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Prospects could be indicative of Blue Jackets' bright future

by Craig Merz / Columbus Blue Jackets

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout the month of August. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Years of high draft picks because of poor performance is paying off for the Columbus Blue Jackets: Lake Erie won the Calder Cup in June, the first American Hockey League championship for a Blue Jackets affiliate.

There is depth in the minors, so the NHL team doesn't have to overpay veteran players to fill roster spots.

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

1. Zach Werenski, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 8 pick of 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Michigan (BIG10): 36 GP, 11-25-36; Lake Erie (AHL): 7, 1-0-1

Werenski, who turned 19 on July 19, left Michigan after his sophomore season and immediately contributed to Lake Erie's playoff push. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Grosse Pointe, Mich., native had five goals, nine assists and a plus-8 rating in 17 games.

The Blue Jackets like his speed, vision and poise, as well as the fact he is growing. With an accurate and hard shot, Werenski quickly established himself as the point man for Lake Erie's power play.

"There's a very good chance he makes our team and makes our team better," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW

How acquired: Selected with No. 89 pick of 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Columbus: 12 GP, 4-4-8; Lake Erie (AHL): 51 GP, 17-12-29

The "Great Dane" was named the Calder Cup MVP after he had 10 goals and six assists in 17 postseason games. He scored six game-winning goals, including in each of the last three games of the Calder Cup Final against Hershey, the latter two coming in overtime.

Bjorkstrand, 21, doesn't have size (6-foot, 177) but impressed the Blue Jackets in his time with them.

"He's not a big guy, but he's not afraid to play the North American style at all," Kekalainen said. "It speaks to his character. I love the chip on his shoulder and the way he plays and competes."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

3. Pierre Luc-Dubois, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 3 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Cape Breton (QMJHL): 62 GP, 42-57-99

Many were surprised the Blue Jackets drafted Dubois, 18, ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi, but Dubois' transition from wing midway through the season was one reason Columbus sees him as a future top center.

Dubois (6-2, 201) is a two-way forward with excellent skating ability, a scoring touch, and an edge evidenced by his 112 penalty minutes for Cape Breton.

"I'm obviously still growing mentally and physically, still working on improving all areas," he said. "I added 40 pounds in the last three years and grew 3 inches, so I'm still learning how to use my body."

He may be a year away from sticking with the Blue Jackets, but it would not be surprising if Dubois made an impact this season.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

4. Sonny Milano, LW

How acquired: Selected with No. 16 pick of 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Columbus: 3 GP, 0-1-1; Lake Erie (AHL): 54 GP, 14-17-31

Milano, 20, got his first NHL point against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 2. He's maturing and his game is no longer flash with no substance. He had eight points (four goals) in 17 AHL playoff games and is developing into a two-way player.

Milano (6-1, 205) should be a priority call-up but may need another year of seasoning.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

5. Joonas Korpisalo, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 62 pick of 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Columbus: 31 GP, 16-11-4, 2.60 GAA, .920 SV%; Lake Erie (AHL): 18 GP, 8-8-2, 2.36 GAA, .913 SV%

It could be a coin flip between Korpisalo, 22, and Anton Forsberg, 22, for who might play for Columbus this season. Korpisalo likely will get the call based on his NHL experience when Sergei Bobrovsky was injured last season.

"There's still development [with Korpisalo]. We got a bigger sample of him than we thought we would," Columbus coach John Tortorella said.

Tortorella was impressed with Korpisalo's unflappable nature even when the Blue Jackets struggled around him.

Forsberg was 1-3-0 with the Blue Jackets but took over for Korpisalo in the Calder Cup Playoffs and went 9-0 to help Lake Erie win the title. Though Korpisalo (6-3, 182) may have the inside track, he and Forsberg (6-3, 191) will have to unseat veteran Curtis McElhinney in order to be Bobrovsky's backup.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

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