Assessing Expectations For Newly Signed Columbus Blue Jackets Defense Prospect Corson Ceulemans

By Dan Dukart on March 9, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Corson Ceulemans skates for the Wisconsin Badgers
Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Columbus Blue Jackets defense prospect Corson Ceulemans, who was recently signed to an entry-level contract, has been through a lot since he was drafted with the 25th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

When Ceulemans was drafted, he was seen as the organization's top defensive prospect. Since then, the club has invested in two other (and higher) first-round picks on defense in David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk. Add in the additions/drafting/emergence of young players like Nick Blankenburg, Stanislav Svozil, Tim Berni, Markus Bjork, etc., and all of the sudden, the path to an NHL roster spot is a bit more treacherous. 

Ceulemans' experience at the University of Wisconsin has been similarly up and down. On a bad team - the head coach/legendary alum Tony Gronato was recently fired - Ceulemans would freelance more than he probably would have on a stronger team, trading chances in an attempt to keep Wisconsin competitive. This past winter, he was omitted from the Team Canada World Junior camp roster, a clear indictment that the shine is off the apple from a player that was a key player for Team Canada at previous U17 and U18 events. In his defense, he finished tied for first and then third in team scoring in his freshman and sophomore seasons, both times leading all defensemen in points.

In his recent prospect rankings, The Athletic's Scott Wheeler, who has long been a fan of Ceulemans, balanced praise about his upside with concerns about his projection:

He can make his fair share of mistakes, turn pucks over, and get caught flatfooted and burned when he’s not ramped up and dialled in. But more often than that he plays a commanding style that his raw tools allow him to when he’s at his best — a game of take, take, take. There’s a ton to like about Ceulemans’ package. He’s right-handed. He’s big (6-foot-2 and a compact 200 or so pounds), sturdy, and athletic, and he uses his heaviness to play a rugged and physical style against the rush and in his own zone along the wall (though he can sometimes settle into a lackadaisical defensive posture and get caught puck-watching).

He’s also capable of really imposing himself offensively, with an attacking style which is complemented by a hard point shot (off of his snapshot and his low slap shot, both of which he does a good job keeping low), quick offensive-zone instincts through holes as they open, eager pinches, and a willingness to step off the line to make a play on or to the puck. When he plays within himself while remaining aggressive, he looks like a professional defenseman already and the kind of players teams crave in their top four. I like him best when he’s really active, looking to engage and play decisively on both sides of the puck.

He’s not going to make the long play past or through several layers of pressure but when he plays to beat the first layer and then make his play, he’s a dominant three-zone player. There’s just a boldness to his game. Expect him to turn pro after this season and become an assertive No. 4-5 defenceman with the right coaching and development.

Ceulemans going to the AHL to finish this season is an optimal bridge for the 19-year-old. The AHL is much more structured than the NCAA, and while he's used to playing against older talent, this is a big step in his development. As Cleveland is pushing for a playoff berth, having Ceulemans jump right into meaningful and high-stakes games. In their most recent game, the Monsters iced four defensemen who have played NHL games this season.

It will be interesting to follow Ceulemans' journey over these next few months. There is always a spot in an NHL lineup for a right-shot defenseman that can play dependable minutes and chip in offensively. Assuming the Blue Jackets have a similar blueline next season (which is quite the assumption), Ceulemans will be in competition with, among others, Jiricek, Andrew Peeke, Blankenburg, Adam Boqvist, and Erik Gudbranson, for NHL minutes. That's a tall task, and there would be no shame at all in letting him develop in the AHL. 

In the meantime, playing in the AHL, likely debuting a week from today against Grand Rapids, should give the organization a sense of Ceulemans' proximity to the NHL. For better, or for worse.