Down On The Farm: Coming Out Of The All-Star Break, Monsters Trying To Elevate From Last Place To Playoffs And Other Nuggets

By Will Chase on February 7, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Marcus Bjork shoots the puck in the first period against the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena.
Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

Just like the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Cleveland Monsters are coming out of the All-Star Break.

While the Blue Jackets are on their scheduled bye week and off until Friday when they host the front end of a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Monsters are off until this weekend when they play the Belleville Senators.

So what’s the news on the farm?

The Monsters are currently tied for last place in the Eastern Conference but are still in play for a playoff spot. In sixth place in the North Division, and tied with the Senators with 39 points, Cleveland is five points out of fifth place. The top five teams from the North Division make the postseason so there's still a chance for the Monsters to be one of the 23 teams to qualify.

With the Blue Jackets beset by so many injuries, the NHL club has been forced to dip into Cleveland's depth which has certainly tested the AHL club.

Names including David Jiricek, Marcus Bjork, Tim Berni, and Kirill Marchenko have all made their NHL debuts with the Blue Jackets this season. Marchenko looks to be an NHL mainstay for the time being with 13 goals in just over half his games played. Bjork and Berni went down to Cleveland to get some playing time with the NHL club on break and will likely be in Columbus again pretty soon, possibly by this weekend when the second-half schedule resumes.

Daniil Tarasov has started 12 NHL games this season and made 13 appearances. He's appeared in six games for the Monsters as he looks to refine his game but is currently dealing with an injury. Tarasov will be at the NHL level next season since he'll require waivers to be sent down.

Gavin Bayreuther, Emil Bemstrom, Jake Christiansen, Josh Dunne, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Brendan Gaunce, Carson Meyer, Jet Greaves, and Billy Sweezey have all been up and down I-71 this season. Sweezey and Greaves did not appear in a game for the Blue Jackets. Joona Luoto was on injured reserve to start the season and was sent down to Cleveland in November without appearing in an NHL game.

While Columbus has been trying to see what some of their prospects can do, Fix-Wolansky and Bemstrom particularly stand out as both are 1-2 in points for the Monsters. Fix-Wolansky (43–19 goals, 24 assists) and Bemstrom (31–14 goals, 17 assists) have both been with the Blue Jackets this season, Bemstrom longer than Fix-Wolansky, who has been with Columbus leading into the All-Star Break.

Bemstrom has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 24 games for Columbus but is pointless since Jan. 17. He was given a two-year off-season extension and then cleared waivers to head to Cleveland before the NHL season started.

The clock is ticking on Bemstrom and possibly others like Fix-Wolanksy.

Samuel Knazko is having a nice first year in Cleveland (one goal, 16 assists) through 35 games. He's only 20 years old and figures into the next big defensive core for the club along with the likes of Jiricek. 

Jiricek made the All-Star team in his first year but missed it due to illness so Christiansen took his place as he also participated in the AHL Skills Competition. If things play out right, it might be Jiricek’s only AHL All-Star invite.