A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
Columbus Blue Jackets fans are as excited for the upcoming season as ever before. Finally they have reason to feel that their team is a playoff contender after missing out last year due to a never-ending spate of injuries. This optimism is reflected in their prospect system. In their first few seasons in the league, the Blue Jackets made some horrible top ten draft picks but over the course of the past few years their scouting improved a lot and their system depth chart is loaded with high end potential. They show good depth at nearly each position and possess a rich portfolio of promising prospects.
- Zach Werenski, D, Michigan (Big 10) 6-2”, 207. 8th overall, 2015
- Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland (WHL) 5-11”, 166. 89th overall, 2013
- Sonny Milano, LW, Plymouth (OHL) 6-0”, 183. 16th overall, 2014
- Kerby Rychel, LW, Springfield (AHL) 6-1”, 205. 19th overall, 2013
- William Karlsson, C, Springfield (AHL) 6-0”, 180. Trade: Mar. 2, 2015. Originally: 53rd overall, 2011 (Anaheim)
- Paul Bittner, LW, Portland (WHL) 6-4”, 203. 38th overall, 2015
- Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping J20 (SuperElit) 6-4”, 183. 29th overall, 2015
- Dean Kukan, D, Lulea (SHL) 6-2”, 196. UFA: Jun. 1, 2015
- Anton Forsberg, G, Springfield (AHL) 6-2”, 176. 188th overall, 2011
- Blake Siebenaler, D, Niagara (OHL) 6-1”, 192. 77th overall, 2014
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Daniel Zaar, RW, Lulea (SHL) 5-11”, 167. 152nd overall, 2012
- Veeti Vainio, D, Blues U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga) 6-1”, 181. 141st overall, 2015
- Michael Paliotta, D, Vermont (Hockey East) 6-3”, 198. Trade: Jun. 30, 2015. Originally: 70th overall, 2011 (Chicago)
There are voices that said Zach Werenski, the Blue Jackets first round pick in this year’s draft, was the best defender available in the draft. You can argue now whether he is better than Ivan Provorov or Noah Hanifin but he was absolutely an excellent selection and one of the better American blueline prospects (besides Hanifin) since Ryan Suter. That the Blue Jackets selected a defender with their first pick was already carved in stone before the draft as they were lacking a high-end prospect at this position, and when Hanifin and Provorov were selected when Columbus was on the clock it was a no brainer to pick the 18-year-old Michigander. Werenski is a good puckmover and shows a decent two-way game. His offensive game is remarkable and he shows great vision and understanding of the game in front of him. He is a very consistent player who shows good potential to be captain material.
Admittedly, Denmark is not a country which constantly produces NHL players. There are only a handful of notable Danish players in the league but Oliver Bjorkstrand is clearly one that could make it to the big league. In the past two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks he scored over 100 points and won several awards, including finishing as the top scorer of the WHL last season. The third round selection from 2013 has played already in four U20 Worlds (two in the second division) all before his twentieth birthday. He dominated in the WHL and needs to be challenged with a higher level of competition, specifically the AHL. His shot and lightning quick release were outstanding at WHL-level. He is a pure goalscorer but also shows a good understanding of his own zone game. It needs to be seen if he can continue to impress with the Lake Erie Monsters but if he does, he might end up playing his first couple of NHL games next season.
Sonny Milano is going to be a player in Columbus sooner than later. The Jackets are high on him and can scarcely wait for him to join the team. He played last season in the OHL and had already decent numbers. Expect him to put up great numbers next season. In his short AHL stint last season he scored five points in ten games and showed that he would be ready to play pro hockey already. He is the type of player who likes to do something with the puck. He has extremely good hands and is a very skilled forward.
There will be a big competition this year in Lake Erie and one player surely involved will be Kerby Rychel. He has already played in five NHL games last season due to the many injuries on the big squad and contributed three points. He seems to be one of the more NHL-ready players in this ranking and will push for a roster spot next season. He is expected to make the roster before the season is over. He might not be as skilled as Milano but he plays with an edge and is a player who likes to get involved physically. Rychel fits into the role of a power forward.
William Karlsson came from Anaheim via trade, where he played 18 NHL-games. This secures him a spot in our Blue Jackets top ten prospect ranking. With centers Johanson, Dubinsky, Wennberg and Campbell it will be hard for Karlsson to find his spot this season. He will most probably start the season in the AHL where he is still waiting for his first point for Columbus’ affiliate. His speedy skating skills can be mentioned as his biggest strength which he uses to produce a lot of scoring chances.
It is believed that the Blue Jackets wanted to go after Ohio-native Jack Roslovic with their early second round pick but as he wasn’t available anymore at 38th they picked Bjorkstrand’s Portland teammate Paul Bittner. He is a big bodied power forward with a lot of upside but still needs to develop his strength and overcome his weaknesses. He will require more time in juniors and AHL but has the potential to become a top six forward. For now, he will have to prove that he can take on a more pivotal role in the Winter Hawks’ attack, as they will be without their three top scorers from last season.
A draft-day trade brought a second first round pick to Columbus which they used to select a second defender in the person of Swedish stay-at-home blueliner Gabriel Carlsson. While he is a big bodied defender who plays a good own zone game and uses an active stick to poke check, it came as a bit of a surprise that the Blue Jackets picked him as they jumped over several other defenders with greater upside. He is slated to start the season with Linköping HC of the Swedish Hockey League.
There are two more defenders within the top ten in Blake Siebenaler and Dean Kukan. Both were signed this past summer and are considered to be two-way defenders. Kukan shows good work ethic and plays a very reliable own zone game while Siebenaler sees his upside more on the offensive side of the game where he benefits from his strong passing skills to set up plays. Kukan joins the team from Lulea HC, where the Swiss defender spent the last couple of years. Although he is only 22-years-old, he has already played in two World Championships with Switzerland and shows good international experience. He would fit into the Blue Jackets powerplay unit and if Columbus doesn’t sign an additional defender, Kukan could play his first NHL games in the coming season while Siebenaler will require some more time in the OHL.
Anton Forsberg finds himself in several top goaltender prospect rankings and is Columbus’ biggest up-and-coming talent in the blue paint. He is slated to start the season in the AHL but if the Blue Jackets see him put up good numbers there again – his .927 save percentage last season was fifth best in the circuit – he might replace veteran backup Curtis McElhinney. Forsberg is a big goalie who usually plays at the tip of his crease and tries to challenge shooters as much as he can.
Keep an eye on sleepers Daniel Zaar, Veeti Vainio and Michael Paliotta. The latter came via trade from Chicago where he had already made his NHL debut after completing his eligibility from the University of Vermont. He is one that could push for a roster spot in the defense as a physical defender who showed some improvement on the offensive side in the past year. Zaar and Vainio both currently play in Europe. Vainio is an extremely agile and skilled offensive defender who has a lot of upside but he is considered a typical boom or bust pick. Zaar is a Swedish forward who played with Kukan with Lulea in the SHL. He is a good playmaker with decent vision and solid own zone game.
Between the high-end forwards Bjorkstrand, Milano, Rychel and Bittner, and the recently drafted blueliners Werenski and Carlsson, the Blue Jackets are now deep throughout the system at all positions with players who can reasonably aspire to play in the top half of an NHL lineup. What keeps this system from ranking even higher on our list is the lack of anyone who can be labelled as elite. This ranking is more of a reflection of the sheer value to be had in continuous high-floor quantity.