December 31-in-31: Columbus Blue Jackets

Dave Hall

2020-12-10

The 31-in-31 Offseason Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in December we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s prospect depth chart, riser & fallers, and top prospect ranking. 

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Much like the rest of the league, the Blue Jackets have remained dormant over the past few weeks. Until there are concrete plans in place – which seem to be well in the works – teams have remained wary to commit to anything too hasty. As mentioned in my November installment, they were successful in attaining their number one priority – a top-six center, who could enhance their offensive production. Since then, a few names have been floating around Ohio, most notably Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund. However, unless they can ink either on friendly contracts or move some money around, both sound like a bit of a pipe-dream at the moment. 

In regards to in house moves, they have managed to lock everyone up, with the exception of the most important of the lot – Pierre-Luc Dubois. This is certainly one of the contributing factors for staying quiet, as they currently sit with nine-million (and change) in cap-space and a substantial portion of that will likely go their top-line pivot. Once that deal is behind them, the club should have a better idea of who they can and cannot chase. 

As far as prospects go, the Jackets enter the 2020-21 campaign with open slots and a general idea of who will slot into them. Thanks to an abundance of injury problems, the club saw an unsettling amount of new faces last season, which can be viewed as both a negative or a positive. Opportunity was certainly had for some, and a few rose above expectations, potentially changing the short term outlook of their hockey careers and solidifying NHL roles for 2020-21. 

Here is a look at what we can expect going forward. 

Graduating players

First, the graduating players. These are names that were given ample opportunity last season, and will certainly be a shoo-in for NHL deployment. They are likely to live out their sophomore campaigns and say farewell to their “prospect” labels. 

Elvis Merzlikins (G) – Despite a disappointing start to the season (0-4-4), Elvis took the league by storm, taking over the reins on New Year’s Eve and starting what would be a phenomenal 13-5-4 run.

It is without a doubt that the Latvian netminder finds himself with at least half of the games this season, and depending on how they go about working their tandem, could see more. He has solidified himself as a bonafide NHL goaltender and is set to see out the remainder of his prospect status this season. 

Emil Bemström (RW) – Coming off a dominant year (2018-19) in the SHL, which saw him sit tops in the league with 23 goals, expectations were rather high for his rookie season. Yes, his shot is elite, and he can use it in a variety of dangerous fashions. Yet, he ultimately struggles to deliver the all-around game, which is necessary should he want to play within the system ran in Columbus. 

He is fresh off a strong stint in Liiga, where he tallied eight goals and 17 points through 16 games, which will certainly deliver a solid dose of confidence heading into camp. He will need to learn to create room for himself with less ice to work with, and find stronger scoring areas, all the while bringing a stronger effort night-in and night-out. That is assuming he wants to see consistent top-six minutes, which I am sure he does.

Alexandre Texier (LW) – Riddled with inconsistent stretches and a (regular) season-ending injury, Texier’s rookie campaign was nothing to write home about. Although, during his return in the Edmonton Playoff bubble, we did start to see more consistent efforts and strength in his game. 

Despite a frightening lumbar fracture earlier in the year, his skating looked swift, as it normally does. As did his overall work ethic in all three zones. The French winger is poised to be granted some time on the club’s top-six, at least for an audition, in which case, we should see some sort of sophomore bounce-back. His overall upside may have taken a small hit as a result of his efforts last year, but he still has the potential to be a contributing middle-six forward.

Vladislav Gavrikov (D) – The towering Russian was one of the better stories in the 2019-20 campaign. While he came over a thoroughbred shutdown defender, destined for bottom-six duties, ended in him being considered for top-four deployment. He even showed off a pinch of offensive touch.

Gavrikov finished the year third in team points (18) among defenders, fifth in hits (79), and second in blocked shots (92). He has morphed into a strong multi-cat option for deeper fantasy leagues, and certainly one of the club’s top defenders, behind the obvious two-headed monster in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

On the cusp

As mentioned, the club saw a string of players etch their way into the NHL lineup, and for most, far earlier than expected. Some may have even translated their stints into potential full-time roles.

Liam Foudy (C/W) – Foudy currently sits as the club’s top prospect, at least among those eligible to play for the club immediately. The Scarborough native has been the definition of consistency throughout his career, and brings the perfect combination of poise, skill, heart, and most notably, speed. His style of play – endless work-ethic and two-way prowess – should blend in just fine with the playing style in which the Blue Jackets run. Given how the team enjoys running all four lines, meaning his spot within the lineup is somewhat of a moot point.

Even if he were to catch some time in the minor system, I do not foresee him hanging around for an extended timeframe. He is just too consistent.

Eric Robinson (LW) – Robinson was likely the biggest beneficiary of the long list of injuries within the top group. Without that list, the chances of him seeing time at the NHL in the near future were certainly slim. However, since given the opportunity, the 6-2 winger has shown that his size, blistering speed, and non-stop motor is perfect for a bottom-six role for John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets.

He was called up mid-season, and once he inserted himself into the lineup, he never looked back. Through 50 games, he chipped in 12 points, 60 SOG, 79 hits, 15 blocked shots, and a plus-10 rating. Not bad, considering he wasn’t supposed to be there, yet.  Fun fact: He scored both his first two NHL goals courtesy of Carey Price’s five-hole.

Andrew Peeke (D) – After a three year NCAA career, Peeke jumped into the pro ranks as an immediate top-four AHL defenceman. He wasted no time statically speaking, contributing 16 points as a rookie rearguard and by season’s end, was awarded an NHL call-up and bottom-pairing minutes.

Peeke is a strong two-way defender, who moves the puck well and is very poised – especially for a first-time pro. With a spot opening up on the right-side (via the Markus Nutivaara deal), Peeke has a good chance of sliding in and finding consistent minutes. He shows a multitude of fantasy implications, which was evident from his 21 blocks, 25 hits, and 23 SOG, all in just 22 matches. He is a young up-and-comer and has the potential to be a sound top-four defender.

Gabriel Carlsson (D) – Much like Peeke, Gabriel Carlsson should be a fringe defenceman for the club. Although, this has been a four-year run where he was believed to have a spot and has failed to solidify himself into the lineup on a full-time basis.

Unlike most of their defenders, Carlsson will be used strictly for defensive duties, as his offensive potential is scarce. Again, I would keep expectations realistic for the 23-year-old, as he seems to be trending downstream, at least in comparison to his 29th overall selection five years ago.

Kevin Stenlund (C) – Stendlund was sitting on the bubble to start the year, and was able to draw into the line-up by December. He has been a mainstay ever since. No, he will never be a top-line player, and he barely qualifies in a second-line role. However, he provides good depth on a club’s bottom-six and can chip in a variety of fashions.

His two-way capabilities are strong, while he delivers a sneaky and accurate shot that catches goaltenders by surprise. He can be placed in various roles and hold his own, making him a nice added piece to the group. With the additions of Mikko Koivu and Max Domi, he may fall just outside the 12-man rotation, but he should find himself in the mix from here on out.

Risers

The Blue Jackets do not have many standout prospects worthy of “superstar” praise. However, many of their youngsters took strong steps towards becoming NHL hopefuls last year.

Eric Robinson (LW) – As mentioned, Robinson’s stock rose dramatically. From an NHL hopeful to a likely bottom-pairing energy player in a matter of minutes. 

Dmitri Voronkov (C) – Blue Jackets’ 2019 fourth-rounder initially slipped under the radar as a strong suited prospect. However, as the year went on, it became evident that he was progressing at a quicker rate than expected, solidifying himself a role in the KHL as an 18-year-old kid – a task that is by no means easy to do. 

He put his name on the map at the national level during a very strong showing in last year’s WJC, where he took home a silver medal and sat fourth on the team with seven points. Flash forward to this season, and he finds himself occupying a second-line role, as well as a spot as a net-front presence on the club’s (Ak Bars Kazan) top power-play unit. 

He has the size, the quick hands in tight, and the long-term potential to be a strong complementary middle-six pivot (likely caps as a third-line center).

Kirill Marchenko (RW) – Marchenko is quickly becoming one of the organization’s most talked-about and fan-favorite prospects, despite him being at least two seasons away from seeing any time at the NHL level (signed an extension with SKA St.Petersburg). He put up a strong rookie campaign as a 19-year-old with SKA last year, posting 16 points (7G + 9A) which sat tops among U20 skaters league-wide. Little did we know, he was just getting started.

As of today, he has already produced 18 points (10G + 8A) points as a second-year sophomore and has consistently found himself among the club’s top-six forward group and powerplay unit.

Marchenko is a strong player, both offensively and with his defensive efforts. He has great hands, especially in tight, and has a solid frame to boot. He backchecks, pressures puck carries, and utilizes his linemates well – he is by no means a one-man show. For now, we must look from afar, but he certainly warrants the excitement felt by the organization’s fanbase.


Yegor Chinakhov (RW) –
You can be honest. Did you know who he was when General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, announced his name? If you didn’t, do not feel too bad, most didn’t and it is because of this which makes his storybook 2020-21 season so entertaining. The 19-year-old is making a name for himself at the moment, putting up a strong showing as a first-year rookie in the KHL. 

Suiting up for Avangard Omsk, Chinakhov is enjoying top-line deployment – both at even-strength and the man-advantage – while he sits third among U22 skaters in points, with eight goals and 15 points

There are definitely areas of his game that need tinkering, namely some of his defensive deficiencies. However, his offensive instincts are bar none, and he can shoot with elite velocity and pinpoint accuracy. If you have yet to catch him overseas, make sure to tune in to this year’s WJC, where he will suit up for Team Russia and is likely to one of the tournament’s top conversation pieces. 


Trey Fix-Wolansky (RW) –
Drafted in the seventh round in 2018, Fix-Wolansky’s trajectory was somewhat unknown. While he certainly held the numbers in junior to warrant excitement, his stature and overall ability to translate were slight areas of concern. He quickly put those qualms to rest.

Although he scored in his first pro game with the Cleveland Monsters, he struggled to find a rhythm in the first half, while he also missed a handful of games with an injury. Thanks to an assortment of movement throughout the entire organization (thanks to injuries), the undersized speedster was gifted with higher minutes and given the opportunity to thrive in a role that would allow him to explore his true offensive nature. He would finish strong, tallying 23 of his total 26 points from January on, and was considered one of the club’s top players by the season’s end.

He will need at least another year in the AHL to develop, yet, fans should be excited with what they see. He is a speed demon with a knack for driving the net and finding holes in defensive units. He leaves no fan disappointment in regards to the eye test.

Erik Hjorth (D) – The 2019-20 campaign served as the first year in which Eric Hjorth managed to stay healthy for its entirety. He has a history of nagging injury woes, which has stunted his overall growth tremendously.

Not only did we see him healthy, but we got glimpses of the offensive capabilities in which the Blue Jackets were looking for when they drafted him. While the tailed off in the second half, his first few months with the Sarnia Sting were impressive, as he produced 17 points in his first 21 matches. As a right-handed, offensive option, his spot within the depth chart sits higher than it likely should. If he can replicate his early play of last year, he could have a good shot at playing pro next season, albeit at the American League level.

Andrew Peeke (D) – Jumped into this pro career head first, and is swimming just fine in the deep end. As mentioned, he is likely to receive a heavier load this year, whether it be first-pairing duties in the American League or bottom-pairing at the top.

Vladislav Gavrikov (D) – Gritty, sturdy, and apparently offensively sound. Gavrikov is certainly trending up and has made himself relevant, both in real-time and in deep fantasy leagues.

Fallers

For various reasons – some due to lack of consistent play, some the product of being pushed back thanks to new and improved versions – the club also had its share of prospects who failed to live up to their potential.

Matiss Kivlenieks (G) – Even though he made his official NHL debut last year, and spent a good chunk of the season serving backup duties in Columbus, Kivlenieks is slipping down the projected pipeline. With Daniil Tarasov heading to North America, and Vehvilainen looking (almost) ready to take on a more prominent role, his upside is slowly, but surely sliding down the drain. He is still certainly worthy of backup potential in the future but looks to be the odd man out in the long-term rotation.

Marcus Karlberg (RW) – Karlberg has been on a milk run through the Swedish tour in the past few seasons. Last year, he flip-flopped between a few clubs, all in the SHL, J20 SuperElit, and Allsvenskan leagues. While this year, he has now made the jump from the Allskvenskan (21 games), back to the SHL.

He is having a tough go finding solidified minutes, which looks to be taking a toll on his development. He certainly plays the pest role well and is a strong skater with a great motor, but he needs to find a permanent role in order to see his true upside out. Things are looking bleak for the 20-year-old Swede at the moment.

Additional Notes

Daniil Tarasov (G) – Blue Jackets’ highly regarding goaltender prospect is expected to make his way to North America to take part in training camp. With the crease spoken for in Columbus, he will be fighting against Veini Vehvilainen and Matiss Kivlenieks for a role in the AHL, which he should win.

He is currently being loaned to Salavat Ufa (KHL) and is posting strong numbers as a backup option. Through five games, he sports a 4-3-1 record with two shutouts. He has been very good.

Mikael Pyyhtiä (LW), Yegor Chinakhov (RW), and Samuel Knazko (D) will all be looking to serve their country in this year’s WJC. Chinakhov (Russia) and Knazko (Slovakia) will both be shoo-ins, while Pyyhtia (Finland) will have his work cut out to see bottom-six deployment.

Paul Bittner (LW) – The 24-year-old signed a contract with the organization. However, it was an AHL contract, meaning his chance to see time in the NHL has come to an abrupt halt. With this in mind, he has been demoted from our list of prospects.

Maxime Fortier (RW) – Fortier has struggled to translate his successful Junior career to the pro ranks. Last season, he found himself at the bottom of the totem pole in the ECHL and is currently overseas playing in the ICEHL. As a result of this, he was not awarded a contract extension and has since been removed from our prospect chart.

Prospect Depth Chart

LW C RW
    Alexandre Texier
Liam Foudy Emil Bemström
Mikael Pyyhtiä Dmitri Voronkov Kirill Marchenko
Eric Robinson Kevin Stenlund Trey Fix-Wolansky
Kale Howarth Calvin Thürkauf Yegor Chinakhov
Tyler Angle Marcus Karlberg
Ryan MacInnis Cliff Pu
Kole Sherwood
LD RD
Jake Christiansen
Erik Hjorth
Samuel Knazko
Andrew Peeke
Gabriel Carlsson
Samuel Johannesson
Vladislav Gavrikov
Robbie Stucker
Ole Julian Bjorgvik-Holm
Tim Berni
G
Daniil Tarasov
Elvis Merzlikins
Veini Vehviläinen
Matiss Kivlenieks
Peter Thome

Top 20 Fantasy Prospects

This section is intended to paint a picture of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospects whose current trajectory projects them making the most positive fantasy impact at the time that they reach the NHL. Arrival date and NHL certainty have been taken into consideration. However, a player’s potential upside is the most important factor in determining this list. This list excludes “Graduating Prospects”.

  1. Liam Foudy (C)
  2. Kirill Marchenko (RW)
  3. Daniil Tarasov (G)
  4. Yegor Chinakhov (RW)
  5. Andrew Peeke (RD)
  6. Veini Vehviläinen (G)
  7. Trey Fix-Wolansky (RW)
  8. Kevin Stenlund (C)
  9. Gabriel Carlsson (LD)
  10. Jake Christiansen (LD)
  11. Dmitri Voronkov (C)
  12. Samuel Knazko (LD)
  13. Matiss Kivlenieks (G)
  14. Mikael Pyyhtiä (LW)
  15. Calvin Thürkauf (C)
  16. Erik Hjorth (RD)
  17. Tyler Angle (C)
  18. Eric Robinson (LW)
  19. Marcus Karlberg (RW)
  20. Kole Sherwood (RW)

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Thanks for reading. Follow me out on Twitter @hall1289 for up-to-date Blue Jacket coverage and prospect news!

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