The Blue Jackets, as we've discussed, are a "draft and develop" organization.
Looking at their current roster, it's filled with players who were brought up through the American Hockey League (AHL) system.
From stars like Zach Werenski to growing young players like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson, to strong depth players like Lukas Sedlak, the AHL is a great place for young players to grow and develop.
The Jackets' farm system was recently rated as one of the worst in the NHL. A big reason for that has been that they've lacked a large quantity of picks and have taken some risks later in the draft. Taking gambles is fine, but these players need to be developed to their fullest.
This past season, Cleveland was not a good place for players to develop.
The team was a disaster, finishing near the bottom on the league, and with the young players about to join the team they cannot afford to be a poor team again.
The Blue Jackets are expected to have at least six new young forwards on their AHL team in Vitalii Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, Maxime Fortier, Ryan MacInnis, Kole Sherwood, and Kevin Stenlund. In order for these players to develop properly, the Monsters need to be competitive. Adding that much talent up front is going to help, but further stability is needed.
Additions such as goaltender Jean-Francois Berube and defenseman Adam Clendening are a step in the right direction. They're both veterans who have had a ton of success in the AHL. Clendening has been a really good puck-mover in the AHL, with a career 0.62 point per game rate in 261 games, and he will be a key contributor at getting the puck up-ice to those skilled forwards.
One player is not going to be enough, however; the Jackets have plenty of defensive defensemen in the system but would be wise to add a couple more AHL veterans who can move the puck. Tommy Cross will help a bit in that regard, but he seems more like a player brought in for veteran leadership.
Looking at the remaining free agents list, a couple names standout who fit the puck-moving type: Ryan Sproul put up 25 points in 44 games last season for the Hartford Wolf Pack. He’s only 25 years old, so maybe there's some untapped potential still there. He’s played 44 NHL games, so he could potentially fill in with the big club in a pinch if need be.
The Monsters are shaping up to be just like the Blue Jackets: a young, fast team. This is the best way to use the AHL team, to have them playing a similar way on the farm as they do in the NHL. That, ideally, will make their transition to the NHL that much smoother. In order for that to happen, you need to get these kids the puck. They need puck moving defensemen, as once they get to Columbus, they're going to be receiving passes from Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray, all players who can pass and get the puck up the ice quickly.
You want your speedy forwards like Jonathan Davidsson jumping the zone and having those killer instincts to look for breakaways.
The AHL is a development league, so winning isn’t everything, but it certainly helps. You want to create a favorable environment for these players, and while the team doesn’t need to be a Calder Cup contender every year, it must avoid disastrous seasons like the one it just had. Strong organizations need to field a competitive team in the AHL, and with the moves made this offseason, the Blue Jackets look to be doing just that.
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