Okay, so I figured I should wait until I was done that round of moves before I updated this list, so I could see just how much damage I'd done to the system. The short answer: lots. Organizational strengths - Two-way play - - Size and toughness on the back end Organizational weaknesses - Top-end skill, particularly game-breaking scorers - Starter in goal - PMDs (nobody after Schultz) - Depth at RW Top 20 at a glance (previous ranking) [acquired] 1. C Andrei Loktionov (3) [D] 2. L/RW Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (6) [FA] 3. RD Justin Schultz (14) [D] 4. LW Carl Klingberg (12) [T] 5. LD Dylan Olsen (4) [D] 6. LW Blake Geoffrion (7) [D] 7. C/LW Patrice Cormier (10) [D] 8. RW Michael Sauer (20) [T] 9. LW Jason Zucker (16) [D] 10. RW Devante Smith-Pelley (15) [D] 11. G Leland Irving (13) [T] 12. D Alexei Emelin (NR) [T] 13. C/W Gabriel Dumont (11) [D] 14. RW Andrei Nestrasil (18) [D] 15. LD Patrik Nemeth (17) [D] 16. RD Eric Gryba (HM) [D] 17. G Mike Lee (9) [D] 18. LW Levko Koper (HM) [D] 19. LD Constantin Braun (HM) [D] 20. RD Corey Fienhage (HM) [D] (Honourable mentions follow the top 20) Columbus Top 20 Profiles – March 2010 1. C/LW Andrei Loktionov (3) Acquired: 4th round, 2008 (107th overall) After last season was derailed by a freak shoulder injury received during his very first NHL game, Loki has picked up right where he left off as a slick playmaking forward who is at times dominant in the AHL, and has proven he can produce at the NHL level as well, with 7 points in 19 games this season. He’s a key part of the future for Los Angeles, although given their young depth, he could be a part that is moved in the next few days as the Kings jockey for a post-season berth in the NHL’s incredibly close Western Conference. Projects as: Top-6 playmaker 2. L/RW Mats Zuccarello (6) Acquired: UDFA Lottery 2010 Zuccarello’s adjustment to North American hockey has been even quicker than expected. A 33-game stint with the Connecticut Whale saw him put up 25 points while getting used to the speed and traffic on the smaller ice. He’s since been a very nice addition to the big club, with his mobility and puck distribution skills making themselves apparent on the Rangers’ powerplay. He’s still oh-so-small (he’d probably be #1 on this list if not for the size concerns), but he’s shown that he can play through NHL checking and find the open man, notching 6 goals and 19 points in 33 games so far, including two goals in last night’s rout of the Stanley Cup finalists from Philadelphia. He’ll be a key cog for New York going forward. Projects as: Top-6 playmaking winger (and answer to Lord of the Rings trivia questions) 3. RD Justin Shultz (19) Acquired: 2nd round, 2008 (59th overall) My last (and only) remaining Wisconsin player on this list (the rest were traded or graduated), Schultz has had a meteoric ascent on this list in his sophomore season. When the Badgers graduated (or lost to the pros) 13 players from its Frozen Four roster, including its top three defencemen, it meant a setback for the team, but a huge opportunity for Schultz, and boy has he capitalized! As a second-year defenceman, Schultz is not only leading his team in scoring, he’s leading all defencemen in the NCAA (and tied for ninth among all skaters) with 18 goals and 46 points in 38 games played – a feat that will earn him some Hobey Baker consideration in a few weeks. His work on defensive assignments is improving but will remain a work-in-progress. With Anaheim already boasting young defencemen Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler, it’s hoped that Schultz will get at least one more season in the NCAA to fill out and work on his play away from the puck. Projects as: Top-4 offensive defenceman 4. L/RW Carl Klingberg (12) Acquired: Trade, 2009 The Big Swede is an outstanding skater – acceleration is off the charts, and with his big frame, impeccable timing and willingness to play rough, it makes him a fearsome checker in all three zones. Lots of hustle, lots of character, the only question is whether his hands can keep up with his feet enough to make him a top-line power forward, or whether he’ll have to settle for being one of the most potent third-liners in the world. Has shown some better hands in close with 5 points in a 10-game loan to Timra in the Elitserien, but his best chance to develop may actually come when he joins the Thrashers – which he could do as early as this Spring for a late-season audition once the Swedish and International hockey seasons wrap. Projects as: Power forward capable of playing on any line 5. LD Dylan Olsen (4) Acquired: 1st round, 2009 draft (20th overall) The season started out well for Olsen as he was selected to Canada’s WJC U20 team, but things went promptly south: he appeared significantly outclassed in the early WJC games (although he improved somewhat as the tourney went on), and a promising performance with Minnesota-Duluth was soured by academic concerns, so the blueliner now finds himself playing in the A for Chicago’s affiliate in Rockford a year or two earlier than he probably should have. The adjustment is proving to be tough, and it may be a couple of years before we begin to see what Olsen’s potential as a pro really is. He’s got to start showing he can think the game more quickly. Projects as: Top-4 shutdown defender with upside 6. LW Blake Geoffrion (7) Acquired: 3rd round, 2006 (78th overall) Boom Boom’s grandson (and Howie Morenz’s Great-Grandson) has had a gradual transition to the pro ranks after winning the Hobey Baker in his senior year at Wisconsin. After a slow start through the first 20 games with Milwaukee, he’s now producing at nearly a point-per-game pace, and continuing to demonstrate his commitment and grit in all three zones. Following back-to-back AHL Player of the Week nods, he is currently on call-up to the Preds and looking very much like he belongs. He should secure a regular spot in the lineup next season – possibly in place of Steve Sullivan’s expiring contract – but first, he’ll hopefully get to bring some of his big-game experience to the Preds’ playoff run. Projects as: Third-line two-way grinder and leader 7. C/W Patrice Cormier (10) Acquired: 2nd round, 2008 (58th overall) His troubling end to last season now behind him, Cormier has made a smooth transition to the pro game. After a brief sojourn in the AHL, he graduated to Atlanta, where he has been a physical presence in limited minutes centering the Thrashers’ fourth line. In 21 games he’s managed just one goal and one assist, along with a team-typical -5 rating in slightly under 10 minutes per game. He has, however, been an impactful presence in other ways, laying 31 hits, blocking 15 shots and putting up an impressive 58.2 winning percentage in faceoffs. Most importantly, he’s learned to be more selective in the way he delivers checks, earning only 4 penalty minutes to date while laying out some pretty big – and clean – hits. While he’ll likely never be more than a third-liner, Cormier’s offence should come along to the point where he’s a useful two-way presence. Projects as: Shutdown power pivot with upside 8. RD Michael Sauer (20) Acquired: Trade 2007 After struggling through injuries for the first few years of his pro career, Sauer is finally healthy – and not a moment too soon for the Blueshirts. While he’s never going to be a threat with the puck, without it he’s been as advertised: big, strong, smart, and takes any goal scored against his team personally. He’s earned the confidence of his coaches, moving up from the third pairing to pulling top minutes in a shutdown role against opponents’ best players – and leading the team in +/- in the process. He’s already better than his older brother ever was, and still has room to develop. A pure stay-at-homer with size and bite, his strong season for the Rangers vaults him up this listing. Projects as: Top-4 shutdown defenceman 9. LW Jason Zucker (16) 2nd round, 2010 (50th overall) Despite missing time due to the World Juniors (and an injury he received there), Zucker has been lights-out as a freshman for the University of Denver, putting up 20 goals and 38 points in 34 games – the third-highest point total for a freshman this year. The finish is a pleasant surprise, as Zucker was drafted on character and smarts - we weren’t counting so much on offence. He hounds the puck in all three zones, blocks shots, sheds checks, dishes hits and takes them too in order to make a play – no wonder his teammates love the guy. At this rate, Zucker could be playing his junior year with the (NHL) Wild. The question will be whether he can take his performance to another level as a sophomore next season – if he does, watch out! Projects as: Two-way top-9 winger with character 10. RW Devante Smith-Pelley (15) Acquired: 2nd round, 2010 (56th overall) Pretty much the same scouting report as last summer. A wrecking ball on skates, Smith-Pelley is a unique player. He has soft hands to finish plays, skates hard and plays both ends of the ice, but his real raison d’etre is to crush opposing players with big, timely, clean hits. He’s in the midst of another point-per-game season on Casey Czikias’ wing for Memorial Cup Hosts Mississauga, but that kind of production won’t necessarily translate into NHL scoring line duties. He drives the net with abandon, though, so could end up as a Holmstrom-esque scorer in the bigs. Projects as: Top-9 destroyer with upside 11. G Leland Irving (5) Acquired: Trade 2007 With only Joni Ortio as another legitimate prospect in net, the Flames are being vey patient with Irving. He’s had a bit of a bounce-back season, posting a respectable (but hardly overwhelming) 2.38 gaa and .909 save% in 51 games as the undisputed #1 for a defensive-minded (but offensively challenged) Abbotsford squad. He remains in the conversation at least until this summer, when I fully expect the Flames to drop a high draft pick on a netminder. Projects as: Potential utility back-up for a middle-tier team 12. LD Alexei Emelin (NR) Acquired: Trade 2007 Emelin is almost past his prospect eligibility, but has to be mentioned for his remarkable season to date. The big (sometimes dirty) hitter has discovered that there’s another end of the ice, and since last year’s playoffs his production has been off the charts at better than .5 points per game – which is saying quite a lot for someone whose previous career-best season could probably be counted on one hand. It started in last year’s playoffs and has continued all season, making it ) s Hif they can convince their 2004 3rd rounder to come over. Projects as: Aggressive top-4 stay-at-homer… and possibly more than that 13. C/RW Gabriel Dumont (11) Acquired: 6th round, 2009 (152nd overall) Dumont is adjusting to the pro game with a strong club in Hamilton, where he’s had to compete for icetime with more established forwards, generally finding himself at center or wing of the third or fourth line. As a result, he’s posted only modest numbers: 5 goals, 16 points and a -5 in 56 games. But that kind of adjustment’s not unusual, and in the meantime he’s demonstrating a terrific work ethic and combative attitude, as his 72 pims will attest. It has often been observed that, “for a small guy, Dumont doesn’t take s*** from anybody”. The Jackets can afford to be patient and see whether this multi-dimensional player finds a way to contribute in the coming years. Projects as: Two-way feisty playmaker on a third line 14. RW Andrej Nestrasil (18) Acquired: 3rd round, 2009 (84th overall) Nestrasil continues to contribute at the Junior level, posting 18 gals and 60 points and 32 pims in 52 games as Ben Duffy’s set-up man on the rocket’s top line. He is not expected to be more than a complimentary scorer as a pro, but with a big body, a physical edge and the ability to make plays at speed, he could prove to be a good two-way contributor, but needs to continue to work on his skating. He’s a good candidate for a long apprenticeship in the Detroit Red Wings’ patient development system. Projects as: Third line complimentary scorer 15. LD Patrik Nemeth (17) Acquired: 3rd round, 2010 (63rd overall) The third of three Columbus selections from the most recent Entry Draft, Nemeth is a big-bodied stay-at-homer with a mean streak and the mobility to keep up in the modern game. He’s still very raw, however, and is likely to remain with AIK for the next couple of years at least before coming to North America. He’s considered a long-term project. Projects as: Stay at home defenceman 16. RD Eric Gryba (HM) Acquired: 2nd round, 2006 (56th overall) This bruising defender is having a strong showing in his first pro season as a big, truculent stay-at-homer for Binghampton, posting 5 points, +4 and 110 pims in 54 games so far. Has intangibles, but skating remains an issue. Projects as: Stay-at-home defenceman 17. G Mike Lee (9) Acquired: 3rd round, 2009 (70th overall) Lee’s sophomore season at St. Cloud has been one to forget. His individual performance isn’t that bad (.906, 2.84) behind a pretty poor team, but it certainly isn’t going to set any records. He’s been lapped in the NHL Coyotes’ organization by the development of star OHL netminder Mark Visentin, so Lee will have lots of time to work on his game and try to climb back up this list. Projects as: Backup for middle-tier team, with starter upside 18. LW Levko Koper (HM) Acquired: 4th round, 2009 (108th overall) Koper continues to make a name for himself as a determined two-way player in the Dub,. He sits 16th overall in league scoring with 32 goals, 79 points, a +21 rating and 61 pims for Spokane. He is in the mix as a possible two-way third-liner. Projects as: Energy line winger with upside 19. LD Constantin Braun (HM) Acquired: 4th round, 2006 (118th overall) In his first Top-20 appearance, the big converted winger is adapting well and plays an efficient game for Berlin, putting up .45 points per game while taking care of his own end. He has not looked out of place at (NHL) Kings’ camp, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be one of the few German skaters ever to make the NHL. Projects as: Depth two-way defender 20. LD Corey Fienhage (HM) Acquired: 3rd round, 2009 (90th overall) Fienhage’s development had been set back with limited icetime in College, so he jumped ship for the Dub, where he’s wearing an “A” for Kamloops. Looks to be a long-term project, as he’ll have more adjustments next year when he moves on to the pro ranks. Projects as: Feisty two-way third pairing D Honourable Mentions LW Jerome Flaake (HM) Another big-bodied winger with a scoring touch, Flaake’s development has stalled over the past two seasons. Now more than ever he needs to make the choice to come to North America and try to kick-start his career, or it will be increasingly difficult to shake the “bust” label. LD Nick Holden (NR) Despite 5 games as a fill-in with the big club this season, Holden’s window is rapidly closing as (NHL) Columbus’ other blueline prospects begin to mature. Barring a “late bloomer” surge, Holden will top out as a depth defenceman and emergency call-up. LW Rob Klinkhammer (NR) Power forward is a staple for the Blackhawks’ Norfolk affiliate, and hasn’t looked out of place in a brief call-up with the big club. Will likely be limited strictly to energy-line duty if he makes it. C Dave Labrecque (HM) Sent back to the Q for an overage season, Labrecque continues to be a decent but unspectacular offensive talent who brings little else to the table. He’ll get a shot with a Phantoms club that is desperate for offence, but he would have to significantly develop his game in almost every respect to ever have a chance of making the HFNHL. C Michael Swift (HM) Moved to the Sharks organization from New Jersey this month, mighty-mite Swift lives up to his name with great skating and an underrated two-way game. Will likely never be more than an energy line player in the NHL, but has shown he’s willing to do what it takes. C/RW Mathieu Tousignant (HM) “Abrasive little cuss” continues to play a superb agitator’s role for the Texas Stars, but he’s a longshot to ever make the NHL, even as an energy-line player.