Columbus Blue Jackets Top 20

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  1. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

    Feb 28, 2002
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    Great White North
    Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug Emerson made three day-one trades at the 2006 entry draft, turning two draft picks into six in an effort to shore up the Jackets’ organizational depth. Some observers questioned this approach given that most observers consider the 2006 draft class to be especially shallow. He followed it up with another move that sent his 3rd in 2007 away for four day-two picks, further demonstrating his scouts’ confidence that there were real players still on the board.

    “There are definitely young men with a solid future in the NHL to be had,†Emerson told reporters, “and I believe our scouts have helped us identify and select some excellent candidates. If anything the perception that this is a weak draft helped us, because it meant some teams were undervaluing their picks, and that let us be a bigger player on draft day than we expected.â€

    After watching top prospects Steve Bernier (drafted 12th overall in 2003) and Dustin Penner (signed as a Free Agent in 2003) graduate to the HFNHL, Emerson’s stocking-up approach has helped replenish the organization’s prospect ranks, which were looking a little lean after the Jackets’ Stanley Cup final run. With defencemen Joni Pitkanen and Jim Vandermeer (now with Nashville) graduating in 2005, and three more names likely to graduate in 2007, it makes even more sense for the Jackets to stock up – if they manage to draft well, that is.

    Overall, the Top 20 shows a fair amount of depth, particularly on defence and at center, but it’s thin on the wings and in goal, the centres have limited size, and there’s a dearth of top-tier talent. There are, however, many intriguing prospects, and it’s certainly possible for a number of them to exceed expectations.

    Columbus Top 20 Prospects

    Rank Player Rating
    1 C Ryan Potulny 7.0B
    2 RD Joey Ryan 7.0B
    3 RW Jeremy Colliton 6.5A
    4 LW Nikolai Kulemin 7.0B
    5 LD Filip Novak 7.0C
    6 RW Konstantin Pushkarev 7.0C
    7 LW James Neal 6.5B
    8 G Mike Smith 6.5B
    9 RD Eric Gryba 6.5B
    10 C Jonas Nordquist 6.5B
    11 LW Blake Geoffrion 6.5B
    12 G Martin Houle 6.5B
    13 C Nate Davis 6.5B
    14 C Jan-Mikael Juutilainen 7.0C
    15 LD Kevin Montgomery 6.5C
    16 RW Alexander Drozdetsky 6.5C
    17 LD Aaron Rome 6.0B
    18 RW Robin Figren 6.0C
    19 LW Constantin Braun 6.0C
    20 RD Nathan Saunders 6.0C

    Graduated: RW Steve Bernier, C/LW Dustin Penner

    1. C Ryan Potulny – 7.0B
    A fifth-round draft pick of Columbus in the bumper 2003 crop, University of Minnesota captain and Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Potulny led the NCAA in scoring as a Junior before turning pro this spring. He didn’t look out of place in a pair of games with the NHL Flyers at the close of the regular season, and had the opportunity to train with the team during their playoff run – experience which should give him a head start on training camp next fall, as he competes for a spot on the team’s fourth line. Blessed with speed and agility, sensational hands and vision, poise and defensive awareness, Potulny is a consummate team player who leads by example. Dubbed “the Younger†by the local press to distinguish him from his elder brother Grant, "the Elder", another Jackets prospect.
    Style comparison: Chris Drury
    Projects as: Offensive 2nd line center

    2. RD Joey Ryan – 7.0B
    The Jackets’ first selection in the 2006 entry draft, Joey Ryan is a tough-as-nails competitor who learned a lot this year from Quebec Remparts owner and coach Patrick Roy about being a winner. While only average-sized, Ryan is very strong on his skates and plays with intensity, consistently playing the body and forcing the opposition to keep their heads up. His defensive commitment and positional play is superb, and his hockey sense impresses. His play with the puck will never be his strong suit, but nor is it a liability, as he makes good decisions, passes the puck crisply and smoothly, and has a good low, hard shot from the point. He may not be asked to quarterback a team’s powerplay at the pro level, but he’ll definitely be a contributor.
    Style comparison: Adam Foote
    Projects as: Top-3 two-way defenceman

    3. C/RW Jeremy Colliton – 6.5A
    After a respectable career as captain of the Prince Albert Raiders, Colliton made the move to the pros this season and became a vital part of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ game plan. His ability to play both ends of the ice proved invaluable in shutting down the opponent’s scoring lines and creating turnovers. Colliton demonstrated considerable poise in adapting to the pros, and didn’t look out of place in an extended audition with the NHL Islanders at the close of the season. A late second-round pick from 2003, Colliton has good hands and speed along with a solid frame, and is very solid in the faceoff circle. He will initiate physically but knows how to pick his spots. His strongest assets are his head and his heart – he will go through the wall for his team, and he will always find a way to contribute no matter what is asked of him. A future HFNHL captain, Colliton will challenge for a starting role on the Island this fall, and will quickly earn the respect of new Head Coach Ted Nolan, who will reward him with increased responsibilities as the season goes on.
    Style comparison: Steve Konowalchuk
    Projects as: Versatile two-way 3rd-liner with upside

    4. LW Nikolai Kulemin - 7.0B
    Emerson raised a few eyebrows selecting ’86 born Kulemin in the middle of the second round this year, but his scouts are confident they have a sure-fire HFNHL’er. Kulemin was a bit of a late bloomer for his hometown Magnitogorsk club, but proved this year he was more than just a passenger playing alongside super-prospect Evgeni Malkin at the World Juniors, and his play in the RSL earned more respect. Kulemin has the hands and skating of classic Russian wingers, but combines it with a big body, relentless work ethic, banging style and a commitment to playing in all zones that makes him a coach’s dream. He is very well suited to the North American game, and his development curve suggests he could be earning regular NHL minutes in a checking role very soon.
    Style comparison: Ruslan Fedotenko
    Projects as: Two-way forward with second-line upside

    5. LD Filip Novak – 7.0C
    Filip Novak was once a highly-touted prospect in the NY Rangers organization before being shipped to Florida for Pavel Bure. He lost a season due to injury, however, and has had a tough time reestablishing his game. He finally broke through this season and recorded a stellar season for the AHL Binghamton Sens, earning an audition at the NHL level. Novak is a slick skater, has good vision and a deft passing touch. He can run a powerplay, and knows how to use his skating and passing to open up the ice and create opportunities for his teammates. Will rush the puck on occasion, but is more useful distributing from the point than he is in close. Plays with an edge, and is a potent open-ice hitter in the mold of Anton Volchenkov despite being somewhat under-sized. He will never be a big-time crease-clearer, but has the smarts to improve his defensive coverage with the right instruction. He should earn a regular role in the Sens’ top 6 in 2006-07.
    Style comparison: Francois Beauchemin
    Projects as: Top-5 offensive blueliner and PP specialist

    6. L/RW Konstantin Pushkarev – 7.0C
    The Jackets were thrilled to find this gem still on the boards late in the third round of the 2003 draft. The rangy Kazakh forward has adjusted well after two seasons in North America, and earned an assist in his single NHL game this spring. He is a classic Soviet-style forward to the extent that he is a great skater with superb acceleration and an extra gear, and the gifted hands to stickhandle at all speeds, including low-speed dekes in the offensive zone that have left more than one defender looking for his jockstrap. He is also a classic Soviet-style forward in that he is more effective in open ice than down low, and he occasionally shows a tendency to commit to the offensive game a little early. He is well liked by teammates and coaches, however, and shows every indication that with a little added strength and coaching he will be able to contribute at both ends. His primary role, however, will always be as a creative offensive catalyst and sniper.
    Style comparison: Martin Erat
    Projects as: 2nd-line scoring winger

    7. G Mike Smith – 7.0C
    A late round find by Emerson’s scouts, Smith is a big-bodied goalie who plays a combined butterfly and loves to challenge the shooter. Considered the top puck-handling netminder in the AHL, it’s fitting that he’ll spend a lot of time watching Marty Turco in Dallas this season. His positioning is improving so he doesn’t need to rely on reactions as much. Having put up strong numbers at every level of hockey, he has been on a steady upward curve for several years, and is looking more and more like a solid backup with possibilities as a starter down the road.
    Style comparison: Marty Turco
    Projects as: Average HFNHL starter

    8. LW James Neal - 6.5B
    Neal fits the Jackets’ pattern of acquiring big, strong wingers who can make their presence felt with or without the puck. The second rounder was their first of just three picks in the 2005 draft (that also saw the team add Nate Davis, ranked #13), and so far he has developed according to plan. Raw, with a big frame, Neal will need time to mature and fill in, adding strength and balance. He also needs to improve his top-end speed and agility, but he plays with intensity and is a leader on the ice, so he’ll find a role in the pros. He occasionally shows surprising creativity, but will mostly be an up-and-down winger who digs in the corner and makes space for his linemates. As he heads into his last season of junior, he needs to focus on polishing his game in all areas.
    Style comparison: Jamie Langenbrunner
    Projects as: Poor man’s power forward

    9. RD Eric Gryba – 6.5B
    A bit of a darkhorse going into the draft, Gryba is a monster with all the pieces – size, skating, and ability with or without the puck. He is a heavy hitter who will drop the gloves and lay out his opponent, but the real draw is his upside. He has excellent offensive instincts, and although he’s still quite raw, he has the work ethic to improve on his natural gifts. He’s a long-term project that will have 4 years to polish his game at Boston University.
    Style comparison: Pavel Kubina
    Projects as: 4/5 two-way physical defenceman with significant upside

    10. C Jonas Nordqvist – 6.5B
    Has been a little slower coming on than originally expected, but finally broke out in the SEL as one of the league’s top scorers, and the youngest in the top 10. He has very soft hands, good hockey sense and excellent vision. His skating is only slightly above average, which may hold him back from being as effective with the puck in the HFNHL, but his smarts will ensure him a role if he wants one. Could be a better prospect if he used his size: he will play through contact, but doesn’t tend to initiate. He does show a great work ethic, is strong on faceoffs, and is a determined competitor day in and day out. He showed much greater consistency this year, which bodes well. He may try his luck with the NHL Blackhawks as soon as this season.
    Style comparison: Dainius Zubrus
    Projects as: Big two-way third-line center with terrific upside

    11. LW Blake Geoffrion – 6.5B
    Fourth-generation NHLer will play in the HFNHL – it’s just a question of what role he’ll fill. He has an excellent physical package to go with tremendous character, and will go through a wall for his teammates. Size, speed and balance will translate well to pros, as will his aggressive checking game. May be considered a late bloomer due to limited competition so far, but will get a taste of a much higher level next year with Wisconsin.
    Style comparison: Ethan Moreau
    Projects as: Third-line power forward

    12. G Martin Houle 6.5B
    Nimble netminder may lack the size of the top goalie prospects these days, but he has the reflexes, positioning and competitive spirit to keep up. An acrobatic butterfly goaltender, Houle boasts quick legs, a great glove hand, and improving rebound control. Was Fleury’s backup in the Q, and like Fleury has transitioned well to the pros. Another season or two and he’ll have a shot at challenging for the backup role in Philly.
    Style comparison: Marc Denis
    Projects as: Quality backup for HFNHL contender

    13. C Nate Davis 6.5B
    Ohio native was a US National team player before graduating to the Division I program at Miami. A total package as a versatile, hard-working two-way team player. According to one scout, Davis is “the whole package: versatile, hard-working, sound defensively, and brings a good mix of size, mobility and skills. He's a very strong skater, wide base with smooth and powerful strides. He's smart and creative around the goal, and even a bigger threat off the rush as he has superb shooting mechanics and a gift for opening up shooting lanes. He's been lethal on the penalty kill.†(McKeen’s)
    Style comparison: Mike York
    Projects as: Two-way third line pivot with upside

    14. C Jan-Mikael Juutilainen - 7.0C
    Lacks size and strength, but has all the other assets a team looks for in an offensive leader – skating, agility, vision, hockey sense, soft hands, poise and character. Strength would help add velocity to his shots, but has speed and puck control to score off the rush. Uses his playmaking to run the power play from the half-boards. Demonstrated his ability to lead at the WJC’s – anticipation makes him effective on both forecheck and backcheck, where he disrupts passing lanes and creates turnovers. Has to improve his defensive awareness and acceleration. Committed to Nebraska-Omaha of the NCAA for the 2006/07 season, so he will have head start adjusting to North America.
    Style comparison: Saku Koivu
    Projects as: Offensive 2nd line center or marginal 4th-liner

    15. LD Kevin Montgomery 6.5C
    Skilled offensive blueliner with great skating and passing was under-utilized with USNDTP. Needs to continue to improve in his own end, but is not a liability. Can run the PP or lead the rush – accelerates with the puck and can make plays at speed. Some questions about his focus and ability to step up to the next level. Committed to Ohio State, which should please “Buckeye†fans.
    Style comparison: Bret Hedican
    Projects as: Top-four offensive defenceman or career minor-leaguer

    16. L/RW Alexander Drozdetsky 6.5C
    Finally came into his own in the RSL this season, scoring 14 points in 16 games with Magnitogorsk. Great skating and top offensive skills, but he needs to show more commitment to defensive responsibilities and playing through checks if he’s going to come to the HFNHL, but with good money available in Russia, he may never come over.
    Style comparison: Sergei Berezin
    Projects as: Scoring winger or RSL All-star

    17. LD Aaron Rome 6.0B
    An all-around solid citizen, Rome is never going to lead the rush, nor is he going to be the one to crush opposing forwards into the boards. He is however extremely dependable in his own end, with smart positioning and awareness, and he makes a good safe first pass out of the zone. Won’t run the powerplay, but he could find time on the second unit. Will make the check, but won’t send people to hospital with his hits, despite a powerfully built frame – it’s just not his game. Missed time with injuries this season, but is not considered a fragile player.
    Style comparison: Aaron Ward
    Projects as: Two-way #5/6 blueliner

    18. RW Robin Figren 6.0C
    Feisty and creative winger gets under opponents skin. Scouts are split on his finishing skills, but agree he has the creativity and agility to make things happen offensively. Solid on the PK and plays a good transition game. Plays through traffic and will draw penalties. A first-round selection of Calgary in the CHL Import Draft.
    Style comparison: Sami Kapanen with attitude
    Projects as: Two-way third-liner

    19. LW Constantin Braun 6.0C
    A hit or miss pick, Braun is a big winger who plays an aggressive puck possession game. He shoots hard, but needs a lot of refinement to his fundamentals. Skating must improve, but it’s a coachable difference. A true wildcard pick, will get to play against men in Germany’s top pro league next season.
    Style comparison: Jochen Hecht
    Projects as: Third-line power forward or bust

    20. RD Nathan Saunders 6.0C
    No-nonsense crease-clearer was custom made for the “old†HFNHL as a stay-at-home bruiser and part-time enforcer. It remains to be seen whether players of his ilk have a role in the “new†HFNHL, but we’ll have to wait longer to find out for him, as he suffered a season-ending injury just 20 games into his first pro season.
    Style comparison: Bob Boughner
    Projects as: Stay-at-home #5/6 physical blueliner and agitator

    Other Notables:
    G Kris Lazaruk 6.0C
    G Ryan Daniels 6.0C
    LD Tomas Malec 6.0D
    C Chris Vande Velde 6.0D
    C Alexei Kruikov 5.5C
    RD Matt DeMarchi 5.5C

    Some prospects are too old for HF’s criteria, including:
    C Grant Potulny 6.0B
    LD Dan Jancevski 6.0B
    LD Alexei Semenov 6.0D
    LD Andy Wozniewski 5.5B

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