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Prospect Report: Looking at the defensemen in the CBJ pipeline

Season has shown how much depth there is on Jackets' blue line

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

If this season has proved anything about the Blue Jackets, it's that the organization doesn't lack for defensive depth at the moment. 

Columbus has skated 10 defensemen this year and gotten solid to spectacular performances out of all of them. Seth Jones, David Savard, Vladislav Gavrikov and Zach Werenski have been the mainstays while Markus Nutivaara and Scott Harrington have solidified the six skaters of late. Dean Kukan and Ryan Murray also have been good but are out with injuries, while Andrew Peeke and Gabriel Carlsson have added depth when called up from Cleveland.  

And that list doesn't even include Adam Clendening, the veteran who is having another standout season with Cleveland, where he's among the top scorers among AHL defensemen. 

With Jones, Werenski, Nutivaara and Harrington each signed through 2022 and Savard, Murray, Clendening and Peeke inked through next season, the Blue Jackets likely won't be lacking for depth anytime soon. 

But as we continue our look through the Blue Jackets' prospect ranks, this year has proved that there are a number of NHL-ready solutions for the team in the near term. While the long-term view is a little more hazy, the team is in a strong position when it comes to defensemen.  

Much of the prospect depth is in Cleveland, with Peeke leading the way. The rookie from Notre Dame is still just 21 years old but didn't look out of place during his seven-game cameo with the Blue Jackets earlier this season before suffering a broken finger in a win at Detroit in mid-December.  

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Peeke had an assist in those seven games and was plus-3, and he showed good poise and puck-moving skills. He's also a right-hand shot in a game where those are a valuable commodity, and it's easy to see him being a middle pair blueliner for many years to come. His defensive game has long been viewed to be his strength, but Peeke does have five goals and 14 points in 24 games at the AHL level. 

Carlsson, 23, has also had a turnaround season with the Monsters after an injury-plagued 2018-19. The 2015 first-round pick burst onto the scene in 2017 when he arrived from his native Sweden and played in the playoff series vs. Pittsburgh before spending the bulk of the time since then with Cleveland, but head coach John Tortorella has spoken often about how the reports from the Monsters this year on Carlsson have been much improved. He has the size to be an NHL defender but continues to work on his game; Carlsson has a goal and 10 points with Cleveland. 

Clendening, meanwhile, is yet to play in a game with Columbus this season despite multiple recalls. He has the game to be an NHL player, though, as the 27-year-old showed a year ago in the postseason when he suited up in seven playoff games because of injuries. Offense is his specialty, particularly the power play, and he leads the Monsters in scoring with a 6-23-29 line in 35 games a year after posting 37 points in 45 AHL games. He's currently fourth among AHL blueliners in points.  

There is also depth in Cleveland in veterans Dillon Simpson -- who has six goals and 14 points this year -- and Doyle Somerby, while 23-year-old Ryan Collins is a defensively focused youngster and 26-year-old Swede Anton Karlsson has been solid in his first year in North American hockey. 

Outside of Cleveland, the Blue Jackets have three young defensemen in the pipeline, including two Europeans who are intriguing options down the road. 

Tim Berni is just coming off his third time playing at the World Juniors, and this year he captained the Swiss team that performed well and is continuing to show the country's maturation as an international hockey squad. At just 19 years old, he's earning regular time with the ZSC Lions in his home country with a 4-6-10 line in 34 games and appears to have some strong offensive instincts to his game. 

Speaking of offense, Eric Hjorth could be a player to provide that at the NHL level as well. The fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft from Sweden has translated his game well to the OHL level, as he has 9-15-24 in 45 games with Sarnia and boasts a fantastic shot that will translate to the highest level. Just 19, Hjorth is a big body with excellent athleticism and is an interesting project for the Jackets going forward. 

Meanwhile, 2017 seventh-round pick Robbie Stucker is playing at the University of Minnesota, where the stay-at-home defenseman has a goal and four points in 20 games this year. 

Monsters win one of three: Beset by its own injury issues while still seeing many of its top players still play for the Blue Jackets, Cleveland is now 1-5-0 in its last six games after winning just one of three games last week. 

The Monsters started the week with a game Wednesday at Binghamton, dropping a 5-2 final to the Devils. Matiss Kivlenlieks was sent down to get the start ahead of his Sunday debut in New York for the Jackets and stopped 34 of 37 shots on goal before the Devils scored two empty-net goals. Sam Vigneault had a goal and an assist to give him tallies in four of six games, while Brett Gallant also got on the board for Cleveland. 

The Monsters snapped a four-game losing skid then on Friday with a 4-3 shootout win at Rochester. Trey Fix-Wolansky and Ryan MacInnis each had a goal and an assist while Kole Sherwood also scored, while Markus Hannikainen -- who recently returned from injury -- won the game in the shootout with a goal. Veini Vehvilainen stopped 29 shots during game play and then turned aside all three Amerks' chances during the shootout. 

Cleveland then finished a six-game road trip with a 6-2 loss at Utica on Saturday. MacInnis scored again as did Calvin Thurkauf, but Vehvilainen gave up five goals in the first two periods before being swapped out for Brad Thiessen.  

The good news for the Monsters is a season-long nine-game home stand starts this week, with the team hosting Rochester on Wednesday before games Friday and Saturday against Toronto. Friday night's game will be televised on SportsTime Ohio.  

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