2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets Top 10 Prospects

2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets Top 10 Prospects

Top Columbus Blue Jackets prospects

Hockey is on the rise in Ohio, and the Blue Jackets are a gritty hard working team. The NHL roster has a nice mix of skill, grit, experience and youth, as GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff have done a fine job. While the team struggled mightily with injuries, it created an opportunity for some of their kids to get some real exposure in the NHL and the kids looked alright.

In addition to the under 21 year old players who saw NHL ice time there is an impressive crop of prospects behind them on the way as well. The Blue Jackets may be a tough team to play against now, but that is only going to get worse for their opponents as their prospects continue to mature.

1. Oliver Bjorkstrand: Right Wing – 6′ 0″ / 168
Drafted: 89th overall in the third round of 2013 draft by the Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand had a monster season leading the entire WHL in scoring with 118 points and was part of a dominant line for Denmark at the World Juniors, where he scored four goals and five points in five games. He represented his home country of Denmark at the World Championship playing against men, but was help pointless in three games. While playing for Denmark, Columbus Head Coach Todd Richards got a firsthand look while behind the team USA bench and believes Bjorkstrand will push for a NHL roster spot. While smallish by NHL standards, Bjorkstrands goal scoring prowess and hockey sense should allow him to succeed at higher levels. He is now 20 years old and will begin his pro career, and make the push for a NHL job out of training camp.

Scouting Report

A slender kid, but man can he put up offense. Bjorkstrand has a great release to his shot and was a consistent threat all tourney long. – THN Ryan Kennedy

2. Zach Werenski: Defense – 6′ 2″ / 214 lbs
Drafted: 8th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Blue Jackets.

Of the big three defencemen in the 2015 draft, Werenski wound up being the third drafted, but he has elite skill. He was named to Team USA for the World Juniors as a draft eligible player along with Hanifin and held pace with Hanifin all season long. Werenski has good size, skates very well and a high hockey IQ. In time, he has the tools to become the best defenceman in his draft class. Time will tell, but for now expect Werenski to return to Michigan for his sophomore season in the NCAA

Scouting Report

A smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman that has a strong understanding of the game. Excels in key situations and is able to execute under pressure. Possesses good vision and awareness on the ice; uses his abilities to put offensive and defensive pressure on the opposition. All-in-all, a very strong all-around defenceman that consistently brings his game every night. – Elite Prospects

3. Kerby Rychel: Left Wing – 6’1” / 214 lbs
Drafted: 19th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Blue Jackets.

The big gritty winger had his rookie pro season playing the majority of the season in Springfield where he impressed with 33 points in 51 games with a plus -7. Rychel was also one of the players to benefit from the injury plagued season in Columbus as he made his NHL debut playing in five games and recording three assists. Rychel will push for a full time NHL job as soon as this season and will eventually see full time. The son of former NHL tough guy Warren Rychel has far more offensive upside than his Dad and projects to be more of a top six power forward than a fourth line fighter.

Scouting Report

Rychel has solid, upper-end quality hands and has come a long way since first being drafted. His skating, once a liability, has improved; allowing him to let his tactical and technical ability show. Consistency was an issue early in his career. While he still has defensive lapses at times his two-way play is much-improved. Like his father, former NHLer Warren Rychel, he has a bit of pugnaciousness and plays with an edge – Hockeys Future

4. Sonny Milano: Left Wing – 6’0” / 190 lbs
Drafted: 16th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Blue Jackets.

Milano became a youtube sensation with his eye-popping stick skills and hand eye coordination. After being drafted he made the move to the OHL and was impressive in Plymouth where he scored 68 points in 50 games and was a force for team USA at the World Juniors, scoring another four points in five games. Upon completion of his OHL season, he was assigned for the final ten games of the AHL season with Springfield where he managed to pick up five assists. He has blazing speed, quick hands and a goal scorer’s touch. Still only 19 years old he is too young for the AHL and likely has another year of junior where he will dominate and lead team USA for his final tour at the World Juniors.

Scouting Report

Milano is a skilled winger with good hands who likes to carry the puck and have it on his stick. He has a quick first step as well as good straight line speed and able to use his edges well to elude and evade. He uses finesse puck skills and change of direction to beat defender. – Future Considersations

5. William Karlsson: Center – 6’0” / 185 lbs
Drafted: 53rd overall in the second round of 2011 draft by the Ducks.
Acquired: Columbus acquired Karlsson, Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick for James Wisniewski and a 2015 third round pick.

“Wild Bill” ended up playing on four different teams after he was traded from Anaheim to Columbus,  playing for both NHL teams and their AHL affiliates. While he played more in the AHL, perhaps his most impressive showing was in three games with Columbus while he scored a goal and added an assist. Karlsson had made the Ducks out of training camp, but only managed 18 games in Anaheim before being sent to the AHL. Karlsson was a teammate with fellow Columbus prospects Alex Wennberg and Oscar Dansk on team Sweden at the WJC winning Silver in 2013 and Gold medal team in 2012.

Scouting Report

A really good two-way center with an offensive upside. Pretty sure he will put it all together and become at least a 3C, maybe even 2C. Especially if he can develop his finishing. Possesses all the tools/mindset, I think it’s just a matter of time and that he needs to adapt to a new system and type of hockey.” Patrick Hansen/The Union Blue

6. Josh Anderson: Right Wing – 6’3” / 218 lbs
Drafted: 95th overall in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by the Blue Jackets

After being selected in the fourth round in 2012, Anderson returned to Junior where he raised his game scoring 49 points with the London Knights, a 27 point jump from the previous season. After another 51 point season in junior, Anderson turned pro last season playing in 52 games with Springfield in the AHL and scoring a modest 17 points. While he has never been considered a prolific offensive threat, he has certainly added an element of offense to his game that compliments his rugged power game.  His skating is also an asset and will help him to compete for a NHL job this season or next.

Scouting Report

Anderson attended training camp with the Blue Jackets before being assigned to AHL affiliate Springfield to start the 2014-15 season. In his first year of pro hockey he is playing mostly a lower line role with the Falcons while being second on the team in penalty minutes. Anderson’s offensive numbers in junior hockey suggest he can have more of an offensive element to his game as he gains more experience. Long-term he projects as a second or third line power forward who plays a high impact, punishing game and can provide supplemental scoring. – Hockeys Future

7. Dillon Heatherington: Defence – 6’4” / 213 lbs
Drafted: 50th overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Blue Jackets.

The hulking defenseman is a physical shut down Dman who can log lots of minutes. He struggles offensively and makes poor decisions with the puck. Heatherington played with Swift Current in what will likely be his final season in the WHL. After seasons end he saw three games in the AHL with Springfield and recorded his first career pro point (assist) and was a plus -1. He has the size and skating ability to turn pro and should see a regular shift in the AHL working out any bugs to his game at the pro level.

Scouting Report

Heatherington is clearly his club’s top defender and is deployed to play against his opponent’s top forwards. His minutes were limited later in the third period in the game I watched him and he showed some signs of slowing down, but was not a detriment to his club. His offensive skills are limited, but due to his defensive nature I expect him to line up in Columbus’ second or third paring in a shut-down role in 3-4 years after a brief adaption-period in the AHL. – Hockey Prospectus

8. Gabriel Carlsson: Defence – 6’4” / 183 lbs
Drafted: 29th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Blue Jackets.

Carlsson is very similar to Heatherington in that he has great size, good skating and is a shutdown defender with little offensive upside. While it is hard to see either in a future top pairing position in Columbus, the two together could be a formidable bottom pairing who are hard to score against and a nightmare to go into the corner with.

Scouting Report

Big stay-at-home defenseman with excellent reach and good hockey sense. Carlsson is also quite mobile for his size and has a good first pass. Offensively, he will never put up any big numbers, but has the potential to become a more than capable shut-down-defenseman. – Elite Prospects

9. Paul Bittner: Left Wing – 6’4” / 194 lbs
Drafted 38th overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by the Blue Jackets.

Bittner is yet another big player who is not afraid to throw his size around. In an era starting to lean towards the smaller skilled players, Columbus is embracing the bigger players who are also skilled. Bittner has been developing consistently with Portland in the WHL seeing his point totals rise from 23, to 49, to 71 over the last three seasons. Bittner is too young for the AHL and will likely return to junior for another season before turning pro next year.

Scouting Report

A big-bodied power forward that plays with tenacity and an edge. Relentless on the forecheck and is able to bully his way to the net with his size and speed. Has a good stick around the net and has an accurate rocket of a shot. Thinks the game well and is able to frustrate opposing players while playing physically. All-in-all, an impact player that uses his size and skill to his advantage. Gaining consistency will be integral to his future success. – Elite Prospects

10. Oscar Dansk: Goalie – 6’3” / 187 lbs
Drafted 31st overall in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Blue Jackets.

Dansk has seen his stock rise and fall from year-to-year. In 2012 he came to North America to play junior for a terrible Erie Otters. Then McDavid changed that teams fortunes and Dansk had a breakout year posting a 29-9 win record with a 2.39 GAA and a .909 save percentage. The following year Dansk turned pro and struggled in both the ECHL and AHL. With a 1-8 ECHL record it would be easy to write Dansk off, but the big netminder still has starting goalie potential. He is big, technically sound, and very athletic.

Scouting Report

He’s very big and very agile, and uses a hybrid style of goaltending which some find tough to judge. He’s very fundamentally sound and mentally tough, which are hallmarks of good goaltending and is a first rate competitor. – Dave Dickinson

Recent Roster Graduates Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, Alex Wennberg.

Players under 25 years old and with less than 25 career NHL games played qualify as a prospect for purpose of this list.

Written by Peter Harling, who can be found on twitter @pharling

Catch up on any Top 10 Team Prospect list that you may have missed.

Oliver Bjorkstrand

Zach Werenski

Kerby Rychel

Sonny Milano

William Karlsson

Josh Anderson

Dillion Heatherington

Gabriel Carlsson

Paul Bittner

Oscar Dansk