Thanks for joining us for our August 31-in-31 series! Every day this month we will be taking a look at each team and diving into their prospect depth charts, risers and fallers, graduating prospects, and top 20 prospects in the system.
AUGUST 31-IN-31: COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Early off-season moves, including results of the NHL Entry Draft were covered in July’s 31-in-31 series. If you missed it, please follow this link: https://dobberprospects.com/31-in-31-columbus-blue-jackets/
Much like every other team in the league, the Blue Jackets did the bulk of roster work in late June/early July. The club was involved in negotiations for Nikita Gusev last month but were unsuccessful in securing his services. A common theme of this off-season it would seem.
Elvis Merzlikins is quite possibly the most anticipated graduate for the Blue Jackets. The 2014 third round selection posted a 2.44 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts in 43 games in the Swiss National League (NLA) last season. He has twice won the Jacques Plante Trophy as the league’s Goaltender of the Year (2016, 2018) and he signed a one-year, entry-level contract in March. With the departures of Sergei Bobrovsky and Keith Kinkaid, the Latvian goaltender should make his NHL debut this fall.
Liam Foudy sort of graduated already, but not really. The 2018 first-round selection posted 68 points in 62 regular season games for the London Knights and added another 12 points in 11 playoff games. He then joined the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters for their Calder Cup playoff run and amassed two points in eight games. Foudy will battle hard for a spot with the Blue Jackets in training camp, but he is likely to play nine games to start 2019 and be sent down to the AHL for a year of seasoning.
Much like Foudy, Trey Fix-Wolansky had a pre-graduation to the AHL last season. The 20-year-old winger signed an entry-level contract in March and suited up for three AHL playoff games with the Cleveland Monsters. He quickly showed that he belonged by registering two points in those contests. Fix-Wolansky left his mark on the WHL last year by nearly setting a single-season record for most points by an Edmonton Oil King. His smallish stature has not stopped him during his WHL career, and it should not hinder his progression to the NHL either. He will make a case for himself to start 2019 with the Blue Jackets but will ultimately spend the next campaign with Cleveland to gain more pro experience.
Andrew Peeke signed and entry-level contract in April and joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for their playoff run but did not appear in any games. The Notre Dame captain finished his junior season in the NCAA by scoring 24 points in 40 games. He will forego his senior year and make a push to join the NHL ranks. The Blue Jackets however, have a logjam on their defense and as a result, Peeke will likely patrol the blueline for Cleveland in 2019-20.
Alexandre Texier got his first taste of North American hockey last season. In seven games with Cleveland he registered seven points. That was impressive enough to warrant a callup with the Blue Jackets for their playoff run. In eight games, the French winger posted three points. He has likely earned enough trust from coach Tortorella to claim a top-six role with the big club this fall.
Emil Bemstrom is definitely the crown jewel of Columbus prospects and he should provide glimpses as to why this coming season. The question remains, where that will be? The 20-year-old had a stellar campaign in the SHL, scoring 23 goals and 15 assists in 47 games. An exodus of numerous UFAs and a lack of free agent signings could thrust Bemstrom into a full-time role in the NHL this year. A case can also be made where the Swedish winger starts 2019 in the AHL to gain acclimation to the North American game.
Vladislav Gavrikov is a seasoned KHL veteran. His game has progressed slower than expected, but nicely nevertheless. He posted 20 points in 60 games for SKA St. Petersburg last year and later made his NHL debut during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. GM Jarmo Kekalainen believes that Gavrikov “is an outstanding defenseman who excels at both ends of the ice”. That endorsement, combined with the recent signing of a two-year entry-level contract suggests that Gavrikov should play exclusively for the Blue Jackets.
Daniil Tarasov stands 6-5 and used that size to dominate last seasons for Toros Neftekamsk of the VHL. In 25 games, the behemoth netminder posted a 1.71 GAA and a .928 save percentage. He signed an entry-level contract last March and with that, he is expected to make a trip to North America to make his professional debut. The 20-year-old will battle for a roster spot with the Blue Jackets this year, but will likely come up short. A more likely scenario sees Tarasov battle Matiss Kivlenieks for the starting role in Cleveland.
Drafted sixteenth overall in 2014, Sonny Milano was expected to be a prominent player for the Blue Jackets by now. He has been called up to the NHL numerous times, but has not found enough consistency to claim a full-time role. He scored at nearly a point-per-game pace last year and he showed well in the Calder Cup playoffs too by scoring 10 points in eight games. The real news however, came this off-season when the 23-year-old was charged with third-degree assault. He faces the possibility of up to one year in jail and with that, his stock has plummeted to a point where his destination this season is questionable.
Carson Meyer faced medical adversity two years ago that had him pondering retirement. He has since gained back his health and it showed this past season. In 36 NCAA games, the Ohio State winger registered 22 points, more than double his sophomore season output. He is a great story and I wish that he did not have to be listed here, but he will turn 22-years-old this month and is without a contract. There is still time to sign, but with each passing day that he does not, his future with Columbus looks more bleak.
Expectations for goaltenders should be tempered even for first-round draft picks, let alone a sixth-round selection like Peter Thome. The 22-year-old netminder had an unimpressive sophomore campaign for the University of North Dakota. In 14 NCAA appearances, Thome posted a 2.72 GAA and an underwhelming .880 save percentage. Given those pedestrian numbers, he found himself in the backup role more often than not. The Minneapolis native should be returning for his Junior year, but will have to battle hard to try and claim the starting role.
PROSPECT DEPTH CHART
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Alexandre Texier Liam Foudy Emil Bemstrom
Markus Hannikainen Kevin Stenlund Kirill Marchenko
Sonny Milano Calvin Thurkauf Trey Fix-Wolansky
Paul Bittner Ryan MacInnis Maxime Fortier
Kale Howarth Tyler Angle Kole Sherwood
Eric Robinson Marcus Karlberg
Dmitri Voronkov Carson Meyer
TOP TWENTY FANTASY PROSPECTS
This section is intended to paint a picture of the Columbus Blue Jackets prospects whose current trajectory projects them as 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, potential upside is the most important factor in determining this list.
- Emil Bemstrom
- Elvis Merzlikins
- Alexandre Texier
- Daniil Tarasov
- Liam Foudy
- Kirill Marchenko
- Trey Fix-Wolansky
- Matiss Kivlenieks
- Maxime Fortier
- Sonny Milano
- Vladislav Gavrikov
- Kevin Stenlund
- Veini Vehvilainen
- Andrew Peeke
- Marcus Karlberg
- Paul Bittner
- Gabriel Carlsson
- Adam Clendening
- Calvin Thurkauf
- Kale Howarth
Follow me on Twitter @pellie88
- Prospect Ramblings: Calder Power Rankings
- Prospect Ramblings: Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts
- WHL Report - October 2019
- Prospect Ramblings: Junior Tournament in Finland (Oct 15)
- NCAA Report: The Young Guns are Creating a Competitive Atmosphere in Madison
- Prospect Ramblings: Projecting Team Finland for the WJC in 2020 & 2021 (Oct 21)
- Tournament Preview: 2019 World U17 Hockey Challenge
- Shift Work: Alexander Nikishin