If you're looking for positives from the 2021 season, the Blue Jackets prospect pool provided a few from all over the world.
While Columbus is not thought to have the deepest of prospect pools according to the experts, there are some young forwards who put together impressive seasons this past year. Some started their pro careers with a flourish in Cleveland, a trio of talents stood out in Russia and others had good years elsewhere in Europe.
A look at the highlights from the season from the CBJ prospect pool at the forward position follows.
The Jackets' top farm team saw some impressive performances from young forwards, none more so than those of rookies Tyler Angle and Carson Meyer.
Both were late-round picks of the Blue Jackets -- Angle in the seventh round in 2020 and Meyer in the sixth round in 2017 -- but neither was guaranteed a spot in Cleveland this year. Angle likely would have returned to the OHL in a non-pandemic year, a level at which he was a point-per-game player in 2019-20, while Meyer was no guarantee to join the Monsters after the Blue Jackets opted not to offer him a contract before his rights expired in the summer of 2020.
But both earned entry-level deals with the CBJ with their performances in Cleveland this season. Because of the taxi squad at the NHL level, it was a bit of a watered-down AHL this year, but it was still impressive to see Angle and Meyer stand out as the former led the team in scoring and the latter finished third.
Angle scored goals in his first two games with the Monsters and never really stopped, finishing with 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in 23 games. The 20-year-old finished with a trio of two-goal games on the year as well as seven multipoint games overall, notching at least a point in 17 of 23 games. His hottest stretch came in late April when he finished with four goals in a two-game home set vs. Chicago.
Meyer, meanwhile, had a nine-game point streak in the middle of the season on the way to finishing with a 9-11-20 line in 26 games. He hit a bit of a cold stretch at the end, posting four points in the last nine games, but before that was a dependable scorer starting from a two-goal game in his first AHL contest Feb. 22. The Ohio State product from nearby Powell also had three assists in his third game and finished with a trio of multipoint games.
Another notable performance was turned in by 2018 first-round pick Liam Foudy, who split the season with Columbus and Cleveland but was basically dominant at the AHL level. Foudy played in just 12 games but finished with 16 points (three goals, 13 assists), including five multipoint games highlighted by a four-point game April 10 vs. Rochester. That was likely what the Jackets had in mind when Foudy was sent to Cleveland to get consistent playing time, and he skated in every situation for the Monsters down the stretch.
Two other youngsters were impressive as well in limited action. 2018 seventh-round pick Trey Fix-Wolansky had a point per game (4-5-9 in nine games) before suffering a season-ending knee injury, while March signee Josh Dunne posted eight goals among his 10 points in 15 games.
Many of the Blue Jackets top forward prospects spent the year in the KHL, perhaps the second-best league in the world, and the trio of Yegor Chinakhov (first round, 2020), Kirill Marchenko (second round, 2018) and Dmitri Voronkov (fourth round, 2019) all had notable showings this season at age 20.
Marchenko led the way for a SKA St. Petersburg team that reached the conference final, as the skilled Russian winger overcame a midseason injury to post a 15-13-28 line in 41 games. He finished the year with six points in the last three games and had seven multipoint games for SKA while also earning his first callups to the senior Russian national team. He has a year left on his deal with SKA but is thought to be one of the Jackets' top offensive prospects.
Chinakhov, meanwhile, was the Jackets' surprise first-round pick in October's draft, but he showed why Columbus wanted him so much during his first season at the KHL level for an Avangard Omsk team that won the Gagarin Cup. Chinakhov is a Rookie of the Year finalist after posting 10 goals and 17 points in 32 games during the regular season and adding five more in the KHL playoffs. Chinakhov also overcame an injury suffered during the World Junior Championships on the way to his impressive year that earned him a three-year entry-level deal with the CBJ that starts next season.
Voronkov keeps impressing as well when the games are the biggest, as he showed up big in Ak Bars Kazan's playoff run and is currently earning top-six minutes with the Russian team at the World Championships. The huge center/wing had a 7-12-19 line in 53 games during the regular season then added six more goals in 15 postseason games, including a 4-3-7 line in a seven-game conference final series with Avangard. He has two years remaining on his contract with Ak Bars.
Two veterans who could find their way into the CBJ roster a year from now are Gregory Hofmann and Justin Danforth, who were point-per-game players in Switzerland and Russia, respectively, at age 28.
Hofmann was acquired from Carolina for a seventh-round pick this year amid another standout season in his native Switzerland, posting an 18-23-41 line in 36 games for Swiss champion EV Zug and adding 14 more points in 13 playoff games thanks to great speed and an electric shot. Hofmann fought off injury that cost him about six weeks of the campaign to post those numbers, and while the 2011 fourth-round pick has opted to stay in Europe throughout his career, he likely will the Jackets and battle for a roster spot next year. Hofmann also is second at the World Championships with six goals in seven games for his home country.
Danforth, meanwhile, has signed a contract to join the Blue Jackets next season after a standout season with Vityaz of the KHL. After two excellent seasons with Lukko in Finland, he moved up to the KHL and was again one of the best scorers in the league, as the former Cincinnati Cyclone posted 23 goals and 55 points in 58 games for his Moscow-based club to place sixth in the KHL in scoring. He is currently with Team Canada at the World Championships.
In Finland, 2020 fourth-round pick Mikael Pyyhtia turned in a solid season with a TPS team that made the finals of the Liiga. Pyyhtia, who also represented Finland at the World Juniors, started the year with TPS Under-20 team then played 35 games at the senior level, posting three goals and four assists. The 19-year-old was a key player in the postseason for the Turku-based squad, notching five points in 13 playoff games, and he figures to be a big part of TPS' plans a year from now.
Hofmann's Zug teammate Calvin Thurkauf, who made his NHL debut with Columbus in 2019-20, wasn't quite as lucky, as he was loaned by the Jackets to his hometown team and had five points in 22 games before suffering a season-ending injury. With his Columbus contract up, the 2016 seventh-round pick has signed with HC Lugano in Switzerland for the upcoming season.
In Sweden, 2018 third-round pick Marcus Karlberg had an up-and-down season, as the 21-year-old played at three different levels including one game in the SHL for Leksands. Karlberg had his most success in the third-tier HockeyEttan, posting a 3-10-13 line in 15 games with Borlange HF.
The Jackets had just one forward at the NCAA level this year, UConn's Kale Howarth. The 2017 fifth-round pick with plenty of size had a solid campaign, posting a 5-2-7 line in 18 games for the IceBus in a Covid-shortened season, but it has been reported the 23-year-old will not return to the Huskies and will instead turn pro.