Blue Jackets: Draft picks paying dividends for the Syracuse Crunch

By Michael Simmons

The Columbus Blue Jackets entry drafts are beginning to pay dividends
for the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch
currently ice
four Columbus draft picks and a fifth, Andrej Nedorost,
skates with the Blue Jackets. Another drafted player,
Martin Paroulek, a ninth round selection in the 2000 entry draft, played
parts of
two seasons with the Crunch before returning to Europe at mid season
last year.
It is possible that left wing
Janne Jokila
will also see ice time with Syracuse this season after being assigned
to Dayton
of the ECHL after the first game of the season. Last year marked the
first pro
season for Tim Jackman, Ben Knopp and Pascal
this year they are beginning to show the growth that will help Syracuse
to competing for the playoffs. The following is a brief look at each of
Blue Jacket picks contributing to the Crunch’s strong start to the

Jackman, RW

The 6’3” right wing had a difficult first season
of pro hockey with Syracuse after leaving Mankato State after his
season. Jackman worked hard during the summer, spending several weeks
Columbus for voluntary on ice workouts and skating clinics. As a
Jackman was expected to compete for fourth line duty with the Jackets
season but a shoulder injury hampered his participation at training
camp. To
date, Jackman has been a much more assertive player for the Crunch.  He has effectively positioned himself in
front of the net in the offensive zone is slowly emerging as a
legitimate power
forward prospect. Last season Jackman struggle to post 16 points in 77
played; currently, he has registered a point in six of the first seven
garnering four assists and two goals.

Ben Knopp, RW
– Ben
Knopp spent the majority of the 2002-2003 hockey season learning the
pro game
in Dayton of the ECHL.  Knopp, while a
prolific scorer while playing as a junior in the WHL, struggled to
score during
his first season as a pro. Former Dayton coach Gary Ireland questioned
work ethic and desire to fight through checks. Knopp finished his first
with a twelve game call up with Syracuse, but would have to earn an AHL
spot for the 2003-2004 season during training camp. Knopp returned to
the ice
much stronger and more committed to the game. 
He had an excellent training camp in Columbus and earned some
time during two preseason games before being assigned to Syracuse.
Knopp has
yet to score a goal this season, but his early play indicates he is
to improving his game. 

Aaron Johnson, D
Considered to be the top Columbus defensive prospect, Johnson enters
his first
year pro after a sterling career in the QMJHL. The talented offensive
defenseman has been paired with seasoned pro Todd Rohloff.
Rohloff was
signed by the Blue Jackets in the off-season to tutor Johnson in the
art of
defensive zone coverage while allowing Johnson to join the rush when
appropriate. Johnson is also quarterbacking a power play unit that has
the season converting 33 percent of their opportunities. Through seven
Johnson is scoring at slightly under a point per game rate with two
goals and
four assists. Johnson will continue to earn quality minutes on the blueline so
long as he continues to be defensively responsible.  

Pascal Leclaire, G
– Leclaire is the only
former first round selection playing with the Crunch. Last year, his
first as a
pro, the young goaltender struggled with consistency and never
himself as the starter. Leclaire is blessed with a dazzling glove hand
and has
tremendous agility; he often relies on athletic ability over technique.
The Blue
Jackets worked with Leclaire throughout last season to improve his
and rebound control. They also had him change his stance and try new
essentially recreating the netminder with the fundamentals first
mentality.  Leclaire’s play to start the
season suggests
that he has indeed improved his game. 
With a 3-0 record and .935 save percentage, Leclaire is making a
push to
grab the bulk of the season’s starts from 2002-2003 AHL All-Star
goaltender Karl
. In his fourth start of the season, Leclaire left after the
period after suffering a minor knee injury when an opposing player fell
on top
of him, but he is not expected to miss any starts as a result of the