Greetings, all! It is time for my annual game of throwing darts at the draft rankings and trying to guess what the CBJ will do in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. I don’t know if it’s because this year has been described as a weak draft or some other reason but the rankings for this year’s draft are all over the place. A player could be in the first round of one guide and be a third-round pick in another.
In my opinion, the CBJ need to restock the team’s defenseman prospect pool. Currently unsigned prospects include Andrew Peeke at Notre Dame and Veeti Vainio over in Finland who needs a bounce back season after missing most of last year with an injury. The team also has Blake Siebenaler, Ryan Collins, and Jacob Graves as prospects playing in Cleveland next season.
Also on the blueline is Vladislav Gavrikov who could be under contract depending on how well the Jacket’s pitch goes if he does come over to Columbus for a visit as is being reported.
Up front the team has Vitaly Abramov and Pierre-Luc Dubois along with the duo of Calvin Thurkauf and Keegan Kolesar. Those two should be in Cleveland as top forward prospects along with a bit of an unknown in Sam Vigneault. I’ve said it before, I’m not one of those “you draft a goalie every year no matter what” people but the CBJ have added a goalie already this summer in Matiss Kivlenieks.
So without further ado, let’s meet who I think should be the next batch of Blue Jackets.
1st Round-24TH Overall
NAME: Erik Brannstrom
TEAM: HV71 (SHL)
HEIGHT: 5’9” WEIGHT: 179
HOMETOWN: Eksjö, Sweden
RANKING: 16th Ranked European Skater
To open up the Draft, the Blue Jackets could take a player who would be their shortest first round pick ever in Swedish defenseman Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom is a teammate of Blue Jackets prospect Kevin Stenlund in the HV71 organization and has bounced between the J20 team and the SHL team.
Going off the scouting reports I’ve read, here’s the only negative on Brannstrom…he’s short. Yes folks that’s seriously the only negative I can find on Brannstrom. Brannstrom is an offensive defenseman who led the Swedish J20 in defenseman scoring in the first half of the season before the two leagues combined into the top 10 to finish the season. Brannstrom’s quickness and agility are outstanding and he relies on those skills to evade opponents and create time and space for himself. Playing on the big ice, Erik is able to hold onto the puck for long periods of time but he’s not a threat to lose the puck because opponents couldn’t track him. Erik is able to deliver hard passes anywhere on the ice whether in stride or while pivoting backward.
Offensively, Erik is creative. He’s not afraid to deke defenseman or put the puck through his legs on the rush. He consistently walks the blueline and very rarely gets caught flat footed. For his size, Erik’s shot is deceptively hard and he is able to pick corners from the point as well as change the angle of his shot by dragging the puck. Despite a lack of physicality, Erik shows a consistent work ethic in defensive situations and makes good plays with his stick because of his skating skill. A scout in The Hockey News was quoted as saying this about Brannstrom: “He’s the closest thing to Kimmo Timonen I’ve ever seen.” Erik is called a one-man breakout machine and has been compared to Kris Letang by the Red Line Report.
Brannstrom appears to have leadership potential as well. He served as HV71’s J20 team captain and served as an alternate captain for Team Sweden at the U18 World Championships where he picked up five points in seven games
3rd Round-86TH Overall
NAME: Cale Fleury
TEAM: Kootenay (WHL)
HEIGHT: 6’1” WEIGHT: 199
HOMETOWN: Carlyle, Saskatchewan
RANKING: 74th Ranked North American Skater
Cale Fleury is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes 2014 first round pick, Haydn. Cale is a borderline carbon copy of his brother, just a bit shorter and right handed version. He’s also not as impressive offensively, but that has more to do with where he plays. Kootenay was the worst team in the WHL last season. They won only 14 of 72 games which led to Cale’s -61 (note the WHL’s nine worst +/- ratings belonged to Ice players). Fleury is a late 98 birthday meaning he’s one of the older players in the draft. He has been with the Ice for three seasons and started the year as an alternate captain but he was named captain in January after the team traded a pair of 20 year old forwards. Here is a quote from the press release from Ice General Manager Jeff Chynoweth:
“Cale Fleury has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches throughout his two and a half seasons with our club because of his commitment to hard work on and off the ice…Cale is only the fourth 18 year-old player to serve as captain in our club’s history which speaks to his maturity and leadership qualities.”
Head Coach Luke Pierce praised Fleury before the trade “I think the way Cale Fleury carries himself and plays the game, he’s a pretty obvious leader of our group.”
Fleury is the 21st Captain in Kootenay history and only the sixth defenseman to wear the C.
Cale heavily involves himself in the rush. He wants to make a difference offensively and plays a physically aggressive game, often stepping up to make a big hit in open ice. Cale has quick feet, is explosive from a standstill and is able to separate from forecheckers. He’s able to generate enough speed to beat the opposition in the neutral zone.
His production wasn’t fantastic but he didn’t receive many cheap assists or goals because of sustained pressure. Fleury has good gap control and is effective at stopping and angling top players, making several terrific defensive plays either on the backcheck or odd man rushes due to his work ethic. His defensive game is not as poor as his +/- rating would indicate.
A consistent asset is his decision making with the puck, he is strong at rushing pucks. He’s shown the ability to play a calm and composed game despite accumulated a lot of long shifts. Cale was a late addition to the Top Prospects game and ended up having one of the better performances by a defenseman. His performance there forced some scouts to make special trips to Kootenay in the second half.
4th Round-117TH Overall
NAME: D’Artagnan Joly
POSITION: Right Wing
TEAM: Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
HEIGHT: 6’2” WEIGHT: 181
HOMETOWN: Gatineau, Quebec
RANKING: 125th Ranked North American Skater
D’Artagnan (great name btw) comes from a hockey family. He has two older brothers; one plays over in Germany and the other played in the AHL and ECHL last year. Joly is just another example of something that seems common among hockey families – the youngest child is the biggest. He may be a bit physically immature, but once he adds some strength he’ll only get better. Last season was D’Artagnan’s first full season in the Q after finishing the year with the Drakkar after a trade last season. Joly picked up 42 of his 48 points from November on. His greatest assets are his quick hands and he thrives when he has the puck. He’s dangerous one on one due to his combination of speed and reach. He needs to work on his explosiveness, but he can generate impressive speed when he gets going. Joly often made the QMJHL plays of the week, and he has the ability to make defenseman look silly because of his excellent puck skills.
The hockeyprospect black book described D’Artagnan as a “high risk, high reward type of pick” according to an NHL scout earlier this month. He’s a bit one dimensional currently and will need to be productive offensively to play pro since he’s not a grinder or a defensive forward. Due to playing in a small market like Baie-Comeau, scouts didn’t see him as much of him as others. If he gets stronger and more consistent, he could surprise some folks in the next few years. HP Scout Jerome Berube believes Joly “will become one of the best stick-handlers in the QMJHL in the next two seasons but the rest of his game needs a lot of work.”
5th Round-148TH Overall
NAME: Otto Latvala
TEAM: HPK J20 (Finland)
HEIGHT: 6’5” WEIGHT: 190
HOMETOWN: Alajarvi, Finland
RANKING: 41st Ranked European Skater
I’m not sure what it is, but every year I have the CBJ taking some towering dman and hey, those are the only players I’ve ever gotten right in my mocks. This year’s giant is Finland’s Otto Latvala. He’s said to be one of Finland’s most improved players over the last 12 months according to the Hockeyprospect.com blackbook. When Otto was elevated to the U20 (J20) league from the U18 league, his play really elevated and he became one of the top defensemen in the league. He still has room to fill out, but already plays with a level of aggression which will only improve as he gets bigger. He’s excellent battling down low and simply overpowers a lot of players in the J20 league. His skating is surprisingly effective for his size but when he adds muscle, he’ll need to make sure it doesn’t effect that skill. His pucks skills are ok and he is very effective when he goes for the smart simple play. His passes are crisp and tape to tape and he is calm with the puck. The Red Line Report has a simple quote on Otto “Gigantic and raw as hell. All arms and legs.”
6th Round-179TH Overall
NAME: Sami Moilanen
POSITION: Right Wing
TEAM: Seattle (WHL)
HEIGHT: 5’8” WEIGHT: 185
HOMETOWN: Sipoo, Finland
RANKING: 93rd Ranked North American Skater
Sticking with what appears to be a theme for the CBJ, I’m taking an undersized import from the CHL (the names Abramov and Bjorkstrand sound familiar?). Moilanen was a teammate of Keegan Kolesar this season and put up 43 points in 70 games, 21 of those were goals. Sami also played for Finland at the Ivan Hlinka on the top line where he collected six points in four games. Moilanen is stocky with a strong lower body and he skates low to the ice. Sami’s feet are extremely quick and his agility is outstanding. He can stop and start quickly because of this. Sami can change directions at any moment and is tough to handle in the cycle. His low center of gravity makes him very strong on his skates. He handles physicality well and often absorbs checks.
Sami played in all situations and excelled on the penalty kill with his great motor and willingness to retrieve pucks. Sami has exceptional fore-checking skills and has a knack for stripping pucks. Sami has quick hands and can beat dmen one on one to buy himself more time. He has very good on-ice vision along with playmaking skills. He can pick corners with an accurate shot and can score off the rush beating goalies without a screen. TBirds beat writer Andy Eide told me that “he will be on the top line this coming season, strong candidate to lead the team in scoring.”
7th Round-210TH Overall
NAME: Tyce Thompson
TEAM: Salisbury School (USHS-Committed to Providence College)
HEIGHT: 5’11” WEIGHT: 149
HOMETOWN: Orange, CT
RANKING: 150th Ranked North American Skater
In these last two rounds I almost could have put “a European overager who makes the team in two years”, but I decided to actually make a pick. Much like Fleury, I went with the younger brother of an NHL first round pick. Tyce Thompson’s brother Tage was the St Louis Blues’ first round pick last year. They come from a hockey family with father Brent as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ head coach after having a cup of coffee in the NHL back in the early 90s. Unlike Joly above, Tyce is the little brother both in age and size as brother Tage tipped the scales at 6’5” and 195 pounds while Tyce is still physically immature.
An NHL scout is quoted in the blackbook saying this about Tyce “He’s still immature physically. When you talk to him his voice sounds like he’s much younger and what is he like a buck fifty…I think the kid might make it someday because he’s got a great work ethic.” With another scout adding “Tage’s little brother will get drafted.”
As for his game, Tyce could be a bit like Tyler Bird meaning he goes off to college and at times, you could possibly forget about him (not that I’d let you). Tyce was his private school’s captain, and he’ll have to get stronger and get more consistent which playing. To that end, college hockey should help. He’s able to make plays due to his intelligence and vision along with an ability to move the puck quickly. He uses his body well to protect the puck and the black book believes he has one of the best motors in the draft.
As for next season, he’s off to Providence College which has become an annual contender for the National Championship.
There you have it folks, my guess of who the CBJ should take in Chicago later this week. I’ll be tweeting (service permitting) live from Chicago and possibly I’ll update this or add to it if the CBJ make any moves involving draft picks.