At the NHL level, Columbus possesses two kinds of players in spades: tough, skilled defensemen and undersized, talented forwards. Not much changes when the focus shifts to the prospect pipeline. Ryan Murray, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, leads a group of NHL-ready blueliners, and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault is a 5-foot-9 speedster with the ability to score in bunches.
With so much talent waiting in the wings and question marks at the NHL level, expect the Blue Jackets to be calling on players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield early and often in 2012-13.
Let's take a look at the Jackets' top 10 prospects:
1. Ryan Murray, D: The Jackets took him second in this draft and the polished defenseman is poised to make an immediate impact. With his refined puck movement and vision, Murray was considered by many pundits the most NHL-ready player in the 2012 class. Playing for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, Murray led the team's defensemen with nine goals and 22 assists in 2011-12.
He was invited to participate in training for this year's World Championships with the Canadian national team, a rarity for a draft-eligible player. Despite the glut of blueline talent in Columbus, Murray can crack the roster with a solid showing at training camp.
"He's going to come into camp this year and compete for an NHL job," director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright said. "For a defenseman the qualities that he brings to the table – composure, leadership abilities, and obviously his hockey sense – it sets him apart from other guys and it's obviously why we think so highly of him."
2. Tim Erixon, D – Another defenseman, Calgary drafted him with their first pick (23rd overall) in the 2009 draft and he was part of the package sent from New York in return for Nash. After an encouraging late-season run with the Rangers – Erixon had two assists and was minus-2 in five games – the Swede was expected to fight for a roster spot with New York in 2012-13. In Columbus, he'll join Murray and David Savard as young defensemen vying for a spot on the opening-night roster.
"He's got a great chance to come into training camp and earn a spot at the NHL level," Wright said. "The qualities that he brings are very similar to Murray: he's bigger, 6-foot-3, very high-end skill so he's another one that adds to the competition to earn a spot at the NHL level."
3. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, F: There are players who thrive on adversity, and then there is Audy-Marchessault. A native of Cap-Rouge, Quebec, Audy-Marchessault scored 239 points in 254 games for the Quebec Remparts. Despite the production, Audy-Marchessault went undrafted but later signed with the New York Rangers.
Audy-Marchessault joined the AHL's Connecticut Whale in 2011-12 and showed no signs of a learning curve, scoring 24 goals and collecting 40 assists in 76 games. Columbus took notice, signing him to a standard three-year, entry-level deal this summer despite his 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame.
"He had an absolute monster year at the AHL level," Wright said. "He's got high-end skill with good speed. He's a little bit undersized but sometimes smaller players, you can't doubt them, they've been doubted their whole career."
4. Tomas Kubalik, RW: Kubalik is one of the few familiar faces among Columbus' top prospects. Chosen in the fifth round at the 2008 draft, the physical Czech winger has spent the past two seasons in Springfield, putting up impressive numbers at the AHL level. After scoring 24 goals and adding 29 assists in 2010-11, his production slipped in 2011-12, but at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, he was still a factor in front of the net.
Unfortunately, his presence and production has failed to make an impact at the NHL level. In a brief January stint with the Jackets, Kubalik managed a goal and an assist in eight games. Kubalik could crack the roster with a strong training camp as there are openings to be filled in Columbus.
5. Boone Jenner, C: Jenner is the long-term prospect the Jackets are most excited about. Still with his Ontario Hockey League team, Oshawa, Jenner is likely to make the leap to Springfield this season. Drafted with Columbus' first pick in 2011 – No. 37 – Jenner scored 164 points in 171 games with Oshawa.
More than his point-per-game pedigree, Columbus values his relentless, physical style and ability to lead by example.
"He's got impeccable work ethic," Wright said. "You see it in his ability to play a 200-foot game, both offensively and defensively. He takes a lot of pride in blocking shots, working on the PK, faceoffs. All those intangibles make him the kind of prospect who could challenge for a spot."
6. Anton Forsberg, G: After drafting Murray with the second pick, Columbus drafted two consecutive European goaltenders, Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo. Though Wright said each had a solid summer, there is another European goalie ahead of them in the pipeline.
A seventh-round pick in 2011, Sweden's Forsberg appears to have a bright future with the Blue Jackets. At 6-foot-2, Forsberg is big but nimble and showed off impressive athleticism at the team's prospect development camp this summer. Still playing in his home country, Forsberg was Team Sweden's backup when it won gold at the 2011 World Championships.
Wright said, "He's a big goaltender who's going to be starting over in the pro league in Sweden, and he had a huge camp for us this year and we're excited about him. Goaltending is a huge part of the game at the NHL level, and we think we've got three of the best goalies coming out of Europe."
Columbus traded for Sergei Bobrovsky on draft day, so look for Forsberg to remain in Sweden for at least another season.
7. TJ Tynan, F: The Notre Dame standout is another undersized but highly skilled forward in the Columbus pipeline. Drafted with the No. 66 pick in 2011, Tynan packs NHL-level hands, speed and playmaking ability into a 5-foot-8, 156-pound frame.
What he lacks in size, Tynan makes up for in ability – just ask his college peers. With 23 goals and 31 assists in 2010-11, Tynan led the Fighting Irish in scoring and earned NCAA Rookie of the Year honors in the process. Last year, he again led his team with 13 goals and 28 assists. He'll be back in South Bend next season.
"He's a guy that we have very high, we are very excited about him," Wright said.
8. Lukas Sedlak, C: Another Czech prospect, Sedlak was drafted in the sixth round in 2011 on the strength of his defensive acumen. The kid can score too -- he had 45 points in 50 games in 2011-12 with Chicoutimi in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Though his NHL debut is likely a ways off, Wright and the Jackets are excited about Sedlak's potential. Like Jenner, Sedlak is a physical center with a penalty-killing pedigree.
"He had a great year in the Q and his learning curve wasn't as steep as some of the kids who come over from Europe," Wright said. "It was an easy transition, and we're very excited about how he's adapted."
9. Cody Goloubef, D: Another defenseman with impressive talent, 22-year-old Goloubef has a proven track record. Drafted No. 37 in 2008, Goloubef enjoyed a three-year stint at the University of Wisconsin before joining Springfield in 2010. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound blueliner also helped Team Canada to a gold medal in the 2009 World Junior Championships.
"He's a defenseman who looks on paper like he got lost in the shuffle but that's not the case in our organization," Wright said. "I think that he's taken that step and will fight with those guys for a roster spot."
10. Mike Reilly, D: Here's one for the future. Though he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, Reilly will only be starting college at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2012. Reilly spent the interim year leading the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League to the RBC Cup, scoring 24 goals and 59 assists in 51 regular-season games. That's an amazing year for a player in any position, but especially so when you consider he's a defenseman. An offensive-minded blueliner, his exceptional understanding of the game should serve him well as he moves through the ranks.
Reilly, who will join brothers Ryan and Connor, also freshmen, on the Golden Gophers next season, has great offensive potential. A year or two of college hockey should give Reilly time to bulk up his 5-foot-11, 163-pound frame.
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