certain at this point. It is hoped he will be able to play again next season. He played in 17 games for the Crunch, going 7-8-0 with a 2.97 GAA.
Dan LaCosta also had some injury troubles this season, in a bus crash with the Elmira Jackals. LaCosta bounced around between the Crunch, the Jackals, and even made his NHL debut with the Jackets. LaCosta played very well everywhere he went, suiting up in 15 Crunch games and keeping a .932 save percentage and a 2.12 GAA, with a 9-2-3 record. LaCosta had an identical .932 save percentage for the Jackals in 14 games with a 7-4-1 record and a 2.15 GAA. LaCosta, who was a third-round pick for the Jackets in 2004, is often overlooked when it comes to goaltending prospects for the Jackets, but look for the young Labrador City native to challenge for full-time minutes with the Crunch as soon as next season.
Trevor Hendrikx was the only full-time member of the Jackals this season to be who is a Blue Jackets prospect. The 23-year-old defender laced up in all 72 of the Jackals games, scoring 31 points, but was held scoreless in his six games of playoff action. The 6’2 205 lbs. defenseman has one more year left on his entry-level contract. He must now prove he can play at a higher level.
Two other defensemen played partial seasons with Elmira. Jon Landry was involved in the November bus crash and hasn’t played since injuring his knees in that crash. Landry had 10 points in 18 games prior to the crash. He has one year remaining on his contract.
Kyle Wharton, a second-round selection of the Jackets in 2004 who, so far, has done little to justify his high selection, started the year in the AHL, was demoted to the ECHL after 13 games, and played 32 games with the Jackals. He had 11 points in those 32 games. The 6’3 192 lbs. defender has one more year left on his contract. Wharton, like Hendrikx, must prove he can play a higher level of hockey.
Petr Pohl played most of his season in the CHL with the Youngstown Steelhounds, where he finished third on the team with 65 points in 56 games. He finished off the season with the Dayton Bombers, the Jackets ECHL affiliate last season. Pohl played eight regular season games with the Bombers, finishing with nine points, and played in two playoff games, where he had one assist. Pohl’s improved scoring at the ECHL level must translate to the AHL next season, or else he will find it hard to convince Jackets management to re-sign him.