November 31-in-31: Columbus Blue Jackets

Dave Hall

2020-11-09

The 31-in-31 Summer Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in November we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up, the December 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs until the season begins!

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The off-season agenda for General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, was clear – find additional scoring options, add a top-six center and with no picks in the second or third rounds, fill gaps within their 2020 Entry-Draft. Oh, and most importantly, lock up pending RFA and budding star Pierre-Luc Dubois long-term.

Things were relatively quiet on the trade front leading up to the draft. However, just hours before the first selection was announced, the club sent Josh Anderson to the Montreal Canadians in exchange for Max Domi and a third-round (78) pick. The acquisition checked off nearly every box on the list of immediate needs, including setting themselves up with an additional draft pick. The two parties (Domi/Columbus) promptly settled on terms, finalizing a two-year, 10.6 Million dollar deal (5.3 AAV).

As for the draft, the Jackets were set to take the (zoom) podium with the 21st overall selection. Given the strong talent that was assumed to fall within that range, management had no intention of moving up – CBJ fans soon found out why. Despite a list of touted names still available, Kekalainen sent a shockwave through the hockey world, selecting Yegor Chinakhov – an overaged winger, slated to fall somewhere in the final rounds of the draft. Despite contrary opinion, management backed up their pick with conviction. The Jackets had previously pegged him within their personal top-10, and remain quite bullish on their most recent investment. 

Day two was slow-moving, yet, full of slides and reaches. With no second-round pick, and no trade options available, the club had ample time to scour through potential suitors. They would select a string of European skaters, three of which were defenders, marking this the first draft in franchise history in which they passed on North American born talent. 

Content with their crop for the year, they wrapped up the event with a deal, sending their final pick (seventh-round) to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a future (2021 or 2022) conditional seventh. 

Draft Recap

Round One, 21st Overall – Yegor Chinakhov, RW

As mentioned, the Jackets seem quite high on their pick, despite the masses’ general opinion. Given the organization’s thirst to produce goals, both immediately and within their pipeline, he certainly fills a much-needed void. While he may not be the safe, perhaps more obvious choice at 21, he is a player that they view as a potential top-six threat with high-end scoring ability at the forefront of his wheelhouse. Rest assured, their scouts have invested copious hours reviewing tape and feel very confident in his future development.

Chinakhov, 19, is an elite scorer. He may not hold elite level upside as a whole, but he can certainly create offense. He shows strong vision, with a keen sense for predicting the play and finding offensive opportunities. His shot is certainly the factor that sets him apart from the rest of the crop – the release is lethal, and his pinpoint accuracy matches the threat in velocity. He thrives on the half-wall and carries the utmost potential to contribute to an NHL power-play unit. As a rookie, he leads the way in U21 (KHL) scoring and is currently deploying on Avangards Omsks’ top-line.

Expect to see this regularly going forward:

Of course, given his previous draft stock (undrafted in 2019), there is cause for concern, which stems from his defensive efforts and all-around levels of compete. He must find a way to ignite a fire inside, as he has tendencies of “floating” and letting up on prime defensive plays. 

Round Three, 78th Overall – Samuel Knazko, D

With a few of their current prospects potentially graduating this year, it was important for the club to restock their defensive farm. This trend began with Samuel Knazko, a Slovakian rearguard with offensive touch. 

Many qualities show promise in his game, most notably being his mobility and aggressive offensive nature. He has smooth edges and speed that allow him to be effective both off the rush and while patrolling the line. He shows strong offensive senses and the ability to find teammates with clean and effective passes. He seems to be on a constant lookout for an opportunity to pinch, and while this can sometimes place him in sticky situations, it allows him to pose a constant threat to his opposition. If he can find the right system, and perhaps tame some of his “offense at all times” approach, there is certainly NHL potential looming.

Subtle hesitations such as this, are his bread and butter. Simple, yet, very effective.

He has been a known threat in the SM-Liiga Jr. A tier and is currently suiting up in his third season with TPS. He’s produced 57 points over the course of his three-year tenure, firing at a 0.49 clip, and looks poised to mimic his previously set highs this season. He has a long history of International play with Slovakia and saw his first taste of WJC action in last year’s tournament. He is expected to play an increased role during the upcoming tournament, so make sure to keep an eye out. 

Round Four, 114th Overall – Mikael Pyyhtia, LW

The club went for their second and final forward in the fourth-round, electing for a speedy, motor-driven winger in Mikael Pyythia. The 5-foot-11 winger is the type of player every hockey fan enjoys to cheer for – a non-stop workhorse, with a terrific drive for the net and impressive playmaking abilities to boot. While he may not be the heaviest, he does not shy away from being an aggravating force towards his opponents. When possessing the puck, he holds a strong offensive IQ and has an uncanny ability to find his teammates. 

At just 18-years-old, he has already been granted an opportunity with a short stint in the Liiga, a good sign that his development is heading in the right direction. With his production continuing that uptrend this season, he could see another opportunity sooner, rather than later. A longer audition in Finland’s top-league should allow for a better glimpse of his ability to compete amongst men. 

For now, he is considered a project, with future middle-six upside. 

Round Five, 145th Overall – Ole Julian Bjorgvik-Holm, D

Bjorgvik-Holm sat as the lone Blue Jacket draftee to spend time playing the North American game, suiting up in the OHL for the Mississauga Steelhead during the 2019-20 campaign. As a rookie, He posted 19 points (2G + 17A) while spending a vast number of minutes alongside Dallas Stars up-and-comer, Thomas Harley. With his two goals, he became the first Norwegian defender to score a goal in an OHL uniform.

Despite his large 6-foot-3 frame, he is quite mobile and enjoys jumping up into the rush when the opportunity presents itself. His shot is heavy and shows glimpses of budding mid-ranged potential. His overall gameplay took positive strides last season and currently finds himself facing men in Norway, where he has gotten off to a hot start offensively. 

Don’t expect them often, but when he scores, they tend to come in the form of a cannon:

 

At this moment, he looks to be labeled as a depth piece but certainly shows the capability to further exceed those expectations.

Round Six, 176th Overall – Samuel Johannesson, D

Their third defender and final pick of the draft came as a poised, right-handed option on the back end. The Jackets found good value with Johannesson in the sixth round. While he may not carry heavy-hitting upside, he does pose a solid dose of depth potential, with hopes of cracking a bottom-pairing role in the future.

Following a strong start to the J20 season during his draft year, he was called up to the SHL, where he continues to patrol the blue line. He moves the puck well and does not allow pressure situations to phase him.

Here is a great example of that calm approach. He refuses to force a play, and risk a turnover. Instead, take his time, shows smooth hands, and provides an opportunity for a goal.

 

Given that he is a right-handed option, combined with his potential offensive upside, his stock should sit a little higher than expected. Not to mention, the benefits of playing among men at a young age should bode well for his development. Keep a close watch over the next few seasons.

Offseason Moves

There is no question that the Blue Jackets exceeded expectations during the 2019-20 campaign. Yet, they continue to lack that certain “je ne sais pas” required to take that next leap towards becoming a successful playoff contender. Adding Max Domi is a fantastic start as he brings skill, some sandpaper, and most importantly, strong depth up the middle. 

What stands out over the course of this “summer” was the abundance of players on the way out. While the majority of moves can be linked to shedding unwanted cap-space to lockdown pending RFA Pierre-Luc Dubois, there seems to be a trend in the works. With several players failing to live up to expectations, both NHL mainstays and organizational depth pieces,  management looks to be cleaning house. Here is what we have seen thus far.

Incoming: Max Domi, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mikki Koivu, Cliff Pu, Gavin Bayreuther

Outgoing: Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray, *Devin Shore, *Paul Bittner, *Michael Preparraris, *Maxim Fortier, *Justin Scott, *Lukas Sedlak, *Jacob Lilja, *Marko Dano, *Doyle Somerby, *Ryan Collins

*Depth pieces not offered contracts

Mikko Koivu (signed to a one-year, one-way – 1.75mill)

Where Mikko Koivu slots will likely be based on where they utilize Max Domi. However, it is assumed that he has been brought in to navigate and run their third-line. He brings stability and strong defensive-minded reliability to their bottom-six. While he may not be the player he once was, he certainly plays a poised, two-way game and will add a strong veteran presence to the lineup. 

Mikhail Grigorenko (signed to a one-year, one-way – 1.2mill)

Grigorenko has been brought in as a one-year experimental piece – one that they hope can bring some untapped production back into an NHL lineup. While he likely slots in somewhere within their bottom-six, he does show some offensive potential that could bolster their second-unit power player and perhaps catch some fire alongside a few of their top-six go-to’s. Although, I would certainly keep expectations low.

Cliff Pu (via trade)

The Ontario native comes in via trade, featuring defender Markus Nutivaara. Pu, a former third-round-pick in 2016, has failed to transition his game to the professional level and has recently fallen all the way to the basement in the ECHL. Despite a strong junior career with the London Knights, he has produced at just a 0.16 clip at the AHL level and has yet to come close to sniffing out a debut in the National League. For the time being, he should be considered nothing more than organizational depth with bottom-six potential.

Gavin Bayreuther (signed to a one-year, two-way – 710k)

He has signed as another depth defender, and will likely see his time in the minors. At 26, he has been a decent performer skating within the Dallas Stars organization. With 198 (AHL) games under his belt, he has notched 93 points and has fought his way to an NHL line-up for 19 games. The blue line is certainly crowded in Columbus, but in a pinch, Bayreuther could find his way into a sixth man role

Jackets Re-Upped Players

Vladislav Gavrikov (signed to a three-year, one-way – 8.4 Mill – 2.8 mill AAV)

Gavrikov was brought in as a potential third-pairing, shutdown defender to start the 2019-20 campaign. By the season’s end, he was considered one of their more consistent players and certainly one of their unsung heroes. Suddenly, he has blossomed into a reliable top-four and has even brought some unexpected offensive touch. This deal locks him up at a fair cost, as he is likely to surpass the value of this AAV in no time. He is truly one of the more unappreciated defenders in the game.

Kole Sherwood (signed to a one-year, two-way – 735k)

Spark plug, workhorse, or water bug – all adjectives that can be used when describing Sherwoods game. He brings a non-stop motor, good speed, and has shown that he can provide a hint of offense. He will be used as depth for the club, but will be one of the first to get the call should they need some emotion injected into their line-up. To stay game ready, he has recently been loaned to Kunlun Red Star of the KHL until action returns.

Matiss Kivlenieks -(signed to a two-year, two-way – 1.45 mill – 725k AAV)

The crease is becoming quite crowded in Ohio, and with highly touted Danill Tarasov potentially making his way over, things may get even spicier. Kivlenieks has served as a solid 1A/1B in Cleveland for the previous three seasons and has recently shown that he can be a serviceable option in the NHL as well. As of now, it’s a three-way battle in the minor system, and there won’t be enough room to house all of that talent. The lesser of the group will have to see time in ECHL until further space has been made.

Gabriel Carlsson (signed to a two-year, two-way – 1.45 mill – 725k AAV)

Taken in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Carlsson finally looks ready to take that next jump in his career. He is a very solid defensive-minded rearguard who can step in and play responsible minutes on the team’s third pairing. With a few other names in the mix, he may slide out as a rotating man, but will undoubtedly be in the roster conversation each night.

Calvin Thurkauf (signed to a one-year, two-way – 700k)

Yet another strong depth piece for the organization. He plays a gritty game and holds a non-stop motor. Can be called upon if needed by the big club, but otherwise will remain in the American League as a likely top-six center.

Kevin Stenlund (signed to a one-year, two-way – 874.125k)

Last season proved to be Stenlunds coming-out party, as he spent a good portion of the second half (including playoffs) with Columbus.