On Monday, The Athletic's Corey Pronman continued his organizational rankings with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who he ranked 19th in the NHL.
Pronman's annual deep dive includes all skaters in the organization who are 22 or younger as of Sept. 15, 2020, regardless of how many NHL games they’ve played. In 2019, they were ranked 25th, a step in the right direction, especially when considering players like Zach Werenski, Eric Robinson, Vladislav Gavrikov, Elvis Merzlikins, and Kevin Stenlund all graduated (note: several of these players were older than 22 as of last year but were incoming rookies).
His ranking is as follows:
|#||Player Name||Position||2019-20 League|
|4||Liam Foudy||C||OHL, NHL|
Pronman also listed five other players that he sees as having "NHL potential": Defensemen Andrew Peeke, Eric Hjorth, Jake Christiansen, and Tim Berni, and forward Trey-Fix Wolansky.
Here are three thoughts from this exercise:
Marchenko, Voronkov Front And Center
When the Blue Jackets took Marchenko 49th overall in 2018, it was almost immediately lauded as a great pick. How could a big, powerful winger with a high-end skill set fall to the middle of the second round? (Hint: he's Russian) On the one hand, teams can be vindicated, as the 20-year old recently signed a contract extension to stay in the KHL through 2021-22, so he's not making the immediate impact teams covet in first-round picks. On the other hand, Pronman gushed about the 6'2 winger:
He is a player who has a lot of the tools you look for in a hockey player. Marchenko is big, he is a powerful skater, and he is full of skill.
Him being ranked ahead of Texier stands out in a big way, as the Frenchman already looks to be a fixture in the NHL, maybe even in a top-six capacity as early as next season.
Equally noticeable is Voronkov's ranking. Pronman described him as a "bull on the puck and in the high-traffic areas and has an edge to his game". Sounds good, no? His physical ranking was actually higher than Dubois', which is telling. He's projected to be a 'Boone Jenner-plus' type. Not a great skater, but a pain in the rear to play against, and at 6'4, the 19-year old still has time to become a more dynamic offensive player.
A Look Into The Blue Jackets War Room
Two things stand out when reviewing the Blue Jackets prospect pool. This organization:
- clearly prioritizes competitiveness and physicality.
- has discovered market inefficiencies outside of the first round of the draft.
Dubois, Texier, Voronkov, and Foudy are all highly competitive players who, along with their skill, are workmanlike players. Don't get me wrong - having flash isn't a bad thing. But this team obviously wants its players to be difficult to play against.
The Blue Jackets have had just two first-round picks in the past four seasons, selecting Dubois in 2016 and Foudy in 2018. Aside from that, they've done extremely well to hit on various second-round picks including Texier, Peeke, and Marchenko. But even more impressive is their ability to find late-round gems. Consider that in 2019, the club had three picks: 104, 114, and 212, and still managed two players (Hjorth and Voronkov) on this list. How do they do that?
In selecting Marchenko, the Blue Jackets identified a player who had reportedly wanted to stay in Russia for the foreseeable future. Despite having a first-round pedigree, the Blue Jackets decided to take a chance. It should pay off when they bring over a top-six forward in a few years' time (similar to Gavrikov coming to the NHL late last year). In Hjorth and Tarasov, they found European players who missed their draft years due to injury. While other teams were spooked by the lack of viewings, the Blue Jackets pounced on the opportunity.
In Bemstrom and Voronkov, the Blue Jackets found young, European players playing against men at a young age who had one attribute that made them stand out. For Bemstrom, it was the release on his shot. For Voronkov, it was his size. Both are hard to teach.
Brave New World
Under-22 organizational rankings aren't everything, but they do serve as a good litmus test for the future of a franchise. And while Columbus is middle of the pack, good news may be ahead in the Metropolitan Division.
The Washington Captials and Pittsburgh Penguins finished 31st and 30th, respectively, in these rankings. The New York Islanders, the lone team standing remaining from the Metropolitan Division, is 27th. Suffice it to say that, while some teams in the division, like the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, will be extremely high on this list (he's only releasing 1-2 teams per day), they aren't quite at the same level as many of the other teams competing at the top of the division.
The Blue Jackets have their first-round pick and are armed with a strategy that has paid dividends in recent drafts. If they can continue to stockpile assets, they should be able to remain competitive well into the future.