The Columbus Blue Jackets may have had a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, but there is plenty of organizational depth in the system in terms of prospects. It’s not as though the team is due for another few years of rebuilding either. General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen is committed to building a winner and he showed that last summer by trading for budding star Brandon Saad.
A similar trade could be possible this summer as the Jackets look to get back to the playoffs, and there is certainly an abundance of prospects to use as trade bait. Kerby Rychel‘s name has been thrown out there in trade talks throughout the season, but he’s not the only one with value; the Jackets boast a deep Top 20 and even have some intriguing prospects beyond that.
20. (NR) T.J. Tynan, C, 7.0 D
Drafted: 3rd round, 66th overall, 2011
Were he a few inches taller the diminutive T.J. Tynan might be thought of a little more highly in hockey circles. The Illinois native is a pass-first offensive pivot who recorded 48 points in his AHL rookie season last year, which led then-Blue Jackets affiliate Springfield in scoring. He hasn’t been as productive this season, but still has a team-leading 39 assists. A more powerful and accurate shot would make Tynan a much more attractive call-up option for the Blue Jackets. After scoring 13 goals a season ago Tynan has just six this year.
19. (NR) Markus Nutivaara, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 7th round, 189th overall, 2015
The Blue Jackets must have saw something in 21 year old defenseman Markus Nutivaara when they took a flier on him in the seventh round last June’s draft. The 6’1, 185lb rearguard had just two assists in 35 games with Karpat of Liiga in Finland last season. He wasn’t used in all situations and played primarily as a bottom-pairing defender, but this season was different. In 50 regular season games he scored six goals and added 16 assists and finished just three points behind former NHLer Lasse Kukkonen for most points by any defenseman on the team.
Nutivaara could be an intriguing option to bring over to North America next season to play in the AHL, but the Blue Jackets might find value in allowing him to build on the momentum he has generated in Finland this season.
A third-year pro who plays a smart game, Alex Broadhurst has made a positive impression in his first year with the Blue Jackets organization. The 23 year old had an outstanding rookie season with the Rockford IceHogs in 2013-14, posting 45 points in 75 games, but missed four months the following season with a fractured arm.
Given the injury and time off, Broadhurst’s 35 points in 59 games this season with Lake Erie is fairly impressive, and he is fourth on the team in scoring.
17. (16) Sam Ruopp, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 5th round, 129th overall, 2015
Ruopp fits the mould of exactly what the Blue Jackets are looking for in defensemen; he’s a 6’4, physical presence with strong leadership qualities. Ruopp, who could turn pro next season, was named captain of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars after his rookie season.
In the past two seasons he has taken strides for the surging Cougars, improving his mobility and decision making, while still playing a defense-first style. This year Ruopp was third among the team’s defensemen in scoring with 25 points in 69 games, while recording 100 penalty minutes, which was surprisingly only the fourth most on the tenacious Cougars.
16. (15) Blake Siebenaler, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2014
Indiana native Blake Siebenaler wasn’t able to match the offensive numbers he recorded last season with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, but down the stretch the 6’1, 190lb defenseman played some of his best hockey for the playoff-bound IceDogs. In March, Siebenaler scored four goals and added three assists in nine games, while recording a plus-six rating and finished the year with seven goals and 22 assists.
He was signed by the Jackets last June and will turn pro next season, likely beginning his career with Lake Erie in the AHL.
15. (11) Kevin Stenlund, C, 6.5 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2015
One of many bigger bodies in the Blue Jackets system, the 19-year-old Swede never had a big year for the SHL’s HV71 this season, but he wasn’t exactly an all-purpose player for the team. Last year, in just 17 games, he averaged under seven minutes per game. This season Stenlund stayed with the team, but recorded just two points in 43 games.
He was a point-per-game player with the team’s U20 program last season, but hasn’t been trusted enough with the pro team and because of that is a very raw prospect. He has the physical tools (he’s 6’3 and 205lbs) and is a great thinker of the game. Another season or two developing in Sweden might not hurt his development, unless the Blue Jackets think they can give him more ice time in the AHL.
14. (NR) Keegan Kolesar, RW, 7.5 D
Drafted: 3rd round, 69th overall, 2015
A rugged, versatile forward, Keegan Kolesar has developed his offensive game this season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The 6’2, 217lb winger has added valuable secondary scoring to the high-powered team, contributing 61 games in 64 regular season games, including 30 goals, which ranks second on the team. Kolesar has a physical side to his game as well and led the Thunderbirds in penalty minutes with 107.
That physical play, combined with the rigorous Western schedule might have had an impact on Kolesar’s play down the stretch, however. After a hat trick against Victoria on Feb. 14, the Winnipeg native recorded just two assists in the final nine games of the season. He’ll be looking to rebound in the playoffs.
13. (19) Daniel Zaar, RW, 7.5 D
Drafted: 6th round, 152nd overall, 2012
Zaar’s success the past two seasons in Sweden has translated to North America quite well. The 6’0, 179lb winger isn’t a complete player by any means but he is a dynamic offensive force; in his first season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, Zaar has a team-leading 21 goals and is third on the team with 43 points, just two back of AHL veteran Michael Chaput.
He hasn’t had any prolonged pointless streaks this season either, owing to his ability as a pro to bounce back after disappointing outings. That said, the offense primarily runs through Zaar both at even strength and on the power play as he has a team-leading 184 shots this season, which translates to a 9.24 shooting percentage. That isn’t awful, but given the volume of shoots he takes it might be worthwhile for Zaar to work on his shot over the summer.
12. (12) Paul Bittner, LW, 7.5 D
Drafted: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2015
Bittner is an intriguing prospect in many ways; the Minnesota native is a 6’4, offensively-talented power forward type, though he has his deficiencies. He doesn’t quite utilize his size as effectively as he should and his skating, like many bigger forwards, could use some improving. A season-ending injury is also a little concerning; Bittner played just 25 games this season before suffering a hip injury in December.
He recorded 71 points in 66 games last season for the high-powered Portland Winterhawks, which featured fellow Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand. He answered some questions about his offensive ability in the 25 games he played this season, scoring 10 goals and adding 11 assists. The hope is that he can return to Portland next season with a clean bill of health.
11. (7) Anton Forsberg, G, 7.0 C
Drafted: 7th round, 188th overall, 2011
Whether it’s in part due to the competition Joonas Korpisalo has given Forsberg or a simple off-year, the lanky Swede has been unable to build upon an astonishing rookie campaign. That said, it hasn’t been a bad year by any stretch—he owns an 18-10-4 record with Lake Erie—but given the 2.01 goals-against average and .927 save percentage he posted last season, it would have been assumed Forsberg spent more time in the NHL this year if there was an injury. Instead, once Sergei Bobrovsky went down, Forsberg was unable to grab hold of the job and it was eventually taken by Korpisalo.
Still, with Bobrovksy back and the potential of playoffs for the Monsters, Forsberg could still battle with Korpisalo for the team’s starting gig. His numbers at the AHL level are on par with Korpisalo’s and he does own a better win-loss record (though the team drastically improved in the second half of the season, when Korpisalo was in the NHL). He has played his best hockey down the stretch, however, posting a 1.73 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in seven March appearances, including a pair of shutouts.