The Athletic has released its annual ranking of the NHL's 23-and-under organizational pipeline, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have moved up one spot from 13th in 2021 to 12th this year.
Much of the analysis, written by prospects writer Corey Pronman, is insightful and offers an unbiased look at where the organization stacks up compared to its peers. There's plenty to assess, and there are a few instances where I think he's in the wrong, or at least trending in that direction. Here are my five key takeaways:
David Jiricek Over Kent Johnson?
Listing Jiricek over Johnson surprised me a bit. On the one hand, it speaks volumes that the Blue Jackets somehow managed to upgrade in 2022 after hitting a home run in the 2021 NHL Draft by selecting Johnson (2nd overall prospect) and Cole Sillinger (3rd). Clearly, Jiricek is a special prospect, and he's a reason why the defense pipeline looks stronger than it has in years. On the other hand, maybe Johnson's recent strong - but not necessarily elite - counting stats in the NCAA, NHL, and even in the recent World Junior Championships, left Pronman wanting more.
Yegor Chinakhov Remains A Polarizing Player
That Chinakhov was ranked the ninth best organizational prospect in this exercise suggests to me that the Blue Jackets are elite at drafting and should probably be higher than 12th overall in the NHL. Chinakhov is far from a finished product, and while he's definitely not a perfect prospect, he has unique attributes that make him an intriguing player. The recent news that Alexandre Texier won't be joining the club for the upcoming season is probably good news for Chinakhov, who may have been competing for the same middle-six winger slot.
I will give Pronman credit in that it's hard who to argue that he's a top-five prospect in this pool, but that's because of the strength of the pipeline. Listing Luca Del Bel Belluz, for example, ahead of him, seems like a misstep at this juncture, but I guess that's why we call them prospects.
Liam Foudy Is Still Ranked?
Pronman has the unenviable job (or enviable, depending on your perspective, I suppose) of knowing the entire landscape not just of draft-eligible players, but also of graduates. That's a hefty task. So I give him a pass for consistently ranking Foudy as a ranked player, even as low as 12 as he is in this ranking. Pronman even leads with "Foudy had a productive AHL season" despite the fact that he only played 29 games due to injury.
Foudy doesn't have an easy path to make the roster this season, and his ceiling is low enough that I'm not sure he'll do so in the future. Maybe I'm being critical based on his draft position, but it's pretty interesting that a player who turns 23 this season and has played in three different NHL seasons is still given this much rope.
The Blue Jackets Defensive Pipeline Has Been Restocked
It starts with Jiricek, but other first-round picks like Adam Boqvist (5th in the ranking), Denton Mateychuk (6th), Corson Ceulemans (10th), and others like Stanislav Svozil (11th) and Samuel Knazko (13th) round out a really quality depth chart. Plus, the organization's top defenseman, Zach Werenski, is only 25. The narrative has changed, and for good reason.
The Metropolitan Division Runs The Gamut
Blue Jackets fans have suffered through the Penguins and Capitals' success years, but those may be coming to a close. Three Metropolitan Division teams were in the bottom ten of the NHL. Pittsburgh (30th), the New York Islanders (27th), and Washington (24th) expect to be competitive in 2022, but with a barred cupboard, it could be tough sledding for them in a few years.
The Philadelphia Flyers (19th) perpetually find themselves caught in the middle between rebuild and go-for-it. The New York Rangers (9th) are blessed with a few lottery picks and will look to build on a deep playoff run. Carolina (6th) and New Jersey (3rd) are well-positioned to challenge in the now (Carolina) and in the future (both) at the top of the division.
It's a daunting practice to aggregate all 32 NHL organizations and standardize a grading scale across the league. I have a lot of respect that the work Pronman and others in the prospect evaluation space, but it's an imperfect science. Regardless, the Blue Jackets are pointed in the right direction and should continue to climb both the arbitrary U23 rankings - as well as the NHL standings - as their top young players continue to develop.