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Prospect Pool Overview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Fresh off of a big draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets have amassed prospect pool in recent years. Tony Ferrari takes a deep look at the team's future.
David Jiricek (Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

David Jiricek (Steven Ellis/The Hockey News)

In an effort to make a run in the 2019 playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets and general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen pushed their chips all in. 

They opted to keep pending free agents Artemi Panrin and Sergei Bobrovsky and then added Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid. The additions did help them upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one before losing in round two. 

The shocking sweep would be the last playoff series that Tampa Bay would lose until the Cup final three years later. The problem with going all in was that it left their draft pick cupboard bare that year and their prospect pipeline was underwhelming beyond the young players on the team.

Despite some pundits feeling Jarmo Kekäläinen blew it all to win one round and the future was in jeopardy, just three years later the Blue Jackets look like their NHL club will compete for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and their prospect pool has been rebuilt. They have outstanding young talent both upfront and on the back end, from Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson to David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk. They have a high-end goalie prospect in Daniil Tarasov as well.

The depth throughout their prospect pool looks outstanding as well. Stanislav Svozil, Aidan Hreschuk, and Corson Ceulemans are quality blueliners who could play NHL games. Kirill Marchenko and Liam Foudy are knocking on the door to get NHL jobs while Tyler Angle and Trey Fix-Wolansky are working their way through the AHL.

For a team that went all-in just a few years ago and had their future in question, they look like a team with a couple of young stars on the roster and a pipeline with a ton of talent on the way. Jarmo Kekäläinen, the “wild man” of the 2019 trade deadline, has done an impressive job of managing this team and ensuring that they go for it in the windows that they have while continuing to build for the future as well.

2022 NHL Draft Class

Round 1 (6 Overall) - David Jiricek, D, Plzen HC [Czech]
Round 1 (12 Overall) - Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors [WHL]
Round 2 (44 Overall) - Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads [OHL]
Round 3 (96 Overall) - Jordan Dumais, R, Halifax Mooseheads [QMJHL]
Round 4 (109 Overall) - Kirill Dolzhenkov, R, Krasnaya Armiya [MHL]
Round 5 (138 Overall) - Sergei Ivanov, G, SKA 1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
Round 7 (203 Overall) - James Fisher, R, Belmont Hill (USHS-Mass)

The Blue Jackets came into the draft with two first-rounders and made the most with them. With the sixth overall pick, the Blue Jackets selected Czech defender David Jiricek, a blueliner with two-way capability and all of the raw tools that it takes to be a high-end defenseman. Jiricek is able to unleash a booming slap shot at the offensive end of the ice as well as lay a booming hit at the defensive end of the ice.

Moose Jaw Warriors blueliner Denton Mateychuk was then taken 12th overall. Mateychuk is an undersized defender who has a flair for the offensive game. Highly creative and incredibly skilled, Mateychuk can be a difference maker at the offensive end of the ice thanks to his mobility and puck skill. He is an impressive passer who can quarterback a power play, but his defensive game will have to round into form as he develops.

Taken in the second round, Del Bel Belluz is an offensive creator, a skilled passer and an accurate shooter. His skating will need work, but his ability to unleash his bomb of a shot and accurately move the puck around the ice as a playmaker makes him an intriguing prospect. Jordan Dumais, the top-scoring draft-eligible prospect from the CHL, was the Blue Jackets’ third-rounder. Dumais is an offensive dynamo who uses his vision and passing ability to pick opponents apart as well as a knack for exploiting pockets of space he’s given when he sees them to get his shot off. He’s undersized and plays on the perimeter, but his talent is legit.

Kirill Dolzhenkov is a massive winger with decent shooting ability and impressive puck skill. Still, there's a long way to go as a skater before he’s considered a legitimate prospect at the NHL level. Sergei Ivanov was considered one of the better netminders in the draft class heading into the year and put up stellar numbers in the Russian junior league on one of the best teams in the circuit. Both are worthy gambles in the latter part of the draft.

Strengths

With the best of their forward crop already in or heading to the NHL this year, the defensive depth is the obvious strength in their pipeline at the moment. The group is highlighted by their two first-round picks, but the talent doesn’t end there though.

Svozil is a two-way defender who closes out in the neutral zone quickly and doesn’t give opponents enough time to gather speed through the middle of the ice. His offensive game is still a work in progress but he looked more and more comfortable as the year wore on in the WHL this past season, flashing skill and finesse to go along with his physical traits. Samuel Kňažko is another European prospect who made his way to the WHL last year. Kňažko is an accurate passer who can pinpoint his teammates in excellent positions all over the ice.

Corson Ceulemans and Aidan Hreschuk had good starts to their NCAA careers. Ceulemans was an offensive force with seven goals and 15 assists in 34 games as a freshman with the University of Wisconsin. He has all the tools you could ask for and college is the perfect place to hone them. Hreschuk is a two-way defender who can do a little bit of everything. He can shut down the opponent’s transition game and is a capable puck-mover, too.

Weaknesses

The Columbus pipeline is pretty loaded with talent from top to bottom. The one area where they could use a bit of star power in their pool is down the middle. Cole Sillinger made his mark with the club last year as an 18-year-old which almost makes this critique unfair, but he doesn’t qualify as a prospect anymore for this exercise. At times, Kent Johnson is listed as a center, but most assume that he settles in as a top-six left winger, where he has played for the last couple of years in college. Adding another high-end center in the draft is always a good thing.

Next Man Up: LW Kent Johnson

Making his debut at the end of last season, Johnson has the potential to be an absolute force as a dynamic playmaker. He has video game-level puck skill, with hands that could dangle in a phone booth. His passing ability and vision in the offensive zone are special as he can bait and manipulate defenders into opening up just enough of a lane for him to thread the needle to a teammate in an excellent scoring position.

Johnson is quick and agile, but his top speed isn’t quite as impressive as some would expect from a player with his skill set. He is at his best in space, weaving and bobbing through traffic. He has a good shot, but he will need to get stronger to add a bit of pop to it if he wants to become a legitimate goal-scoring threat at the next level. With that said, if Johnson gets in tight to the netminder, he can absolutely embarrass them with a silky move. There is so much to like about this extremely entertaining forward prospect.

Prospect Depth Chart Notables

LW: Kent Johnson, James Malatesta, Mikael Pyyhtiä
C: Luca Del Bel Belluz, Liam Foudy, Tyler Angle
RW: Kirill Marchenko, Trey-Fix Wolansky, Jordan Dumais
LD: Denton Mateychuk, Stanislav Svozil, Aidan Hreschuk, Samuel Kňažko
RD: David Jiricek, Corson Ceulemans, Nick Blankenburg
G: Daniil Tarasov, Sergei Ivanov

For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition

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