The Columbus Blue Jackets Boast The Number Three Prospect Pool In The NHL, Per The Athletic's Scott Wheeler

By Dan Dukart on February 29, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Kent Johnson skates against the St. Louis Blues
Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets recently checked in at number three in The Athletic's countdown of the top prospect pools in the NHL.

The ranking, done by Scott Wheeler, gives a comprehensive look at the organization's current and future prospects. 

Rank Player Position
1 Kent Johnson F
2 David Jiricek D
3 Denton Mateychuk D
4 Jordan Dumais F
5 Gavin Brindley F
6 Stanislav Svozil D
7 Luca Del Bel Belluz F
8 William Whitelaw F
9 Luca Pinelli F
10 Andrew Strathman D
11 Corson Ceulemans D
12 Sergei Ivanov G
13 James Malatesta F
14 Hunter McCown F
15 Samuel Knazko D

This comes on the heels of a recent U23 player ranking that established the club as a team on the rise. With only the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres ahead of them in the organizational prospect rankings, there is plenty to be optimistic about heading into the future.

Notably, this ranking did not include graduated players like Adam Fantilli, Yegor Chinakhov, Dmitri Voronkov, or Kirill Marchenko. Notable absences include Tappara (Liiga) forward Oiva Keskinen, Cleveland Monsters goalie Jet Greaves and CSKA Moscow (KHL) forward Kirill Dolzhenkov.  

Wheeler was particularly optimistic about Kent Johnson, who has had an up-and-down sophomore campaign, saying "he’s a unique talent and the Blue Jackets need guys who can create", and argued for him to have a longer leash regarding his ice time. He was equally high on David Jiricek, noting that some of his perceived flaws (aggressiveness, for example) are also what make him a special prospect. 

In reading through his analysis, it became clear that the Blue Jackets have a long list of players who could become middle-of-the-line contributors, with plenty of players who are projected to become full-time NHLers sooner rather than later. Another trend that stuck out was that the organization has a lot of forward prospects (Jordan Dumais, Gavin Brindley, etc.) who are small by NHL standards. Johnson, too, is on the lean side, and even players like Luca Pinelli and James Malatesta are shorter than average. None of those are problematic in a vacuum, but with only 12 forward spots available, one can't help but wonder if there is room for all of these smaller forwards.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen deserves a lot of credit for stocking the cupboard for his replacement. This is a top-three prospect pool largely due to his drafting prowess. On the other hand, the pool is buoyed by Johnson and Jiricek, who were acquired only because of the club's lackluster spot in the standings. 

Banners aren't hung because of prospect pool rankings, but at least the Blue Jackets can take solace knowing that these lean years lead to a quality young stable of players. 

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