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.