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Milano, Rychel among Blue Jackets' top five prospects

by Craig Merz / Columbus Blue Jackets

The prospects cupboard is far from bare for the Columbus Blue Jackets thanks in part to six first-round picks in the past three NHL drafts.

The abundance of young talent enabled the Blue Jackets to make a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire forward Brandon Saad on June 30. Rookie forward Marko Dano (No. 27, 2013 NHL Draft) was sent to the Blackhawks along with three other players for the two-time Stanley Cup winner.

The Blue Jackets still have a wealth of prospects at forward but aren't as deep on the defensive side.

That's why they took defensemen Zachary Werenski (No. 8) and Gabriel Carlsson (No. 29) in the first round this year.

Goaltender Anton Forsberg (No. 188, 2011) was an American Hockey League all-star last season but struggled (0-4-0, 4.69 goals-against average) for the Blue Jackets when injuries struck goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney.

With McElhinney under contract for two more years, Forsberg will be given time to develop.

Here are the Blue Jackets' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Sonny Milano, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 16), 2014 draft

Last season: Plymouth, OHL: 50 GP, 22-46-68; Springfield, AHL: 10 GP, 0-5-5

Everyone has seen the crazy stick tricks on YouTube and slick moves on the ice, but Milano is out to prove he's much more than a video attraction.

"I want to make the Blue Jackets this year," he said.

His time is coming, but the 19-year-old from Massapequa, N.Y., is still maturing. He is listed at 6-foot, 183 pounds but said this summer that he's nearly 200 pounds.

Milano will likely start the season with the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate in Cleveland, but he should be on the short list for call-ups.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 89), 2013 draft

Last season: Portland, WHL: 59 GP, 63-55-118

The Western Hockey League's player of the year from Denmark scored 144 goals the past three seasons for Portland. He will be given a good look by the Blue Jackets during training camp but is likely a year away from a permanent spot.

Bjorkstrand, 20, is like many young players in that he needs to add more bulk; he is 6-foot, 170 pounds.

"I feel even though I'm on the lighter side I can still win battles in the corner," he said.

He also thinks being targeted by opponents has been good preparation for a potential NHL career.

"You try to find ways to create stuff because you know a guy is going to be right at your butt the whole time," Bjorkstrand said. "I'm sure it will help me down the road, hopefully this year."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Kerby Rychel, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 19), 2013 draft

Last season: Blue Jackets: 5 GP, 0-3-3; Springfield, AHL: 51 GP, 12-21-33

Rychel (6-1, 205) is NHL-ready at age 20. The son of former NHL player Warren Rychel, he played well in his brief stay with the Blue Jackets but sustained a season-ending concussion while playing for Springfield in February.

He has size, grit and good hands.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Josh Anderson, RW

How acquired: 4th round (No. 95), 2012 draft

Last season: Blue Jackets: 6 GP, 0-1-1; Springfield, AHL: 52 GP, 7-10-17

Anderson, 21, is the type of player the Blue Jackets covet. He is big (6-3, 212), skates well and plays a heavy game. He needs to work on his finishing but is on the fast track considering he was drafted in the fourth round.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Zachary Werenski, D

How acquired: 1st round (8th), 2015 draft

Last season: Michigan, NCAA: 35 GP, 9-16-25

When University of Minnesota defenseman Mike Reilly opted in June not to sign with the Blue Jackets after being drafted by them in 2011, Columbus needed a replacement.

It will take a couple of years, but Werenski (6-2, 206) could be the answer. He turned 18 on July 19 and is expected to return to Michigan, where he was the top scoring defenseman for the Wolverines despite being the youngest player in college hockey last season.

Werenski told NHL.com at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Aug. 5 that he will return to Michigan for his sophomore season. London of the Ontario Hockey League owns his rights, and there was speculation he was going to play in the OHL this season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

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