Prospect Report

Another year is (mostly) in the books, and it was another season of development for the prospects playing around the world in the Blue Jackets’ system.

From the Far East of Siberia to the Nordic countries of Finland and Sweden to outposts scattered across North America, it was a busy year for those either drafted or signed by Columbus, and there have been more than a few highlights.

There’s the phenomenal run of the Cleveland Monsters, the team’s minor league affiliate that has reached the conference final of the American Hockey league; there was the dominance of Denton Mateychuk, who will skate in Canada’s Memorial Cup along with three other future Jackets; there was the brilliance of Gavin Brindley, who dazzled both up north and in USA colors; and there was the championship effort of a number of CBJ prospects, who left the season with rings on their fingers.

The season isn’t quite over, as Mateychuk, teammate Martin Rysavy, Max McCue and Nolan Lalonde begin the Memorial Cup tomorrow, while the Monsters continue on in the playoffs. But today seemed like a good time to take a look at how prospects around the world performed this past season, as well as look a little bit into what their futures may hold.

We included all players drafted or signed by Columbus, age 25 or younger, who in most cases have yet to make it to the NHL level. For those signed by Columbus and on the Cleveland team, we used age 25 as a cutoff, so our apologies to Monsters veterans Brendan Gaunce, Carson Meyer, Josh Dunne, Marcus Bjork, Billy Sweezey and Jakub Zboril.

We’ll start in Cleveland and then work our way around the world.

Cleveland Monsters

Luca Del Bel Belluz: The 20-year-old's first pro season was a solid one, as he led Cleveland rookies with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 58 games with the Monsters, not to mention the AHL North Division clinching goal last night in the postseason. The center taken in the second round of the 2022 draft also made his NHL debut in the season finale and scored a goal. Del Bel Belluz needs to keep adding strength but figures to be a full-time NHLer at some point given his solid all-around play and impressive junior numbers, including a 40-goal season a year ago in the OHL.

James Malatesta: Promoted for an 11-game NHL cameo that included two goals, two assists, 41 hits and a fight, Malatesta made a good transition into pro hockey. The 2023 QMJHL playoff and Memorial Cup MVP had some productivity this year, posting a 12-10-22 line in 56 games with Cleveland, but figures to be a bottom-six scrapper at the NHL level. Still just 20, Malatesta made an impression in his time with the Blue Jackets and could again get a look next season on the wing; it’s hard not to envision him as a Brad Marchand Lite – a pest with some scoring ability at the next level.

Mikael Pyyhtia: Another CBJ prospect who got a look at the end of the season, Pyyhtia didn’t produce much in the NHL – the 22-year-old Finn had no goals and two assists in 17 games – but he impressed with his all-around play. The 2020 fourth-round pick has shown some skill in his native Finland as well as the AHL, posting a 7-21-28 line in 60 games this year in his first full season with Cleveland, and could be a bottom-six option again on the wing going forward at the NHL level.

Trey Fix-Wolansky: It feels like Mr. Monster has been around forever, as the 2018 seventh-round pick is in his fifth season in Cleveland, but he doesn’t turn 25 until this weekend. The wing set Cleveland’s career records for goals, assists and points this year while posting a team-best line of 26-34-60 that tied him for 12th in the AHL in scoring. Fix-Wolansky is yet to truly turn his AHL dominance into an NHL impact – he had two goals and three points in 11 games this year, with a 4-2-6 line in 26 career contests – yet he’s a fan favorite in Cleveland who can score and take the body despite his diminutive stature.

Tyler Angle: A seventh-round pick the year after Fix-Wolansky, Angle battled injuries at times and finished the year with just 40 games played in Cleveland, posting eight goals and eight assists. A center who does a little bit of everything, the 23-year-old also played in two games with the Blue Jackets. Angle is an RFA this offseason who projects mostly as an NHL depth option at this point, but he’s been a valuable piece of the puzzle for the Monsters in recent years.

Cameron Butler: A massive wing (6-4, 220) who made his pro debut this year after a strong OHL season a year ago, Butler skated in 51 games with Cleveland this season with two goals, eight points and four fighting majors. He also made a notable NHL debut near the end of the year, racing to Columbus on gameday, arriving just before faceoff and skating one shift. His size and toughness will be what can help Butler get to the next level.

David Jiricek: Jiricek did spend more time in Columbus – 1-9-10 in 43 games – than in Cleveland (7-12-19 in 29 games), but we’ll still consider him a prospect at age 20. The sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft has excellent size, plays an aggressive game and has skill coming out of every pore, but experience is the big thing he’s missing. He should get better with age and be a potential top-pair right-shot defenseman, but his skating has to keep improving for Jiricek to reach his very high ceiling.

Jake Christiansen: The 24-year-old was again one of the most productive defensemen in the AHL, putting up a 13-33-46 line in 62 games that ranked him fifth in goals among league blueliners and tied for fourth in points. He’s mastered the AHL and was a second-team all-league choice, but Christiansen is yet to establish himself full-time in the NHL, though he did skate in 12 games with the Blue Jackets this season. He’s right there, but he needs an opportunity on the left side.

Corson Ceulemans: The 25th overall pick in the 2021 draft played his first full pro season after spending two years at the University of Wisconsin, and Ceulemans showcased the aggressive play that has made him such a fascinating prospect to this point. The defenseman has offensive ability and makes plays on the front foot defensively, but sometimes that leads to mistakes as well. Ceulemans, 21, skated in 47 games this year, posting a 3-9-12 line, and figures to improve as he plays more at the pro level.

Stanislav Svozil: Coming off a tremendous season with Czechia’s World Juniors squad and Regina of the WHL, Svozil made his pro debut and turned in a very good campaign. The defenseman had 5-18-23 in 57 games and settled in defensively as the year went on, and he’s now part of a strong pair with Jiricek in the AHL playoffs. Still just 21 with a poised, all-around game, the 2021 third-round pick checks a lot of boxes and projects as a future NHLer at some point on the left side.

Samuel Knazko: In his second year in North America, Knazko was part of a full boat on the blue line in Cleveland, skating in 44 games and posting a 2-10-12 line. The native of Slovakia is a 2020 third-round pick who is still just 21 and has plenty of experience at the international level. He’s a solid all-around player, but his lack of a standout skill might be the biggest thing from keeping him moving up.

Ole Bjorgvik-Holm: A 2020 fifth-round pick, Bjorgvik-Holm played his second pro season but spent it mostly with Cincinnati of the Double-A level ECHL, posting a 5-28-33 line in 57 games with the Cyclones. The 21-year-old skated in just two games with Cleveland, the victim of that logjam of defensemen at the AHL level. The Norwegian blueliner has size and has shown he can produce some offense at lower levels.

Jet Greaves: What more is there to say about the 23-year-old goalie, who did everything he could this year to cement himself as a future full-time NHLer? Greaves was impressive all season at the AHL level, placing second in the league with 30 wins while posting a 2.93 GAA and .910 save percentage; he’s now been nearly unbeatable in the postseason. He also showed his skills at the NHL level, earning his first three career wins in nine appearances. Greaves’ work ethic and skill will push him to the next level, it’s just a matter of when he’s ready for a full-time gig.

Canadian Junior Hockey

Luca Pinelli (Ottawa 67s, OHL): The 2023 fourth-round pick had a breakout season with the 67s, placing third in the OHL with 48 goals and adding five more in 10 playoff games. In all, the 19-year-old wing had 82 points in 68 games and is now spending the postseason with Cleveland after signing an amateur tryout deal. Signed by the Blue Jackets after the season, the offensive dynamo could turn pro or go back to the OHL to put up monster numbers again.

Nolan Lalonde (Saginaw Spirit, OHL): Signed by Columbus after spending training camp with the team in 2022, Lalonde was traded from Erie to Saginaw early in the season and had solid numbers on one of the best teams in the league. Lalonde won 16 straight decisions at one point, finishing the regular season with a 3.16 GAA and .874 save percentage with the Spirit. In the postseason the 20-year-old started as the backup but took over as the playoffs went on, posting a 2.79 GAA and .893 save percentage. Saginaw is set to host the Memorial Cup, giving him a chance to play in some more big games at the junior level.

Max McCue (London Knights, OHL): Signed by Columbus in March, McCue was a do-it-all wing for one of the most dominant teams in recent memory in the OHL, as the Knights romped through the postseason to post their fifth title since 2005. McCue was a key piece, posting a 27-34-61 line in 62 regular-season games and finishing 10th in the league with 110 penalty minutes. In the postseason, he tied for eighth in the league with 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) and was plus-21 in 18 games. His entry-level deal should land the 21-year-old in Cleveland next year, but not before the Knights get a chance to lift the Memorial Cup.

Tyler Peddle (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL): The last pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Peddle posted a combined 17-15-32 line in 65 games between Saint John and Drummondville. A Nova Scotia native, the 19-year-old forward was traded back to the Maritimes midway through the season and did see some improved offense with the Sea Dogs, posting 11-7-18 in 28 games. At age 19, the one-time second overall pick in the QMJHL draft will likely return with a chance to put up big numbers next year given his size and scoring touch.

Jordan Dumais (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL): The talented wing was with the Blue Jackets throughout camp but per the NHL/CHL agreement, he had to return to the junior ranks after posting one of the most productive seasons of the last 20 years in the Q last season. He was on pace to do even better this year with a 16-31-47 line in 21 games, but the 2022 third-rounder ended up having abdominal surgery and did not return to the ice after playing on Canada’s World Juniors squad. Now age 20, Dumais will be able to make his pro debut next year.

Denton Mateychuk (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL): One of the best players in the CHL this season, Mateychuk is the WHL Defenseman of the Year and the WHL playoff MVP for the league champs. The 12th overall pick in 2022, Mateychuk racked up impressive numbers, including a 17-58-75 line in 52 regular-season games and an 11-19-30 line in 20 playoff games. In the regular season, the Canadian World Juniors participant had the same number of games with three or more points – eight – as he did with zero points. A dynamic skater who can play in all zones and is still just 19, he should make his pro debut this upcoming season after skating in the Memorial Cup with the Warriors.

Martin Rysavy (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL): Chosen by Columbus in the seventh round of the 2021 draft, Rysavy went back to Moose Jaw for his overage year and was a key part of the club’s title squad, posting 25 goals and 44 points in 63 games. The 21-year-old wing from Czechia added a 6-10-16 line in 20 playoff games, and his size (6-2, 220) makes him an imposing player on the ice. Columbus retains his rights through next June but is yet to sign him to a contract.

James Fisher (Penticton Vees, BCHL): After a year with USHL champion Youngstown in 2022-23, Fisher went to Canada this season and could win another as the Vees are in the championship series of the Tier II BCHL. A big wing from Massachusetts, Fisher got off to a red-hot start in Penticton and finished with 20 goals and 36 points in 54 games, then has added four goals in the postseason. Now 20 years old, the 2022 seventh-round pick is expected to head to Northeastern University next season.

United States Hockey League

Andrew Strathmann (Youngstown Phantoms): The lone CBJ player in the USHL, the 2023 fourth-rounder served as the Phantoms captain this year, though the squad was unable to repeat as Clark Cup champs. The 19-year-old defenseman played in 48 games, posting a 7-32-39 line and 120 penalty minutes, and was on Team USA for the World Junior A Challenge. He’s headed to NCAA power North Dakota next, where he’ll be able to continue to hone his game.  

NCAA Hockey 

Gavin Brindley (Michigan Wolverines): Brindley was one of the most productive players in college hockey this year, finishing tied for sixth in the nation in goals (25) and eighth in points (53) for the Frozen Four squad. The wing also won gold with Team USA’s World Juniors squad and is currently on the World Championships team in Czechia at age 19. The 2023 second-round pick signed with the Blue Jackets at the end of the season and made his NHL debut, and he’ll be in the mix next season.

Aidan Hreschuk (Boston College Eagles): A defenseman acquired from Carolina in the Max Domi trade in 2022, the ‘21 third-round pick had a solid third season for the national runner-up this year. A stay-at-home blueliner by trade, Hreschuk finished with a career-high 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 41 games and was plus-21. He could return to BC for his senior season or sign with the Blue Jackets this offseason.

Guillaume Richard (Providence Friars): A big, defensive defenseman, Richard bears a lot of similarities to Hreschuk as far as style of play, and he also set a career high this season as a junior with 18 points (three goals, 15 helpers) in 35 games. Unfortunately for Richard, the Friars fell just short of the NCAA tournament after a solid season. The 2021 fourth-round pick could go back for another year with the Friars or sign a pro contract, but he has the size and smarts to be an NHLer down the road.

William Whitelaw (Wisconsin Badgers): It was a solid freshman season for Whitelaw with the resurgent Badgers, as the wing posted 10 goals and 17 points in his first year of college hockey. After the season, the 2023 third-round pick entered the NCAA transfer portal, and he’s headed to Michigan to continue the CBJ lineage in Ann Arbor. Just 19, Whitelaw could be in line for a big jump forward in production as a sophomore next year.


Oiva Keskinen (Tappara, Finland): A 2023 seventh-round pick, Keskinen surprised some this year with a very productive rookie season in the Finnish Liiga and also made Finland’s World Juniors squad. The 20-year-old forward was solid all the way through, posting a 7-20-27 line and a plus-20 rating in 54 regular-season games then setting a Liiga rookie record with seven postseason assists as Tappara won the title. He is signed with Tappara through the next two seasons.

Kirill Dolzhenkov (CSKA Moscow, KHL): A massive 6-6 wing, Dolzhenkov spent the majority of the season in the KHL for the first time this year at age 20, and the 2022 fourth-rounder had four goals and nine points in 39 games. It can be notoriously hard for young players to earn playing time in the KHL, especially on a top team, so it was a solid season at his age. Dolzhenkov has two more years on his contract in Russia, but he bears watching given his combination of size and skill, including a 45-point season in 50 games last year for CSKA’s junior squad.

Nikolai Makarov (CSKA Moscow, KHL): Dolzhenkov’s CSKA teammate went from a key part of a title-winning team in 2022-23 to someone who bounced around a bit this past year. Another defense-first blueliner, the 2021 fifth-round pick played 28 games with the big club, posting two assists and a plus-9 rating. At age 21, he has plenty of time to keep growing, and he’s under contract with the Moscow club for next season.                        

Sergei Ivanov (Admiral Vladivostok, KHL): Could Ivanov be a steal as a 2022 fifth-round pick? His KHL numbers so far have been incredibly impressive, as SKA St. Petersburg loaned the 20-year-old to Admiral for much of the season and he posted a 2.63 GAA and .928 save percentage in 33 games for one of the lower-ranked clubs in the league. Now loaned to Sochi of the KHL for next season, Ivanov lacks prototypical NHL size at 5-11, but all he does is stop pucks. It’ll be interesting to watch his progress.

Melvin Strahl (MoDo, Sweden): A big goalie prospect with potential, Strahl was taken in the fifth round of the 2023 draft. He spent most of this past season with MoDo’s Under-20 team, notching a 2.91 GAA and .903 save percentage in 30 games, before being loaned to Bodens HF of the Swedish third tier, where he did not play. He was chosen by Youngstown in the USHL phase II draft, so it’ll be interesting to see where he goes as he continues his progress.

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