The Hockey News Future Watch issue has come, meaning it’s time for the yearly update on the kiddie-pool-like depth of the Blue Jackets' prospect pool. That's sort of a joke, but not really.
After a big bump from 23 to 17 last year in the organizational rankings, the Blue Jackets took a small step backwards (a bit of irony there with how this season is going) to 18 while keeping its B- grade. The Blue Jackets' ranking over the last five years is as follows: 13, 14, 23, 17, 18. Another thing to point out: The Hockey News uses a handicapping system with the grades taking the average of the teams' first picks in the last four drafts (21, 104, 18, 45) vs the team’s rank in Future Watch. The Jackets have the highest average pick with 30, and with the ranking of 18th, they have the highest +/- in the league at a +12.
Last year’s top 10 included five players who have played in the NHL. This year’s has only two. Something we’ve known for a bit is it’s heavy with a Russian flavor. Future Watch also includes a top 100 ranking, which will be included in parentheses.
- Kirill Marchenko (53)
- Yegor Chinakhov (54)
- Andrew Peeke
- Daniil Tarasov
- Matiss Kivlenieks
- Dmitry Voronkov
- Trey Fix-Wolansky
- Jake Christiansen
- Tim Berni
- Samuel Knazko
This year's list seems pretty accurate, but last year, Columbus had four players in the Top 100. That's down to only two this year. Kirill Marchenko was the 69th ranked player in last year’s top 100. One guy missing from the Jackets' top 10 is Gabriel Carlsson, who’d been part of the team's top 10 in this issue since 2016. The only player that raises a slight question mark to me is defenseman Samuel Knazko who essentially disappeared after the World Juniors. According to a Slovakian reporter, Knazko's Finnish team had to quarantine and he did get back into action for the playoffs. Another interesting name is Jake Christiansen. He's been putting up points in the AHL while being a constant in the Monsters' top 4 all season.
As for prospects needing contracts this offseason, much like last year, there could be only one prospect to worry about signing. The player is goalie prospect Peter Thome. Usually, the team has the prospect’s entire NCAA eligibility to sign them to an entry level contract. It's confusing because CapFriendly says the Blue Jackets have until August 15th, which would be the normal deadline, but Thome is using the year the NCAA granted every athlete due to COVID to play at his new Division 1 school, St. Thomas. So, it’s possible the Blue Jackets could have no prospects to sign, unless you count Daniel Zaar as a prospect, but that ship has likely sailed.
There's not much in terms of upcoming free agents for the Monsters. It’s mostly veterans who have spent the year with the taxi squad. The two RFAs include Cliff Pu and Calvin Thurkauf. Pu has only played in 8 of the Monsters' 17 games, and Thurkauf has spent the year in Switzerland on loan but has been out since early January with a leg fracture.
As for rookies on next year's edition of the Cleveland Monsters, we're looking at Tim Berni, who was expected to play in Cleveland but spent another with Zurich due to COVID. The Monsters should have a full year of Daniil Tarasov, but he doesn’t count as a rookie because he's now playing in Cleveland. Gregory Hofmann could also be in Cleveland, but he could also see time with the NHL squad.
Now, as for where everyone will be next year, there are some questions marks. Contract information is sourced from Elite Prospects. In the CHL, it could just be Ole-Julien Bjørgvik-Holm, but Bjørgvik-Holm started the year playing in Norway. With that in mind it's not a certainty that he’ll go back to Mississauga, especially with him finishing the year in Cleveland. However, he'll only be 19, so he could be back with the Steelheads.
In the NCAA, Kale Howarth will be back in Storrs for his senior year, but he’s coming off a leg injury suffered in one of the Huskies' last games of the season. As stated above, Peter Thome should be the Tommies' starter for their first year in D1 play. Robbie Stucker entered the Transfer Portal on April 7th but still hasn’t committed to a school for his senior season.
Over in Europe, Markus Karlberg’s deal runs out this year with Leksands, but the Blue Jackets Jackets have another year left to decide on him. It's not clear where he'll end up. Karlberg has been loaned to two different teams in two different leagues/levels in Sweden. Samuel Johannesson should be back with Rögle and hopefully he can see more regular minutes. He also has a year left on his current deal.
In Finland, Eric Hjorth has another year plus an option with KalPa so he’ll be somewhere in the Swords organization, be it in Liiga or Mestis. In Turku, Mikael Pyyhtiä has a year left on his deal and Samuel Knazko should also be back with TPS.
On to Mother Russia, where the Blue Jackets' top prospects play. Kirill Marchenko will be going into the final year of his current deal, so fingers and toes crossed he’ll be playing his final year in Russia, most likely in SKA’s top six. Dmitry Voronkov has 2 years left on his deal and he’s coming off a strong playoff where he was named top forward in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now for the...interesting one: Blue Jackets' 2020 first round pick Yegor Chinakhov. Chinakhov’s deal ends this year on April 30th, but within days of being drafted, reports came out of him having a three year deal offered to him by Omsk. Chinakhov's agent said that he wouldn’t talk about an extension or signing with the Blue Jackets until the KHL season is over.
Yegor Chinakhov is in the final year of the contract with Avangard. All conversations about extension or move to the Columbus will be held only after the conclusion of the KHL playoffs. Yegor is willing to help its team to bring Gagarin Cup to his hometown Omsk.— Shumi Babaev Agency (@BabayevShumi) October 11, 2020
Now that the KHL season is over, and Chinakhov's Omsk won the title, there have been reports swirling about Chinkhov signing his ELC and coming to North America for the start of next season.
As for the World Juniors, Knazko appears to be eligible to play for Slovakia again. He served as the team’s captain in this year’s tournament. It's not clear if Pyythiä will be eligible, since he turns 20 in early December.
Now for the draft. It would make sense for the Blue Jackets to use all three first round picks that they have. The Blue Jackets' prospect pool is kiddie-pool deep. In their top 10 prospects, the only one under the age of 20 is #10: Knazko. The Blue Jackets need an infusion of talent badly. However, since the Tampa/Toronto picks are so low that they’re basically high second round picks...they could also be used as trade bait for teams with cap issues/expansion draft issues. But, of the Blue Jackets' nine picks, most if not all should be used on players.
Well, there you have it folks. Currently, the Blue Jackets have a top 10 pick for the first time since 2016, and they were lucky enough to move up due to the lottery that year, so do every lucky ritual you have.
Thank you for reading this, and hopefully we’ll actually have development camp and Traverse City this year, too.