Traverse City Storylines: What To Look Forward To From The NHL Prospect Tournament

By Coby Maeir on September 8, 2023 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue jackets draft pick Adam Fantilli puts on his sweater after being selected with the third pick in round one of the 2023 NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jackets hockey is almost back.

In just six days, the Blue Jackets will play their first game of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Jackets will play in two more games after that, facing the Red Wings on Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET and the Stars on Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. ET. 

Here is the roster the Blue Jackets are sending to Traverse City next week. 

This roster includes four first-round picks and several other intriguing prospects, which means there are plenty of storylines heading into this three-game tournament.

How will Voronkov adjust to the North American game?

After five seasons in the KHL where he scored 37-37–74 in 182 games, the 2019 fourth-round pick will be making his North American hockey debut. He's no stranger to competition outside of Russia, as he's played in the World Juniors and Olympics, but now he'll be playing on an NHL ice against players fighting for professional opportunities. For some players, it's a seamless transition. For others, not so much. And while this tournament may not be the best indicator of whether or not Voronkov is ready for the NHL, it can't hurt to see how he plays, either.

Is Rysavy playing for a contract?

Since the Blue Jackets selected Rysavy in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL Draft, he's scored 19-40--59 in 92 regular season games in addition to 6-7--13 in 20 playoff games over two seasons for the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors. However, he has yet to sign his entry-level contract and has until June 1, 2025, to do so, per Could his performance in this tournament lead him to sign that contract? 

Can Jiricek dominate?

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Jiricek had a phenomenal rookie year at the AHL level, scoring 6-32--38 in 55 games and was named the best defender at the 2023 IIHF World Juniors, where he led Czechia to a silver medal. The 19-year-old blueliner should dominate this tournament, as he'll be one of the best players there. Jiricek is a star in the making and next week's games are just another chance to prove why Blue Jackets fans should be excited about the future of their blueline.

Are Del Bel Belluz and Malatesta ready for the jump to pro hockey?

It's expected that the two prospects will be playing in the AHL this season after they each had fantastic 2022-23 campaigns at the junior level. Malatesta won the QMJHL playoff MVP and Memorial Cup MVP with the Quebec Remparts and Del Bel Belluz posted 40-47--87 in 66 regular season games for Mississauga and Sarnia. Both he and Malatesta will be playing with and against players fighting for AHL spots this season, so it should be a good test to see if they're ready. 

Next week's tournament will also be the first time Fantilli plays a game in a Blue Jackets sweater, and like Jiricek, he should dominate. But if he doesn't, it's not the end of the world.

Following this tournament is training camp, which is where roster spots will be won and lost and the lineup will start to take shape. 

Hockey is almost back.