Greetings, all! For the seventh straight…well not straight ( dumb, stupid lockout). For the seventh straight tournament, I’ll be heading up to Traverse City, Michigan to watch the Blue Jackets’ prospects take part in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament for the 16th time.
First up, a quick overview of the tournament. Eight teams will be split into two divisions with the teams playing the other teams in its division before then playing the team in the same standings spot in the other division (1 vs 1 2 vs 2 and so on) for a final standings spot.
The Blue Jackets will be in the Ted Lindsay Division and will play the Minnesota Wild, St Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. The Gordie Howe Division includes host Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and the defending champs, the Carolina Hurricanes.
This is probably the least draft pick filled team ever for CBJ. The team is bringing only six draft picks and none are from the 2017 class. I’ll also point out this is probably the first team to not bring a player from the same year’s draft. Despite not many draft picks, the CBJ are bringing seven players signed as free agents. The CBJ will return eight players from last year’s team which finished third in the tournament but had the second best record.
Let’s take a look at this year’s roster.
Pierre-Luc Dubois will be the highest draft pick in Traverse City and should lead the Jackets offensive assault after picking up five points last year. To Dubois’ left or right possibly will be QMJHL MVP/scoring champ, Vitaly Abramov. Abramov went pointless last year in Traverse but he did mostly play on the team’s third line and I doubt that happens again this year. Calvin Thurkauf will be turning pro this season after a successful WHL career. In his last season, he put up 70 points including 33 goals. Thurkauf could be in Cleveland this season but I did find this article saying he could be loaned back to EV Zug of the NLA (Switzerland) if the team decides it would be better for his development. Finishing up the Blue Jackets draft picks in Traverse City is 2015 pick Paul Bittner who has only played 58 games since the start of the 2015-16 season and 33 of those with the Monsters. Hopefully Paul can use this tournament as a kick start to good and healthy year.
Two players I was surprised to see on the roster were Cleveland Monsters forwards Jordan Maletta and Justin Scott. Both players put up 23 points for the Monsters last year and Scott earned his tallies despite playing in only 58 games compared to Maletta’s 76.
Kole Sherwood is back for the tournament. He scored two goals in last year’s tournament but could be more of a contributor this year after his 85 points in Flint put him among the CBJ’s better offensive prospects, he has one of the best shots in the organization. Finishing out the Jackets free agent signings is gigantic center Sam Vigneault who played 16 games with Cleveland last year after leaving Clarkson after his junior year.
Now for the players who are free agent invitees. First up is Justin Brazeau of the North Bay Battalion (OHL). Justin is another behemoth of a forward tipping the scales at 6’5 and 207 pounds. Justin’s 37 points (22-15-37) put him third on the Battalion but it was a distant third as first and second had 67 and 65 points. Trent Fox put up 32 points split between Mississauga and Hamilton of the OHL. He is a physical player with his 72 penalty minutes which places him third among players the CBJ are bringing. Hayden Hodgson signed an ATO late in the season with Cleveland but never made it into a game with the Monsters. Last year, Hodgson picked up 66 points with Saginaw and served as an alternate captain. I had Hodgson as a possible player on my mock Traverse roster, but when I read he would be joining the juggernaut University of New Brunswick Varsity Red I didn’t think he would be invited. Luke Kirwan was in Traverse last year but with the Red Wings and only played in one game. Luke was a teammate of Kole Sherwood last year in Flint but he only played in 31 games and collected 22 points including 14 goals. Bobby MacIntyre was an invite to CBJ development camp and turned the opportunity into an AHL deal with the Monsters. The diminutive MacIntyre is one of only three players under 6’0 on the roster. Bobby led the Greyhounds last year in points and assists. A Soo reporter I asked about Bobby said “he’s pretty skilled, works hard. Tough to play against. A little small but willing to go into traffic.”
Overall, the Jackets are bringing a big forward group with only two players under 6’0” but they’re both 5’9”. The average height and weight of the forward group is 6’2” 203 pounds.
Much like up front, the Jackets are bringing one first round pick on defense but he also has more NHL experience than the entire tournament combined (based on the team rosters I’ve seen to date). Who I’m referring to is 2015 first round pick Gabriel Carlsson who came over to the US after finishing the SHL season. He played 3 games with the Monsters and spent the rest of the season in the Jackets lineup never looking out of place. The only other draft pick on the blueline is the elder statesman of the Jackets draft picks, 2014 selection Ryan Collins. It was a bit of surprise when Collins decided to leave Minnesota early last year but he made it into three games with the Monsters and picked up an assist. Collins, like Carlsson, is a giant stay at home type.
Jacob Graves was signed by the Jackets after development camp last year but then had a hard time staying in any lineup. Graves played 19 games with the Monsters and 9 with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. One of the newest prospects is another big stay at home type, Doyle Somerby of the Long Island Somerby’s. Somerby was a fifth round pick of the Islanders in 2012 but the team did not sign him. Doyle spent last year with Boston University and served as the team’s captain.
Whereas the prospects are stay at home types, the invites, I think, will bring the offense from the back end…or at least I hope they will. First up is Nathan Billitier who might’ve been a teammate of Jackets prospect Andrew Peeke had he not left Notre Dame after playing in only nine games his freshman year. Billitier put up 14 points with Kingston last year and is off to Queen’s University this season. A teammate of Billitier in Kingston will also be in union blue. Stephen Desrocher who was second on the Fronternacs in scoring finished a distant second to Stars draft pick Jason Robertson. Desrocher collected 51 points in 65 games tying him for the team lead with 39 assists. The leading scorer on the Jackets blueline is Medric Mercier who put up 52 points with Sault Ste Marie and Oshawa. Mercier led OHL dmen in goals with 22, making him the first General in the top five since 1999. 27 of Mercier’s 52 points came with the man advantage. Mercier may play for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees but it’s been reported he would sign if offered a contract. Scott Savage, who has reportedly signed with Cleveland on an AHL deal, will also be in Traverse. Savage has spent the last four years with Boston College where he collected 18 points his freshman and junior years before erupting with 29 points to lead the Eagles defense last year. His 24 assists were second on the team.
The Jackets blueline is a massive group with Billitier being the only one under 6’0”. The average size of the group is 6’3” 200 pounds.
After bringing two invites last year, the Jackets are bringing two goalies who are in the organization this season.
First up is another free agent signing in Matiss Kivlenieks who spent last year in the USHL going 36-7-4-2 with Sioux City before losing in the league final. Matiss was the first goalie to win the USHL’s MVP and Best Goalie in the same season since 2004-05. Matiss will probably split time with Brad Thiessen with the Monsters this year.
His back up in Michigan will be fellow USHL alum Ivan Kulbakov (who shares an agent with Artemi Panarin, fyi). Ivan spent last season just east of Cleveland in Youngstown with the Phantoms. Kulbakov, like Kivlenieks, was one of the USHL’s top goalies finishing fifth in save percentage. The pair finished 1-2 in USHL wins.
Kulbakov could be assigned to an ECHL team to get playing time instead of sitting in the press box.
There you have it folks, a quick look at the group the Jackets will be sending to Traverse City. The team will be coached by Monsters Head Coach John Madden and his Cleveland staff along with development coaches Chris Clark, Gregory Campbell and Jarkko Ruutu. I’ll be at the scheduled practice in Columbus Thursday morning before heading up to Michigan.
Follow me on twitter: @cbjprospects