Talent and depth on defense is the backbone of Columbus Blue Jackets Top 20 ranking

By Richard Greco
Cam Atkinson - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Cam Atkinson, who has 10 points in 21 games with Columbus this season, ranks as the top forward prospect in the mid-season Top 20 ranking (courtesy of Jason Mowry/Icon SMI)

The Columbus Blue Jackets still have strong defensive depth and a good amount of young wingers slowly reaching their potential. Unfortunately for Columbus not all of these wingers can be Cam Atkinson or Boone Jenner. Much like the deep defensive core, the Blue Jackets are riddled with gritty forwards that get in the dirty areas, but have trouble finding the back of the net. Although the Blue Jackets have a significant amount of household names, the back-end prospects in the talent pool are not improving nearly as much as they should.

Matt Calvert, currently with 86 NHL games played, was the only Columbus prospect to graduate from prospect status since the Fall Top 20.

1. (1) Ryan Murray, D, 8.0 B
Drafted 1st Round, 2nd Overall, 2012

On draft day, Ryan Murray was deemed the most NHL-ready defender in the draft. Making his NHL debut would not be in the 6'1, 210 pound defenseman’s cards for this season. First the league went on strike, and then on November 16th things went from bad to worse for Columbus’ prized defensive prospect. After spending weeks complaining about a sore left shoulder, Murray collided with a player from the Victoria Royals and dislocated his left shoulder. An MRI revealed a torn labrum in his left shoulder and on January 10th, two days before the NHL season was salvaged, Murray underwent successful surgery, which would require six months to recover.

The Saskatchewan native not only missed his chance to compete in professional hockey, but was also excluded for a repeat tour with Team Canada in the 2013 World Junior Championships last January. Through 23 games with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, Murray scored two goals and dished out 15 helpers.

The surgery was reported as successful and the 19-year-old will get another shot at earning time on the ice next season.

2. (7) Cam Atkinson, RW, 8.0 C
Drafted 6th Round, 157th Overall, 2008

Cam Atkinson tore up the AHL in his 33-game stint to begin this season. He scored 17 goals and set up 21 to tally 38 points before leaving the first place Springfield Falcons to play with the Blue Jackets. Atkinson would score a goal and average just over 15 minutes of ice time before a lower-body injury forced the Connecticut product to be placed on injured reserve. After nearly a month sidelined, the 5'7 winger returned with an assist as Columbus defeated Detroit 3-2 on February 21st.

Playing alongside Artem Anisimov and Matt Calvert had made Atkinson become a key player on Columbus’ squad. The undersized forward’s quickness and hockey sense in the offensive zone have kept him playing on Columbus’ top line. On the season, the 23-year-old has 10 points in 21 games.

3. (3) Tim Erixon, D, 7.5, C
Acquired in trade with New York Rangers, July 23rd, 2012

Much like Atkinson, Tim Erixon made a statement in his limited time with Springfield to start the year. The offensive defenseman dished out 24 assists in 40 games and was able to improve his penalty game with significant minutes. The New York native was named to the Eastern Conference’s AHL All-Star team, where he posted an even plus/minus in a 7-6 contest. Immediately following the All-Star game in Providence, the two-time WJC medalist joined the Blue Jackets for the first time of the season.

Erixon has not had the offensive explosion that Columbus was looking for with five assists in 25 games, but the 22-year-old has looked comfortable throwing his body in the defensive end on the ice. He has played with a variety of defensive partners, including veteran Adrian Aucoin, who has registered 785 penalty minutes in 17 NHL seasons. The presence of the former Blackhawks captain can teach Erixon how to be a physical player, which is an aspect of his game that has always been questioned.

4. (8) Boone Jenner, C, 7.5 C
Drafted 2nd Round, 37th Overall, 2011

Boone Jenner returned to captain the Oshawa Generals and is taking advantage of his additional season in junior hockey. The 19-year-old tallied 82 points in 56 games with the third place Generals. Jenner’s 45 goals are enough to rank him third in the OHL behind Florida Panthers prospect Vince Trocheck (50) and New Jersey Devils prospect Reid Boucher (62).  Despite his success with Oshawa, which has continued in the post-season with three assists in four games, Jenner was held scoreless through three WJC games this winter.

Regardless of his failed performance in the World Juniors, Jenner will have a very good chance at earning a spot with the Blue Jackets at camp next summer. Columbus has a depth of gritty centers, but Jenner is separating himself from the pack with his playmaking ability. The 6'1 forward has great positioning in front of the net and seemingly is always in the right spot at the right time to knock in a rebound. For his size Jenner plays a decent two-way game, but he could improve his physicality.

5. (4) Oscar Dansk, G, 7.5 C
Drafted 2nd Round, 31st Overall, 2012

The Erie Otters finished dead last in the OHL’s Western Division with a 19-40-4-5 record. Oscar Dansk is not to blame for his team’s lackluster performance. The Swedish net minder’s first season in the CHL exposed some signs of immaturity, but all in all most of the blame can be put on his supporting cast rather than himself. Despite a lack of team success, Dansk’s season is one that has educated the 19-year-old.

The hybrid goalie’s journey to North America was plagued from the get-go. A knee injury forced him to begin pre-season late. As he began, Dansk opened with success and posted a sub-four goals against average through December. Then he left for the WJC in Russia. Despite not playing in one game during the tournament, Dansk was able to learn from the experience. His return was nothing special for the Otters. Dansk would finish with a 4.11 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. Despite the unimpressive numbers as a teenager, Dansk should be able to maintain his composure after staying sane during 43 games behind the pipes on a last place team.

6. (2) David Savard, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th Round, 94th Overall, 2009

On January 12th, David Savard was called up from the Springfield Falcons, where he was making quite the impact. Alongside John Moore, Savard led a Springfield defensive corps that ranked second in the AHL with a 2.33 goals against average prior to his departure to Columbus. The 6’1 defender had all of his skills intact with the Falcons. His positioning in his own zone was sound as he played a more stay-at-home game while paired with the offensively gifted Moore and he was picking up assists with low shots from the blue line. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old he never got a chance to prove those skills would transition to the NHL.

After only playing three games with Columbus and posting a minus-3 rating, Savard was sent back to the AHL. He has since spent the season on Springfield’s top pair, tallying 26 points (five goals and 21 assists) in 52 games.

7. (11) Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, RW, 7.0 C
Signed as a free agent, July 1st, 2012

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault signed a three-year contract with Springfield this season after scoring 64 points in his first professional season with Connecticut in the AHL last year. He is currently tied for fifth in the AHL in scoring with 58 points in 63 games. Of those 58 points, the shifty winger dished out 39 helpers further establishing himself as a dangerous playmaker. Audy-Marchessault was selected for his second consecutive AHL All-Star game and along with Erixon was called up to Columbus shortly after the AHL’s best met in Providence.

Audy-Marchessault’s stay in Columbus would not be long. He was brought up to fill in the void left when an injury forced Matt Calvert to be placed on injured reserve. The Quebec product would only play in two games with the Jackets until he was returned to the Falcons just six days after his call up. Audy-Marchessault picked up right where he left off with his minor league club.

8. (9) Cody Goloubef, D 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd Round, 37th Overall, 2008

The season did not begin the way Cody Goloubef was expecting. The lockout forced a ton of NHL-ready defenders to Springfield which directly affected the 23-year-old’s playing time. Things got worse for the defender. After skating in just 11 games, Goloubef was sidelined with a broken hand. Since his return and the departure of Springfield’s top defenders, the Ontario product has seen a consistent amount of offensive success. Through 30 AHL games on the season, the 6'1 defender has 12 points and a plus-nine rating. The plus-nine rating is the first time Goloubef has had a plus rating after 25 games in his professional career. His plus rating shows him maturing and feeling more comfortable in the defensive position.

Through February, Goloubef was shuffled between the AHL and NHL due to the injury depleted Blue Jackets’ lack of depth. On February 11th, Goloubef scored his first career NHL goal in a 6-2 triumph over the San Jose Sharks. Goloubef’s constant fluctuation between the NHL and AHL shows the Blue Jackets noticing his potential to break out as an everyday player.

9. (NR) Dalton Prout, D, 6.5B
Drafted 6th round, 154th overall, 2010

After spending 40 games with Springfield, Dalton Prout was called up to the Blue Jackets. Prior to his departure from Springfield, the 23-year-old has nine points (eight assists and one goal). Upon his arrival in Columbus, the 6'3 defender was paired with Nikita Nikitin on the team’s second defensive line. Through 14 NHL games, Prout has played a sound stay at home game and has a plus-three rating. Prout has also registered one assist with the Jackets.

Although his hitting ability has not been in full effect thus far in the NHL, Prout’s 220 pound body could make for a dangerous hitting machine. If he begins to hit the way he did in Springfield and the CHL, Prout will be a prime candidate to continue playing on Columbus’ gritty team. He is not the type of prospect that will win his team a lot of games like some other prospects found in the top half of this list, but his steady game will facilitate the more skilled blueliners and their game-changing ability.

10. (14) Austin Madaisky, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2010

After much deliberation of whether Austin Madaisky should return to the CHL or play professionally, the Blue Jackets decided to place the 21-year-old on Springfield’s roster. Madaisky would not skate in one game with the Falcons this year. After eight games with the Evansville Iceman, Madaisky suffered a wrist injury that required surgery to fix. Upon his return to Evansville, Madaisky has had some success. Through his 11 ECHL games this season, the defender has four assists and two goals.

11. (NR) Joonas Korpisalo, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 3rd Round, 62nd Overall, 2012

After originally claiming that he wanted to play in the CHL, Joonas Korpisalo decided to continue playing overseas this season. His success started with Finland’s Jokerit U20 of Jr. A SM-liiga, where he posted a 2.67 goals against average in 13 games. The 18-year-old was loaned to Kiekko-Vantaa of Mestis, Finland's second tier pro league, for 18 games. Through those 18 games, he saved nearly 90-percent of all shots and skated away with a 2.71 goals against average.

He would also play with Finland’s U20 team in international competitions. He struggled at the WJC with a 3.36 goals against average, .858 save percentage, and a 2-2 record in five appearances. Columbus is hoping to get a better chance to evaluate Korpisalo’s ability should he play in the CHL for the 2013-14 season.

12. (10) Mike Reilly, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th Round, 98th Overall, 2011

Mike Reilly was part of a media frenzy that hit the University of Minnesota upon his arrival. Along with his brothers, Connor and Ryan, the Reillys became the first trio of freshman to play for the Gophers. Mike would quickly separate himself from his brothers and started showing the Gopher community why he is known as an offensive defender. He scored three goals and dished out 11 assists in 37 games with Minnesota.

The 19-year-old would just make a name for himself in the collegiate community, but on a worldwide scale as well. Along with fellow Gopher and New York Rangers’ prospect Brady Skjei, Reilly was invited to attend the US World Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid in December. Reilly posted three points in seven international games for the gold medal winning team.

13. (5) T.J. Tynan, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd Round, 67th Overall, 2011

It is clear that even after his junior season, T.J. Tynan is still years away from being ready for the NHL. Tynan’s steady decrease in production continued last season. After creating a buzz with 54 points as a freshman, people figured his drop to 41 points as a sophomore was natural, but this season was Tynan’s worst yet. After 40 games at Notre Dame, the 21-year-old recorded just 28 points. In addition to decreasing his scoring number, the Illinois native also dropped his penalty minutes to a college career-low 28 minutes. In his senior season, the playmaking passer will need to overcome adversity and turn heads with his offensive production. Tynan needs to improve his position in neutral and offensive zones.

14. (12) Allen York, G, 7.0C
Drafted 6th Round, 158th Overall, 2007

Allen York began the season as Curtis McElhinney’s back-up in Springfield. He played well in that role, but was sent down to Evansville to see some significant playing time. He would play in five games between November and December with the Icemen and had a 2.72 goals against average before his return to the Falcons. York continued playing well as the back-up netminder. In the 14 games he competed in, Springfield has nine wins behind York’s 2.56 goals against average and .910 save percentage. Nobody will know how good the 23-year-old can be until he is awarded a starting role between the pipes.

15. (13) Lukas Sedlak, C, 7.0C
Drafted 6th Round, 158th Overall, 2011

Lukas Sedlak returned to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens for his second season in the QMJHL. His production dropped by 11 points, but Sedlak played much more physically along the boards en route to a playoff berth for Chicoutimi. The 20-year-old center has quick stick work in the faceoff dot and played a well balanced offensive game with 15 goals and 19 assists during the regular season. He has added one goal and three assists through his first four playoff games.

Sedlak would compete in international play with the Czech Republic U20 team. He was honored as the team’s captain at the WJC and came away with three points in six games. He took his role as captain seriously and began sticking up for his national teammates. At 6'0 he is not the most imposing force, but his gritty play shows that Sedlak is not intimated.

16. (17) Michael Chaput, C, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with Philadelphia Flyers, February 28th, 2011

Michael Chaput has spent his entire season with the Falcons. Only a year after being named the Memorial Cup MVP for his playoff heroics with the Shawinigan Cataractes, the two-way forward was able to find a starting role on Springfield's cluttered lineup from the get-go. Through 62 games, the former Flyers’ prospect has nine goals and 15 assists. The 20-year-old Quebec native has played physical on the penalty kill and recorded 49 penalty minutes this season. Chaput needs to be more than a penalty killer if he wants to get a chance to play in Columbus. On a team that is built of gritty forwards, Chaput is playing a role that the Blue Jackets do not need to be filled.

17. (NR) Daniel Zaar, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th Round, 152nd Overall, 2012

Daniel Zaar moved around a bit more this season compared to last year. Once again he started the year with Rögle J20 of Sweden’s SuperElit. He recorded 19 points (11 goals) in 17 games before being sent to Rögle of the Elitserien. Zaar’s production slowed there as he tallied three points in 25 games. He adopted the role of a playmaker when he was loaned to BIK Karlskoga of the Allsvenskan. He finished the regular season with seven assists in 15 games and added two goals and another helper in six playoff games. The well-rounded one-timer specialist played for Sweden's U19 and U20 teams also scored four goals through nine international games.

18. (15) Seth Ambroz, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 5th Round, 128th Overall, 2011

Seth Ambroz doubled his point totals from his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, however that is not exactly great news. The 19-year-old did not exactly bounce back from his ugly freshman campaign, where he would only record eight points. As a sophomore he posted 16 points, four of which came in the first four games, in 38 games with the Gophers. The once highly touted prospect has seen his stock plummet starting on draft day in 2011 and this season did not reverse the cycle. At 6'3, Ambroz has the body to become a power forward, but not the instinct. Ambroz will need to increase his hockey sense in his remaining two years at the University of Minnesota.

19. (16) Will Weber, D, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 53rd Overall, 2007

After being sent from Columbus to a saturated Springfield club in October, Weber was loaned to Evansville. His stay there would not be long and after being held scoreless through eight games, the 6'4 stay-at-home defender returned to Springfield. He has played in 47 games with the Falcons only finding the net twice and the score sheet just three times. Weber did however make his presence in his own zone felt. With an increase in balance, Weber was able to throw his weight around and led to him spending 72 minutes in the penalty box. The Michigan native also improved his plus/minus to a plus-two after he left the Iceman with a minus-five rating.

20. (NR) Spencer Machacek, RW, 6.0C
Acquired in trade with Winnipeg Jets, March, 10th 2013

On March 10th, Spencer Machacek was acquired in exchange for Tomas Kubalik. Both players have a similar style of play and although smaller than Kubalik, he can play more confidently in front of the net. Machacek has a reputation for getting into the dirty areas on the ice. As a two-way forward, Machacek runs into a similar problem as Chaput. On a team riddled with names like R.J. Umberger and Brandon Dubinsky, it will be hard for stereotypical grinders to stand out enough in the minors to earn a call-up.