Analyzing The State Of The Blue Jackets Forward Prospect Pool

By Dan Dukart on October 29, 2020 at 8:05 am
Kirill Marchenko celebrates a goal

The Columbus Blue Jackets have graduated some of its top forward prospects to the NHL in the past several years.

In 2017-18, Pierre-Luc Dubois made his debut and has been a mainstay with the club ever since. In the Toronto bubble, he took another step in his development and is seen around the league as a legitimate 1C. Late in 2018-19, Alexandre Texier played in the final two games of the regular season before playing eight playoff games. Injuries derailed much of his 2019-20 season, but he looked like a fixture in the bubble. Then, during an injury-riddled 2019-20 regular season, Liam Foudy followed in Texier's footsteps, playing in two regular-season games before playing a larger role in the postseason. All three of these players debuted at age 19 and are seen as key cogs on the team for the foreseeable future.

Their departure from prospect to player also obscures the Blue Jackets forward prospect pool. 

The Present

Calling Foudy a player (as opposed to a prospect) may be a bit of a stretch. In my eyes, he's still a prospect and while he looked like a player with an incredibly bright future, a Stanley Cup-contending organization would want a player to earn his way into the lineup when the next season begins. Either way, there's no doubt that Foudy is seen as a key contributor in the short and long-term of this franchise.

Texier has looked dynamic in both postseason stints but was largely underwhelming during this past regular season where he battled a lumbar stress fracture. Look for the now-healthy 21-year old to take a step in 2020. 

Emil Bemstrom had an up and down season. His calling-card - his one-timer - never quite clicked in his rookie season. Even so, the 21-year old posted 10-10-20 in a limited role (12:16 TOI) in just 56 games as a rookie. His ceiling remains high (Note: it's not the NHL, but Bemstrom has tallied 5-4-9 in 9 games for HIFK Helskink in Finland's Liiga this season as of this writing).  

So, by my logic, a quarter (3/12) of the forward lineup this season could be categorized as prospects, though only Foudy is still a rookie. That's a lot of youth, but it also means no new faces. How did we get here? 

The Past

The Blue Jackets haven't had a ton of draft capital to work with in the past several seasons, picking just six, three, and five selections in the prior three drafts. In those three drafts, they've had just three first or second-round picks (two in 2018, one in 2020). In 2018, they selected the aforementioned Foudy as well as Kirill Marchenko, arguably the club's top prospect today. Then in 2020 the club selected Yegor Chinakhov with their first-round pick. Chinakhov, who was seen at the top as an off-the-board selection, has been lighting up the KHL in his age-19 season.

The club traded away two forward prospects at the 2019 trade deadline, shipping Jonathan Davidsson and Vitaly Abramov to the Ottawa Senators (and a first-round pick) in exchange for Matt Duchene. So far, neither of those prospects have amounted to much, combining for just nine games at the NHL level (Note: the first-round pick given up still hurts). 

In 2018, the Blue Jackets selected Marcus Karlberg in the third round and Trey Fix-Wolansky in the seventh round. The slight Karlberg doesn't appear to be on an NHL trajectory but is still just 20. Fix-Wolansky had an injury-plagued (go figure) rookie season in the AHL but may have a chance to play NHL games. In 2019, the club selected Dmitry Voronkov, another Russian forward who has been compared to Boone Jenner, as well as Tyler Angle from the OHL. In 2020, the club selected Chinakhov with their first-round selection, then took Mikael Pyythia from Finland's TPS program with their fourth-round pick. 

The Future

The Blue Jackets have several prospects at the AHL level that could conceivably become NHL players: Fix-Wolansky, Calvin Thurkauf, Cliff Pu, Ryan MacInnis, Kole Sherwood, and Carson Meyer. But none of these players project to be impact players at the next level. 

The elephant in the room is waiting on their Russian prospects to make the trek from the KHL to North America. Marchenko and Voronkov have already signed extensions with their respective KHL teams that would put them in North America in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 season respectively. Should Chinakhov follow suit and sign an extension, it's likely that Columbus fans wouldn't see him in a Blue Jackets uniform until 2024-25, per The Athletic's Aaron Portzline.

Simply put, the Blue Jackets recent factory-like production - at least one forward prospect making the jump every season - looks like it will come to a halt for at least this and next season. 

Overall Assessment

The Blue Jackets forward prospect pool has some interesting pieces but lacks depth. Marchenko appears to project as a top-line forward, and that's great news. If Chinakhov pans out, it will (once again) prove GM Jarmo Kekalainen right in eschewing conventional wisdom with a first-round pick. Voronkov should be an NHL player, and a bigger and faster Jenner is enticing. After that, it gets a bit thin. The club is without a second-round pick in 2021 but has the rest of its stable. 

While the pool looks depleted on the surface, it's largely because of so many recent graduations (remember, Dubois is only 22, Texier/Bemstrom 21, Foudy 20). Continuing to grow from within is the prudent move.