EDITOR'S NOTE: This "State of the Union" was authored by CBJ Prospects as a special feature on 1st Ohio Battery.
Hello, everyone! It’s been a busy year in the world of Blue Jackets’ prospects and now, as happens around this time every year, The Hockey News Future Watch issue has hit my mailbox. That means it’s time for my annual state of the Blue Jackets prospect pool.
After dropping from third to 13th overall last year, the Jackets have again continued to fall in this year’s rankings. Luckily it’s just a slight drop this time as they fell into 14th place while retaining their B grade.
The magazine includes a top 10 list and, in my opinion, it’s an interesting list. In parentheses you’ll find where the prospect ranks in the magazine’s top 100.
1. Gabriel Carlsson (79)
2. Jonathan Davidsson (85)
3. Alexandre Texier (100)
4. Vitaly Abramov
5. Andrew Peeke
6. Vladislav Gavrikov
7. Sam Vigneault
8. Calvin Thurkauf
9. Kevin Stenlund
10. Elvis Merzlikins
Where to begin with this list? First some overall thoughts. The rankings may be in terms of NHL readiness, but Vitaly Abramov is not only our top prospect but he definitely belongs in the Top 100. Andrew Peeke before Vladislav Gavrikov is a bit surprising but there is a quote in his write up saying we could find him next to Zach Werenski at some point - that’s how high the club views him.
Also on a big picture level, as for prospects needing contracts, it appears the team only has only one player in need of a contract and that’s Brown University senior, Tyler Bird. Tyler, a forward who plays on the right, spent four years on a Brown team that performed poorly, but BIrd was normally one of their offensive leaders. Seeing as Tyler played his final college game on April 3rd and the club hasn’t announced him signing an ATO with Cleveland, (the Monsters have been on a very long road trip so that could be a factor), It doesn’t appear Tyler is in the Jackets’ long-term plans, but he does have an Ivy League education to fall back on.
On a more specific level, let’s look at what lies ahead for the Jackets’ AHL team where the majority of prospect development can happen. It’s been a rough year for a young Monsters team who sit at the bottom of the standings. But Cleveland should be returning 13 players already under contract with Columbus and will be bringing in some high scoring rookies.
QMJHL stars Vitaly Abramov and Maxine Fortier could be joining the Monsters along with Kevin Stenlund who is already in Cleveland after his Swedish season ended. The only other possible AHL rookie who could join the Monster squad is Kole Sherwood.
As for free agents currently with the Monsters, the team has only five in goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, defensemen Andre Benoit and Cameron Gaunce and leading scorer Alex Broadhurst. The team’s only restricted free agent is deadline pickup Ryan Kujawinski. In looking at this group, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep Zatkoff around to mentor Matiss Kivlenieks. And Broadhurst is climbing the Monster’s all-time scoring list so keeping him around couldn’t hurt either. As for Gaunce and Benoit they’re probably gone especially Benoit since he was loaned to Bridgeport in early February. When it comes to RFA Kujawinski, he’s got off to a slow start with Cleveland so I can’t say if he’ll be resigned or allowed to walk.
Looking outside the AHL, next season, pending the outcome of this year’s Draft, the Jackets have no prospects playing in the Canadian Hockey League’s three leagues next season and that is absolutely nuts in my opinion. The Jackets will have five prospects playing college hockey next year. Kale Howarth and Robbie Stucker will be making the jump from juniors with Howarth playing for an improving program at UConn and Stucker joining the perennial powerhouse that is Minnesota. Peter Thome played more this season than I expected sitting as the number two goaltender behind a powerhouse senior. Going into his sophomore year, he projects to be the team’s number one goalie. Carson Meyer will try to have a bounce back year at Miami while Andrew Peeke will be back in South Bend as one of the Irish’s top defensemen if not their number one.
Over in Europe where the majority of the Jackets prospects are, the Jackets will be keeping a close eye on the SHL’s Djurgårdens IF as the team will have two prospects on the team. Jonathan Davidsson has resigned for two more years and, after a solid season with Leksands in HockeyAllsvenskan, Emil Bemström has signed a contract with the team. After a down year, Daniel Zaar will hopefully have a bounce back season in what will be a contract year for him with Malmo.
In Finland, Veeti Vainio missed almost the entire season again with injuries, putting his grand total of games played over the past two years at 20 total. This will be the last season Veeti is a Blue Jackets prospect and unless he does an Erik Karlsson impression as far as returning from injury, he won’t get a contract.
Alexandre Texier could be back in KalPa or he could be in Cleveland with the Monsters. He has an option year left but the Jackets could want to keep a closer eye on him.
Fans will be happy to know that this is the final year of Elvis Merzlikins’ current contract that has kept him in Switzerland. That means after Lugano’s season is over next year, he could be on his way to The Land and get a start on his North American career.
In Russia, both Jackets prospects will be in the last years of their current contracts. Vladislav Gavrikov has been on SKA’s top D pair and you’d have to think that’s where he’ll be next season in what is believed to be his final year in Russia. In the MHL, netminder Daniil Tarasov came back from a season lost to injury and was one of the league’s best goalies. He looks to again be Tolpar’s number one in 2018-19, if not serving as the higher league’s Salavat Yulaev’s backup if that’s even an option.
As for the Draft, in my opinion, the Jackets need to get away from a recent trend of selecting players who have been passed over in previous drafts and take players that are in their first year of eligibility. An organizational need outside of goalie that I see is a little bit of everything prospect-wise, a restocking of the cupboards if you will, especially some high end offensive prospects.
Thanks for reading, folks, We’re getting into the best time of the year as playoffs have started in Europe and the NCAA/CHL tournaments will be getting underway.