With an already impressive prospect pool, the Columbus Blue Jackets accomplished two things during both the 2009-10 season and the succeeding off-season: they added much-needed forward depth, and were able to draft a potential superstar in Ryan Johansen.
In regards to the Hockey’s Future guidelines, the Blue Jackets group of prospects may take a hit this season as their top prospect, Nikita Filatov, is set to graduate; however, players like Ryan Johansen and John Moore, among others, have the potential to be solid NHLers sooner rather than later.
The organization is perhaps most solid in prospect depth on the left wing; in fact, each of the five prospects on the left side have either already played in the NHL or have a great shot of doing so in the near future. Of course, any discussion of Blue Jackets prospects begins with Nikita Filatov; the shifty Russian is still just 20-years-old, though it seems he’s been hovering atop the organization’s prospect pool forever. With last season’s fiasco behind him, Filatov is back in North America and though it is early in the season, he seems to be fitting in rather well. He’ll assuredly graduate from the prospect ranks this season and become a full time NHLer.
Joining Filatov on the left side are two others who have NHL experience: Maksim Mayorov and Tom Sestito. Mayorov has played in seven career NHL games but has yet to register a point. He’ll spend the 2010-11 season in the AHL where it’ll likely be a make-or-break year in regards to his future as an NHLer. Sestito, who’s been troubled by injuries for much of his pro career, is a big 6’5 power forward. His combination of ruggedness and skill should lift him to become a full-time NHLer in the near future, should he be able to stay healthy.
Rounding out the Jackets’ depth on left wing is former Brandon Wheat King standout Matthew Calvert and recently drafted Dalton Smith. Calvert is a speedy, smallish winger with a great amount of offensive talent. He’ll be given every opportunity to succeed in an offensive role in his first professional season, but will likely need to continue to add size in order to establish himself as an effective NHL forward. Smith, a second-round pick in last June’s draft, is quite different from Calvert; he’s a big, physical winger who can create space for his teammates. With his physical game being his best asset, Smith will be expected to hone his offensive abilities before turning pro.
To go along with a top-notch prospect on the wing, the Blue Jackets have a potential first line center in 18-year-old Ryan Johansen. However, opposed to their depth at left wing, their remaining centermen are either rather unknown or unproven. The fourth overall pick in 2010, Johansen is smooth-skating, puck-moving center with the ability to score to go along with tremendous vision. At 6’2, he has the frame required to become sort of a mesh between a power-forward and a playmaking center; it is no surprise then, that Johansen models his game after Sharks center Joe Thornton.
The organization has only one center prospect in the pro-ranks – Tomas Kana. He was acquired in a trade with St. Louis last season, and after struggling in the Blues organization, he seems to have found his game with the Blue Jackets organization. Not only was he an important part of the Syracuse Crunch offense last season, but he earned call-up to Columbus, registering his first career NHL point. He’s proven himself effective in all situations in the AHL, and with a successful 2010-11 season, he could see himself in Columbus the following season.
The remaining three prospects at center in the Jackets’ organization all play in the NCAA; in fact, two of them, Kevin Lynch and Matt Rust, play on the same team – the University of Michigan. Sean Collins, a seventh round pick in 2008, plays for Cornell. Rust had a breakout season last year with 40 points in 45 games, and the small, but bulky, center will look to improve upon those numbers in this, his final collegiate season. Lynch was a regarded as a shut-down center prior to being drafted by the Blue Jackets, but began to show offensive potential near the end of last season with the University of Michigan. He’ll return for his sophomore season this year. Collins is an obscure prospect with limited potential. He’ll need to work on his skating and speed in his final two seasons at Cornell if he is to earn a pro contract with Columbus.
The organization features a mix of everything on the right side: skill, size, grit, and overall toughness. They are not blessed with a sure-fire prospect as they are in the other two forward positions, but that is not to say they don’t have prospects with legitimate NHL potential. Petr Straka, Cameron Atkinson, and Tomas Kubalik are three in particular who benefited from impressive 2009-10 seasons and became highly thought of throughout the organization. All three have shown a great amount of skill and have put up points in their perspective leagues to go along with that skill. Kubalik, especially, has elevated his status within the organization with a very impressive training camp, and will spend the 2010-11 season with Springfield of the AHL. Straka and Atkinson will remain in the QMJHL and NCAA respectively.
Also, at the AHL level, the organization has Mike Blunden and Chad Kolarik. Both players will be twenty-four-years-old this season and have certainly shown to be effective AHLers, but have yet to emerge as full-time NHL players. Kolarik brings a little more offense to his game, while Blunden’s game is more of a rough-and-tumble style, though he has four goals in his first six games of the season for Springfield.
Cam Atkinson may be their most impressive prospect on the right side in the NCAA, though Jake Hansen and Trent Vogelhuber have some promise. Vogelhuber has the benefit of playing for a winning system in the University of Miami, and his point totals have steadily improved. He displays impressive hockey sense, but as a seventh round pick, the odds are stacked against him. Jake Hansen, like Vogelhuber, needs to improve in a few areas if he is to have an NHL career. A lanky winger, he’ll have to show some offensive consistency in his third season with the University of Minnesota.
Kyle Neuber is perhaps the most limited prospect on the wing in the Jackets’ organization. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 Entry Draft, his upside is no more than a fourth line enforcer on an NHL team. In the meantime, he’ll be getting lots of work in with his fists for the Springfield Falcons.
Though the Blue Jackets’ top two prospects are forwards, there is no doubt their defense is the deepest and most impressive grouping of prospects in the organization. Perhaps the most promising of the group of some 15-odd defensemen is a group of four young blueliners who’ve recently joined the Springfield Falcons for their rookie season: John Moore, Cody Goloubef, David Savard, and Theo Ruth. All four defensemen have NHL talent, and it is certainly possible they all see ice-time for the Blue Jackets within the next two seasons. Both Moore and Savard have the ability to run a powerplay, but will be asked to hone their defensive game in the AHL, while Ruth and Goloubef, products of the NCAA, are known more for their defensive abilities. Out of the four, John Moore is most likely to see time with the Blue Jackets by season’s end, but, of course, that could change as the season progresses. Also entering his first season as a pro is QMJHL-grad Steven Delisle. He has yet to appear in an AHL game, and will likely be assigned to the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL.
Joining the aforementioned four on the Falcon’s blue line is a trio of returning defensemen in Brent Regner, Grant Clitsome, and Nick Holden. The three have a combined five AHL seasons under their belt and will be instrumental in acclimating the aforementioned young defensemen to the pro game. Moreover, they’ll also be competing for a call-up to Columbus as the season wears on. Aside from John Moore, both Grant Clitsome and Nick Holden have a good chance of seeing time in the NHL this season; Clitsome already has NHL experience, while Holden had an impressive training camp this season. Meanwhile, Regner will look to improve upon a rookie season in the AHL in which he posted 20 points in 50 games.
Appearing to have groups of prospects on the point in several levels of hockey, the organization also boasts a trio of defensemen from the NCAA. Thomas Larkin is perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch at 6’5 and 222 pounds. He was a relatively unknown fifth round draft pick, partly because of his birthplace – Italy – but with an impressive freshman season for Colgate University, he has started to gain some recognition within the organization. While Larkin is the most intriguing, Will Weber is easily the most stable of the trio. The soon-to-be-twenty-one-year-old was named the best defensive defenseman in the CCHA last season, and has gotten off to a great start this season with two points in four games; of course, providing a little more offense will be the key to Weber’s transition to professional hockey. Drew Olson is their third defensive prospect currently playing college hockey, and though he struggled offensively in his freshman season, he was able to earn consistent ice-time with his impressive defensive and physical play.
To match the three blue line prospects in the NCAA, the organization has a trio of defensemen playing in the OHL, all of whom were drafted last June. Brandon Archibald, in the fourth round, was the first of the three defensemen to be selected. He’s an all-around defenseman with good size at 6’3, but is at least a few years away from making the NHL, especially with the abundance of defensive talent ahead of him. The same can be said for fifth round pick Austin Madaisky. He also plays a similar game to Archibald, but as of late, his offensive game has been emerging; he came on strong last season, finishing with 27 points, and already has seven points in 11 games to begin the 2010-11 campaign. Dalton Prout, a sixth round pick, went undrafted for two years before a breakout 2009-10 season with the Barrie Colts caught the attention of the Blue Jackets’ scouts. He was already known as a physical, defensive-minded defenseman, but he broke out offensively with seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points. In comparison, he only managed to notch 14 points in his first three seasons. He’s continued to show offensive hope this season with five points in just four games as an overager in the OHL.
Anton Blomqvist is the organization’s lone representative from overseas. He’s made the jump for the Swedish under-20 league to playing for Malmö, a second tier team in Sweden. He’s a long ways away from NHL-ready, and will likely spend a few more years in Sweden before venturing to North America.
The organization bolstered their depth in net this past June by selecting two netminders in the draft; Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault and Martin Ouellette. Corbeil-Theriault, a fourth round pick, has struggled early on in his junior career. In his first two seasons playing for the Halifax Mooseheads, he has a combined record of 11-50-3, and has posted a goals against average hovering around 4.00. The organization sees promise in the young netminder as he’s a giant between the pipes at 6’6, yet, by all means, he’s a project pick. Ouelette was selected in the seventh round and has just begun a career at the University of Maine. He will be the team’s backup for the 2010-11 seasons, but will likely battle with Shawn Sirman for the team’s starting position over the next few seasons.
Perhaps their most interesting goalie prospect is their sixth round pick from 2007, Allen York. He has shown continued improvement during his tenure at R.P.I, and his start to the 2010-11 season is encouraging to say the least; though only posting a record of 1-1-2, York has only given up six goals in four games, giving him a goals against of 1.45 and a save percentage of .947.
Another new face to the Blue Jackets’ organization is twenty-five-year-old Gustaf Wesslau. He’s been injured to start the season and has been unable to show what he’s capable of, but the Swede has come off back-to-back impressive seasons for Djurgården in the Swedish Elite League. He’ll likely spend the 2010-11 seasons battling David LeNeveu for the starting job in the AHL.