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Hjorth could be exciting prospect for Blue Jackets

Fourth-round draft pick of Columbus aims to add offense to defensive corps

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

On Saturday, Eric Hjorth knew he was headed to Toronto. 

Even after he was picked by Columbus. 

Literally, he had a flight booked for that day to the Canadian city, where he was set to attend a camp set up by his agent.  

He also knew he was on NHL draft boards despite an injury-shortened season in the Swedish junior leagues. So when Columbus selected the big defenseman with the 104th overall pick in the fourth round, it was a good confluence of situations. 

Hjorth could still fly to Toronto for the camp, but he now had another one on tap -- the Blue Jackets development camp that started Tuesday. So it was just a hop, skip and a jump across the border for him to join the rest of the CBJ prospects this week for the annual development camp. 

"When I got the call, I was very happy," he said. "It was a good feeling for me (to be drafted). I had one meeting before the draft with Columbus, and that was good. In the draft, anything can happen, so it was a nice feeling to be drafted." 

Whether Hjorth would have been even higher on draft boards had he played more than 10 games last year will never be known, but there wasn't much he could do about it as a cartilage injury in his knee limited him to 10 games in the Linkoping system. 

Nine of those were at the Under-18 level in Sweden, where he had three goals and six points in three regular-season games and then a 2-1-3 line in six postseason games. He also played one regular-season game at the U-20 level.  

Hjorth was noticed enough that he talked to teams during the past month, so he felt like a draft pick was coming. When he's healthy, he tries to bring some offense to the table, as evidenced by his scoring totals in his career.  

"I think I'm an offensive defenseman who likes to skate with the puck, make good passes and shoot, and I also like to join the rush," he said. "I would say I'm an offensive defenseman." 

He also brings excellent size at 6-foot-3, and the result is a package that Blue Jackets director of amateur scouting Ville Siren referred to as "exciting" after the Jackets made the draft pick.  

"He had a lot of injuries this year, so he didn't play that many games, but I saw him at the end and he's an exciting player," Siren said. "I saw him I think four or five times at the end and I thought he excited me. He showed me very nice potential."  

Hjorth said he'll be 100 percent and ready to go next season, which he will likely start at the U-20 level with Linkoping. Being able to get a full season under his belt will be the goal after last year's injury-marred season, but he said he learned a lot while sitting on the sidelines this past year and hopes to tap into his potential going forward. 

"It was a tough time because I saw my teammates playing and I had to go to the gym, not playing the game," he said. "It was a tough time for me, but you also learn to handle some tough times. It was a good learning experience for me."

DEVELOPMENT CAMP: Follow the Blue Jackets of the future all week long

Kale makes strides: If how Kale Howarth plays against the best is any indication, the Blue Jackets got a good one. 

The 2017 fifth-round pick played three times against NCAA runner-up UMass during the 2018-19 season, his freshman year at Connecticut, and had two multi-point games against the Minutemen. His only two-goal game came against UMass, as did a season-ending two-assist game. 

That was part of a three-game point streak to end the year for Howarth, a massive 6-foot-4 center. Last year was his first with UConn after three standout seasons with Trail of the BCHL, and he admits it took him some time to adjust to the higher level on the way to a 5-6-11 season in 32 games. 

"It's a pretty big jump," he said. "In BC, you have two or three guys who are top players who will go on to play college. Every single college team, every single one of them are those guys. It's a lot harder, but it's a lot more fun." 

Howarth said he and the Huskies team improved as the year went on, and he's now in his third CBJ development camp and hoping to continue to advance toward a pro career. Howarth seems to still be growing into his body, but he stands out on the ice for what can't be taught -- his size and presence in front of the net. 

"I'm just working on my skill work," the Alberat native said of his hopes at dev camp. "As a big guy, it's not that easy to be skilled. Then it's the off-ice things. Nutrition talks, those are huge for me. During the school year you're not really cooking too much and you have your meals premade for you, but when I'm back home in the summer I try to pick up on these things so they can help me." 

Vehvilainen out: Goaltender Veini Vehvilainen is in Columbus for the camp but is not taking part in any on-ice work, as he is nursing an injury that he should have back to 100 percent by the time the season begins. The 21-year-old Finn and 2018 sixth-round draft pick is coming off a season in which he was named the Finnish Liiga's top goaltender and then won a gold medal at the IIHF World Championships.  

Other goalies on the ice include CBJ draft picks Daniil Tarasov and Peter Thome as well as invitees Henry Graham, an 18-year-old from Manhattan who debuted in the NAHL last year, and Jet Greaves, another 18-year-old who played for Barrie of the OHL a season ago. 

Next up: Much of Wednesday's work on the ice was focused on skating and stickhandling, with the Blue Jackets development staff putting the prospects through drills featuring the Power Edge Pro system. Practice will continue Thursday morning before a visit to the Columbus Zoo, then Friday the on-ice work ends with the annual Stinger Cup 3-on-3 tournament and the accompanying fan block party. 

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