The Columbus Blue Jackets used their lackluster 2020-21 season to replenish a weakening prospect pool.
With the trades of David Savard and Nick Foligno at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets acquired two first round picks. In the Foligno trade, Columbus received the 25th pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blue Jackets selected defenseman Corson Cuelemans; more on him later.
Savard went to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and ultimately gave the Blue Jackets the 32nd and final pick of the first round. That pick was packaged along with Seth Jones, who started the summer by telling Columbus he would test free agency at the end of the upcoming season, and sent to the Chicago Blackhawks. In return, the Blue Jackets got defenseman Adam Boqvist, the 12th overall pick (Cole Sillinger), and a protected first round selection in next year's draft.
To summarize: The Blue Jackets traded a few games of Savard and Foligno in a lost season and a final season of Jones for Sillinger, Cuelemans, Boqvist, and a first round pick next year.
The moves were enough to bring the Blue Jackets up from #19 to #13 in The Athletic's annual prospect pipeline rankings. The uptick in the rankings, calculated each offseason by Corey Pronman, is a result of four of the top five prospects being new to the Columbus pipeline.
Pronman ranks Sillinger, Cuelemans, and Boqvist at 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the organization, and has Kent Johnson, who the Blue Jackets selected with their original first round pick, at the top spot. Kirill Marchenko, a second round selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, claims the 2nd spot.
While those five prospects are likely the top five in the eyes of most fans and experts, Pronman's top ten for the Blue Jackets is a bit more of a debate:
6th: Dmitri Voronkov (4th round, 2019)
7th: Liam Foudy (1st round, 2018)
8th: Alexandre Texier (2nd round, 2017)
9th: Yegor Chinakhov (1st round, 2020)
10th: Stanislav Svozil (3rd round, 2021)
Foudy, who has one goal in 36 career NHL games, ahead of KHL Rookie of the Year Yegor Chinakhov? Odd. Ranked ahead of Texier, who has 29 points in just over one full season of games in the NHL? Peculiar. No mention of Daniil Tarasov? Curious. These eyebrow-raisers were enough to raise the question: who are the best players in the Columbus pipeline?
Here are the top ten prospects, as I see it. As they were in The Athletic's ranking, eligible players must be 22 years old or younger as of September 15th, 2021.
#10: Emil Bemstrom (F)
#9: Daniil Tarasov (G)
#8: Alexandre Texier (F)
#7: Dmitri Voronkov (F)
#6: Corson Ceulemans (D)
#5: Yegor Chinakhov (F)
#4: Kirill Marchenko (F)
The Skinny: Two months ago, the 6'3' Marchenko would have been at the top of the list. He had 28 points in 41 games in the KHL last season, and at just 21, he's got several years of professional playing experience. But Columbus' great draft and the return for Jones puts him just outside of the top three. Another KHL talent, Dmitri Voronkov, checks in at #7. He tore it up in the playoffs this year, scoring six goals and adding four assists in 15 KHL postseason games. Columbus tried to buy out Voronkov's contract to get him to the United States for the upcoming season (as they did with the 5th-ranked Yegor Chinakhov), but his team (Ak Bars Kazan) denied the request, and it may be two more seasons before Voronkov is in Columbus. Still, he'll be just 23, and could be a big-time contributor by time the Blue Jackets are ready to compete.
#3: Kent Johnson (F)
The Skinny: Johnson is going to be an NHL player; he's got too much playmaking ability and skill not to. I'm excited to see what he does at Michigan this year to continue to develop his game, particularly with his hockey IQ and skating ability. Ranking Johnson at number three is not to throw shade at him, but instead to praise the two names above him.
#2: Cole Sillinger (F)
The Skinny: It may seem a little odd to see the 11th overall selection of July's draft ranked above the 5th overall pick in the same draft, but I believe that Sillinger has the ability to be steal of the draft. He has work to do, yes, but while Johnson will return to Michigan to develop, Sillinger is in the unique position of having a myriad of options coming out of the draft. Depending on how training camp goes, the 18-year-old center could end up playing in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters. This would give him the chance to learn at a professional level and, in all likelihood, gather some end-of-the-season NHL experience as a teenager. The sky is the limit for Sillinger.
#1: Adam Boqvist (D)
The Skinny: It's an odd situation with Boqvist, because this will be his third season in the NHL. But he just turned 21, and meets the requirements to be classified as a pipeline player. This is his last year of eligibility, but only by a few weeks. Yet, he's already taken strides at the NHL level. In his ranking, Pronman sees Boqvist topping out as a second-pair defenseman. How he ends up at #5 in his rankings is beyond me.
He can be more, and may be soon. Boqvist is projected to be on the Blue Jackets top defensive pairing this season, playing alongside Zach Werenski. He'll have a learning curve and will make his share of mistakes, but Boqvist is well on his way to being a two-way defenseman with All-Star potential.