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For Blue Jackets prospects, the future is bright

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

There's a lot more behind a team's success than the players listed on the NHL roster. The future success of a team often begins years before winning a Stanley Cup, and one of the key components that typically plays a factor is the development of a club's prospects. These prospects are found not just at the AHL level; they come from Canadian major junior hockey, the NCAA, and European leagues such as the SHL and KHL.

The Columbus Blue Jackets plan on being a Stanley Cup contender for years to come, and that goal was at the forefront this past summer at the 2013 NHL Draft. The Blue Jackets made headlines with three first-round selections, and many publications and pundits around the league took note.

According to a recent edition of The Hockey News, the Blue Jackets' "Future Watch" grade is an A- and is second overall behind the Anaheim Ducks, a team that is consistently at the top of their division and in the playoff picture. That A- grade is better than the B grade they were given in 2013, which used the same grading system.

Springfield Falcons

The AHL affiliate is the most "visible" line into the Blue Jackets' organization. If a Jackets player is injured, a Falcons player will usually get the call-up. There have been a few of those this season, most recently with Frederic St. Denis and Tim Erixon on defense. Other notable recalls this year who saw NHL ice time included Michael Chaput, Sean Collins, Jack Skille, Cody Goloubef and Ryan Craig. Chaput and Collins recorded their first NHL points in Columbus early on in the season when the Jackets were plagued with numerous injuries.

Though they didn't see significant minutes or numbers with Columbus, all of those players have been key factors in Springfield's regular season success. Overall, the Falcons sit at the top of the Northeast Division with a seven point lead over the second place Albany Devils. They have a 40-20-6 record and are preparing for the playoffs, one year after a disappointing second-round exit in the Calder Cup playoffs. In the offseason, several Falcons players will continue to train in preparation for the Blue Jackets' development camp and training camp, where they'll potentially have an opportunity to make the Jackets' opening night roster.

Let's take a look at a few of the other scoring leaders in Springfield:

player name pos. gp g a pt +/- pim
carter camper c 10 0 11 11 -1 4
jonathan marchessault lw 56 14 27 41 -7 51
michael chaput c 47 18 20 38 -2 49
tim erixon d 36 5 28 33 -1 14
sean collins lw 57 13 19 32 +8 26
andrew joudrey c 62 12 19 31 -4 36
patrick mcneilL d 54 9 22 31 -4 42
ryan craig lw 46 16 13 29 -4 41

Camper has only played 10 games in Springfield, put posted impressive numbers for the Providence Bruins before he was acquired by Columbus in early February. A former Miami University (Ohio) standout, Camper recorded 31 points in 41 games with Providence prior to the deal.

Another impressive statistic not listed above? Chaput has a 21.2 shooting percentage this season, one of the top percentages in the AHL this year for a player with at least 40 games played.

Now, we'll look at goaltending statistics:

player name gp toi gaa sv% record
Mike McKenna 31 1850:30 2.30 0.920 20-8-1
Jeremy smith 35 2039:10 2.82 0.896 19-13-3

McKenna was named AHL Goaltender of the Month for November when he recorded a 4-1-0 record with a 1.16 goals-against average and a 0.950 save percentage, including two shutout wins. He also helped the Blue Jackets to two key wins: coming on in relief of Curtis McElhinney on Dec. 12 at Madison Square Garden and back-stopping a memorable come-from-behind win on Dec. 27 in Raleigh.

2013 Draft Class

Though these guys are not in Springfield, the Jackets' 2013 draft picks have made huge strides in their personal development and are significant contributors to their current teams' success. Here are the regular season player statistics for the Blue Jackets' top five picks from the 2013 NHL Draft in draft order:

Player name POS team // league GP G A Points +/- PIM
alexander wennberg c Frolunda // SHL 50 16 5 21 -5 8
kerby rychel lw Windsor, guelph // ohl 58 34 56 90 +41 43
marko dano c HC slovan bratislava // khl 41 3 2 5 -11 41
Dillon heatherington d Swift current // whl 70 6 29 35 +24 63
Oliver bjorkstrand rw portland // whl 69 50 59 109 +44 36

As far as post-season is concerned, Bjorkstrand and Heatherington have played a handful of WHL playoff games for their respective teams. Bjorkstrand has five points in three games played and Heatherington has been solid on defense in his team's two playoff wins. Dano arrived in Springfield last week to begin his transition into the AHL, but has yet to see any playing time with the club. Wennberg and Frolunda are still alive in the SHL playoffs, while Rychel and the Guelph Storm are participating in OHL post-season play as a favorite to win the league.

Notable Names

There are a few other Blue Jackets prospects who have made headlines lately:

Goaltender Oscar Dansk has been a standout in net all season for Erie in 2013-14, logging 2,405 minutes in 42 games played during the OHL regular season. He also had a goals-against average of 2.39 (1st overall in the OHL) and a 0.909 save percentage (8th in OHL) with a 29-9-1 record. He also led the OHL in shutouts (six) and was fourth overall in goaltender wins with 29.
Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets after spending time with six different teams in three different European leagues this season. Most notably, he recorded a 1.42 GAA and .957 SV% in eight appearances with Ilves in the Finnish Elite League.

Mike Reilly won Big Ten Defenseman of the Year honors for his play with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He's led his team on the blue line, holding opponents to just 1.85 goals per game. Individually, he led all Big Ten defensemen in scoring with 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in conference play. He tied for third among all Big Ten players in assists and tied for 12th overall in points. Reilly also recorded nine power play points, which was tied for fourth in the Big Ten. And, he's only a sophomore. The Gophers are off to the NCAA Tournament despite an early exit from the inaugural Big Ten hockey tournament.

Why this matters

Sure, you can make trades or sign free agents to improve a team's odds of winning in the near term, but the future success of an NHL team depends on how the organization drafts and develops its prospects. By utilizing players with AHL affiliate experience, the NHL clubs ensure that their players know the systems and strategies often used at the NHL level. Based on the statistics and success of the players in the Blue Jackets' organization, the future looks pretty bright for Columbus.

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