Blue Jackets NCAA prospects update

By Chris Leary

As has been the case throughout the short history of the Columbus Blue Jacket franchise, the majority of talent developed within the system has primarily percolated up from the Canadian junior ranks, with NCAA alums lagging far behind. The current season is no different, as none of the current top 20 prospects in the system skate on collegiate ice in the United States. Of the six Jacket prospects currently in the NCAA ranks, none are projected to have a profound impact at the NHL level, which is not surprising considering that of the six, only one, UMass senior forward Kevin Jarman, was selected before the fifth round of the NHL draft. There are, however, some bright spots in the collegiate ranks for the Jackets, even if the road towards the NHL for each is shaping up to be an extremely long and difficult one.

Arguably the best Blue Jacket prospect currently skating in the NCAA, sophomore forward Nick Sucharski has been a consistent, dependable presence at both ends of the rink in his sophomore campaign with the Spartans. Coming off an injury-shortened freshman year with Michigan State in 2005-06 that saw him register a pair of goals and five assists in 38 games, Sucharski has begun to assert himself at the offensive end of the rink. He has seven goals and 11 assists in 26 games this season.

It’s that offensive potential that attracted the Blue Jackets to Sucharski in this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft, when the club selected the Ontario native with their second of three selections in the fifth round. Considered to be an emerging offensive talent coming out of his amateur career in the Oakville, Ontario hockey program, Sucharski still has two more years of NCAA eligibility to further hone his craft in preparation for an eventual audition in the ECHL and AHL, most likely in the autumn of 2009.

Originally targeted by the Blue Jackets in the 2003 Entry Draft based on a wealth of offensive potential as a freshman with the Minutemen, senior wing Jarman has seen his stock fall within the organization in what has been a non-illuminating college career with the University of Massachusetts. In 126 career games with UMass, the Ontario native has only managed to post 19 goals and 33 assists, including an extremely difficult 2005-06 campaign that saw him net a single goal in 29 games.

An Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League All-Star as a teen, the offensive flash displayed as a youngster in Canada never really became manifest on the much more demanding Hockey East ice. As a result, the pending graduation of Jarman out of college does not appear to portend a significant contribution in the Jackets organization, although an extended audition in Dayton of the ECHL seems to be on Jarman’s radar. At this point in his career, Jarman will need to grind his way into a significant role at a higher level, and it appears unlikely that he will make a significant impact at the NHL level.

Jarman and Sucharski are joined up front in the collegiate ranks by a pair of bangers; Boston University junior Brian McGuirk and University of Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Matt Greer, neither of whom appear to have developed the type of offensive game that would hint at a lengthy future in the professional ranks. Of the pair, Greer has turned in the better statistical campaign in 2006-07, with four goals and four assists in 27 games with the Bulldogs this season. Neither player is expected to have an impact in the professional ranks within the organization for several years, and even that will depend entirely on the development of technically-sound two-way games as neither McGuirk or Greer have shown an aptitude for consistently tallying on the scorer’s sheet.

Whereas the situation up front in the collegiate ranks has remained bleak within the organization over the past several years, a pair of developing junior rearguards may eventually follow the path laid by Duvie Wescott onto the blue line at Nationwide Arena. In Yale Bulldog Rob Page and Clarkson Golden Knight Grant Clitsome, the Jackets have a pair of young, mobile blueliners who have already shown progress at both ends of the ice, even if that development cannot be clearly discerned through an examination of the stat sheet.

Of the pair of defensemen currently in the Jacket system suiting up in the NCAA ranks, Grant Clitsome appears to possess the most translatable skills at this point in his amateur career. Once again counted on as a key component of the Bulldogs power play and the most accomplished offensive defenseman on the team, Clitsome once again leads the way on defense with four goals and seven assists so far this season, totals which are slightly off his career pace with the Golden Knights. Still something of a long-shot to have an impact at the professional level, the Gloucester, Ontario native has already displayed evidence of the type of skill-set that should transfer to the minor professional ranks.

A former top teenager in the state of Minnesota, Page made a successful transition to the Ivy League and has been a consistent presence on the Bulldog blue line in his two-plus years with Yale. While the offensive acumen displayed by the Eden Prairie native has not translated well to the Yale blue line, Page has continued to develop his defensive capabilities to the point that he will likely earn an extended look in the high minors upon his graduation in 2008.

Until the Columbus front office makes targeting and developing collegiate talent a priority, the situation within the organization over the past half-decade will not change in a tangible way. Given the relative success at mining talent in the CHL and European leagues, however, there seems little reason to castigate the organization for preferring the typically-shorter amateur track of high-end Canadian and Euro talent. The use of the NCAA ranks as a breeding ground for talent to fill out the low minor roster appears to be the extent of the Jackets interest in the collegiate ranks for the near future.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.