Greetings, all. As is tradition, when The Hockey News Future Watch issue makes its way to my mailbox, that means it’s time to update you on the state of the Blue Jackets prospect pool. After bouncing back into the top three last year, the team took a big drop this year falling to 13t. The team’s grade also fell from an A- to a B.
As usual the magazine leads to a new top 10 prospects list (mine’s coming I swear) or a top nine list in this year’s case. For those prospects ranked in the magazine’s top 100, I’ve included that in parentheses as well.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois (10)
2. Oliver Bjorkstrand (53)
3. Vitaly Abramov (74)
4. Gabriel Carlsson (82)
5. Sonny Milano
6. Andrew Peeke
7. Anton Forsberg
8. Paul Bittner
9. Dillon Heatherington
10. Calvin Thurkauf
Let’s start by pointing out the obvious here. Dillon Heatherington is not a prospect for the Blue Jackets anymore. If you had to ask me for a replacement, I’d probably put Keegan Kolesar in his spot. For the second year in a row, I question Paul Bittner being on the list as he has missed so much time the past two seasons with injuries/personal leave. Over the past two seasons (WHL/AHL) Paul has only played in 56 of a possible 134 games, and much like before, if I had to give a replacement I’d probably go with hometown product, Kole Sherwood. One other minor issue wih this list is that Gabriel Carlsson is so high on this list, but, he is described as a project in the magazine and they, like me, believe Gabriel will be in Cleveland next season getting used to North America’s smaller ice.
As for prospects needing contracts it’s a short list…Sam Ruopp. At the moment, the CBJ defenseman prospect depth is fairly shallow consisting only of Andrew Peeke, who will be a sophomore next year, and Ryan Collins who will be a senior. Other prospects on defense are Carlsson who we mentioned above, and Veeti Vainio who is coming off a season lost to injury. As for next season, the only defenseman under contract in Cleveland as of now are John Ramage, Blake Siebenaler and Jacob Graves. I’m 50/50 on Sam getting signed. He would be a physical presence on the Monsters’ blueline but he wouldn’t add much offense.
As for the summer, it could be a busy one for Cleveland as the Monsters have 11 free agents currently on the roster, six of whom are UFAs. Most of the UFAs are AHL lifers who, if brought back, will/should be brought back on one year deals to serve as a veteran presence for the seeming to be young Monsters team. The only UFA I’d consider bringing back is TJ Tynan to continue as one of the team’s offensive leaders.
On the RFA side, most of the team’s restricted free agents will be back with Oscar Dansk probably the only exception despite the team having no other goalie prospects ready to turn pro and with Anton Forsberg needing a new contract.
As for players turning pro, freshly signed Sam Vigneault has already made his pro debut and could be in a top six role for the Monsters next season. Other rookies in Cleveland should include Kolesar and Calvin Thurkauf who can fit in anywhere in the lineup.
Keegan Kolesar would be welcomed back in Seattle, but chances are slim of a return. Calvin Thurkauf is more than likely in Cleveland as CHL teams would prefer to not use both an overage and import spot on one player. Dante Salituro should get more opportunities in the AHL since he’s out of CHL eligibility. Kole Sherwood could be in Cleveland but he also could be back in Flint where he would be the Firebirds main goal scoring threat.
As I said above, Gabriel Carlsson has the possibility of coming over. Another potential rookie is Russian defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov who has been offered a contract by the CBJ.
As for where the balance of the CBJ prospects will be next year, as I said above, Kole Sherwood has the option of playing in the AHL or OHL next year. In the QMJHL, for Pierre-Luc Dubois the NHL or back to juniors are his only options and he should again get every chance to make the CBJ team, I’d imagine. Vitaly Abramov should be back in Gatineau and will darn sure try to repeat as scoring champ.
The team will have four prospects in the NCAA next season. Tyler Bird will need a breakout year at Brown to earn a contract where he will hopefully be playing on the Bear’s top line. On the backend, Andrew Peeke will be one of Notre Dame’s top Dmen and hopefully one of the best in the Big Ten. Ryan Collins will also be a senior and, like Bird, will need a big year but Collins’ strength isn’t putting up points, it’s shutting teams down plus the whole “he’s huge” thing. Peter Thome will arrive in Grand Forks next year to suit up for The Fighting Sioux, but I’m not sure how much playing time he’ll receive. North Dakota looks to be going into next season with two juniors, a senior and Peter in net.
Over in Europe, Kevin Stenlund had a breakout season and hopefully can repeat it, with the possibility of him coming over at the end of the season. Veeti Vainio will be healthy and back on the KooKoo blueline playing a full season. Elvis Merzlikins will be playing the last season of the two year deal he signed before this season, and he will hopefully have another strong year and come over the next season to begin his North American career.
As for prospects the team will have to make a decision on next season, they are the two NCAA seniors I mentioned above in Bird and Collins. As mentioned, they will probably need breakout seasons to earn their entry-level contracts.
As for the draft this year, the Blue Jackets’ success has COMPLETELY thrown off my draft knowledge so trying to guess who to pick is a total crapshoot (unlike last year where I called picking PLD). As for what the organization needs as a whole, the prospect pool could use some use some bodies on defense and in goal but with only seven (or possibly six) picks I’m sure it’ll be the usual Jarmo “best player available” strategy along with taking at least one player who was passed over in previous drafts.
Thanks for reading folks. We’ll be back with more weekly recaps along with hopefully with a new top 10 list coming soon.