With the NHL Draft and the start of free agency in the rearview window, the Columbus Blue Jackets organization is almost a finished product heading into the 2022-23 season.
Now is a good time to take stock of the organizational depth of the prospect pool, both from a top-down (NHL-AHL) and positional (forwards vs. defenders vs. goalies) perspective. Today is part two of a three-part segment where we’ll take a look at the state of the franchise’s stable of young players. Then the defenders.
First, a little housekeeping. Any player over the age of 23 (i.e. Nick Blankenburg, 24) or who has already established himself as a full-time NHL player (i.e. Jake Bean) will be omitted . Finally, this is not a ranking, but rather a holistic look at the pool as a whole.
From 2017 to 2021, the Blue Jackets haven’t used a single first- or second-round pick on defensemen. Over those five years, they’ve relied on a steady dose of current NHL players to keep their roster afloat. But with stalwarts of yesteryear like Seth Jones, David Savard, Ryan Murray, and more moving on, the Blue Jackets knew it was only a matter of time before they needed to overthrow. the blue line.
As was the case with forwards, the trades changed the future of the franchise. The club acquired Adam Boqvist (directly) and Bean (indirectly) in the trade from Jones, then used the first-round pick they acquired in the trade from Nick Foligno to acquire Corson Ceulemans. Ceulemans, 19, is expected to be among the NCAA’s top defensemen this year as a sophomore with the University of Wisconsin. The right-handed defenseman was arguably the best defensive prospect in the system just a month ago, but the Blue Jackets then caused a stir in the 2022 NHL Draft, drafting two defensemen with their first two picks, sixth and 12th overall.
He was a bandit.
Now it’s a badger.
Soon he will be a Blue Jacket.
Prospecting report by Corson Ceulemans https://t.co/IKh0ZFidIM pic.twitter.com/MOBcvMORy2
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) December 15, 2021
The two peaks became David Jiriceka physically gifted athlete who has a rare combination of height, skating, and hockey IQ, and Denton Mateychuk, arguably the best defenseman in the CHL. All three are among the game’s top defensive prospects, though all will follow different paths – Ceulemans in the NCAA, Jiricek in the Czech or North American pro league, and Mateychuk in the WHL – to make it to the NHL.
David Jiek scores another goal, this time against Austria. He absolutely wants to go to the World Championship… These are incredible performances he has achieved lately.#2022LNHDraft pic.twitter.com/r5l0uqW6eQ
—Marek Novotny (@MarekNovotny96) May 1, 2022
Denton Mateychuk throwing darts.
Score 13 goals and 64 points in 65 WHL games – good for a share of the lead among draft-eligible defensemen pic.twitter.com/UxmhVCcTh7
– /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 17, 2022
Jacob Christiansen, 22, led the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters in points last season, going 13-32-45 in 62 games. He played eight games with the Blue Jackets last season and could end up in the NHL this year.
NHL Video Highlights – Jacob Christiansen scores against the New Jersey Devils to make it 1-1. pic.twitter.com/ZSor3Zfq7N
— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) March 2, 2022
In Samuel Knazko and Stanislav Svozil, the Blue Jackets have two 19-year-old WHL imports (Knazko-Slovakia; Svoizil-Czechia) who are considered solid prospects. Knazko captained Slovakia in his age group and appeared at three IIHF World Junior Championships. Svozil will join Jiricek (as well as deep prospect Martin Rysavy) at next week’s WJC in Edmonton.
#CBJ prospect Samuel Knazko scored his first WHL goal in his first game with the Seattle Thunderbirds last night.
— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) December 4, 2021
Aidan Hreschuk, 19, was Max Domi’s return to business. A former third-round pick, he was just okay in his freshman season at Boston College. The American has advantages and could be an under-the-radar player now that the Blue Jackets have flushed out the top of their prospect pool.
Ole Julian Bjørgvik Holm played 16 games with the Monsters in the OHL-cancelled 2020-21 season, but played in Mississauga last season. The 20-year-old is expected to start the year in Cleveland. Berni’s team, 22, played the entire 2021-22 season at Cleveland and is expected to contribute again this season.
William Richard, 19, is a strong contributor to Providence College (NCAA). He went 3-11-14 in 36 games played as a freshman and is expected to be a key player in the upcoming season.
Eric Hjorth missed a lot of time in his draft year due to injury, but the Blue Jackets traded to select the 6’3 defenseman. After hustling for the past few years, the 21-year-old is set to play with HC Vita Hästen in Sweden’s second-tier professional league, HockeyAllsvenskan.
Samuel Johanson, 21, already has three full seasons in the SHL under his belt. He’s unlikely to have a future in the NHL, but he could be an organizational piece in depth. The same can probably be said for Nikolai Makarov. The 19-year-old is a 6-foot-4, 234-pound draft. He’s played seven career KHL games, but he’s listed as an MHL/VHL player by EliteProspects, which means he has some rungs to climb.
The Blue Jackets have made great strides organizationally by fixing their defensive pipeline in recent drafts. While the addition of players like Knazko, Svozil, Richard and Makarov to the 2021 NHL Draft helped, the most significant change came in the top quality picks used to take Ceulemans, Jiricek and Mateychuk, with three top picks round.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the current Blue Jackets defense corps has many unpromising but flawed (for different reasons) young players, like Bean, Boqvist and Nick Blankenburg. Columbus finished 28th in the NHL in goals against in 2021-22 and brings back essentially the same cast of characters (with the addition of Erik Gudbranson). Sure, we can expect some internal growth, but by the time the Blue Jackets expect to compete at the highest level, it’s likely because some of the players mentioned at the start of this article have made big strides. .