The future is bright in Columbus.
After an exciting offseason in which the Blue Jackets significantly improved their organizational depth, the club is in good shape moving forward.
Scott Wheeler, who writes for The Athletic, has taken notice of the Blue Jackets' excellent 2021 NHL Draft. In his yearly Top 50 prospect rankings (skaters only), Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, and Kirill Marchenko all made appearances.
Johnson, who the Blue Jackets drafted fifth overall this year, came in at sixth in Wheeler's rankings. He'll play at the University of Michigan next year for his sophomore year after an incredible freshman campaign. The dynamic center notched 9-18-27 in 26 regular-season games. Michigan had to forgo participating in the NCAA Tournament due to positive COVID-19 tests, which is likely one of the reasons that Johnson is returning to school. The Wolverines had four players drafted in the top five picks of the draft, which is an unbelievable number. Owen Power went first to the Buffalo Sabres, Matty Beniers went second to the Seattle Kraken, Luke Hughes went fourth to the New Jersey Devils, and then the Blue Jackets took Johnson fifth.
"If Johnson reaches his true potential, he may become the most productive player on this list. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the best one or the most complete one, but he’s got a chance to be a point per game star and highlight reel creator who plays at the very top of a lineup. He’s the best one-on-one player on this list, for starters...Johnson can create something out of nothing in ways that few others can. Give him another year, maybe two, in college to add more strength and refine the way he operates to become a little more efficient, and then watch out."
Next up in the rankings is Sillinger, who Wheeler ranked 23rd. Sillinger was the 12th overall pick this year, and the Blue Jackets are very excited about the hometown kid. He has a fantastic shot, which is his best weapon. GM Jarmo Kekalainen said earlier this month that he believes Sillinger can play center at the NHL level. For now, Sillinger will likely return to the WHL for the 2021-22 season.
"From a pure skill standpoint, Sillinger’s tools are undeniable. He can cleanly beat goalies from distance with his wrister, a catch-and-release or his one-timer. He’s got a dynamic set of hands, which lend themselves to his individual creation style. And then he’s physically strong and muscular and already looks and trains like an NHLer, so the filling out that is required for many of his peers isn’t a hurdle for him. But his skating still needs some work, not because he’s slow or sluggish but because his knees can trail through his extensions, leaving him a little hunched over and limiting his explosiveness. If he can correct that, he’s got the rest of the makings of a dangerous NHL player."
Marchenko was named honorable mention, which means he didn't get a write-up from Wheeler. However, Blue Jackets fans should still be very excited about Marchenko's potential after a stellar 2020-21 KHL season. The Russian winger tallied 15-13-28 in 41 games in Russia's top league at the age of 20.