Our Summer prospect series continues with our #17 best prospect in the Blue Jackets organization, Tim Berni.
Reason for Ranking
Berni could be a classic sleeper. He climbed the NHL Central Scouting rankings and went from the 93rd ranked European skater at the midterm ranking to the 62nd by year-end.
Blue Jackets management clearly targeted the Swiss defenseman, as they traded away a 2019 fifth round pick to the Detroit Red Wings in order to select Berni in the with the fourth pick of the sixth round.
Internally, we were all over the place with Berni. I had him ranked the lowest at #20, while Sam was close by at 18. Paul was the most bullish of the group and has the defenseman ranked as his #12 prospect.
It's hard to say. Columbus clearly drafted him for his upside, of which there is a fair amount. The left-handed defenseman played most of last season in the Swiss second league, the NLB, before jumping up to the top league (NLA) for the rest of the season. He played just eight regular season games with the ZSC Lions, then stayed with the Lions for a playoff run in which he played 15 more games. He signed his first professional contract a few weeks before the draft, so clearly ZSC liked what they saw in him. Berni was nominated as one of three finalists for the league's "Youngster of the Year".
A full year in the NLA - at 18-years old, no less - should tell us more. For now, it's bold to say with any certainty that a sixth-round pick that's played a handful of professional games will pan out into an NHL player, but Columbus can point to a recent example of finding a defenseman late in the draft. Speaking of Markus Nutivaara...
Best Case Scenario
Markus Nutivaara would be his best-case scenario. He's a small-ish puck-moving defenseman with offensive upside – and could run a power play – but Berni's skating isn't in the same ballpark as Nutivaara. That said, Nutivaara was passed in two consecutive drafts before being taken, so it's not exactly like drafting is a perfect science. If Berni can develop his skating, he'll have a nice professional career.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Berni is a prototypical 2018 defenseman, who makes up for his lack of size (5'11, 174) with his hockey sense and puck-moving abilities. Berni has an impressive international resume, as he's captained Switzerland's U16 and U18 team internationally. He also suited up for Switzerland in the World Juniors in 2017-18 as a 17-year old, which is pretty remarkable.
His skating is just average for an NHL draft pick, and certainly could be improved, but it's not a glaring weakness, either.