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31 in 31

Top prospects for Columbus Blue Jackets

Dubois, No. 3 pick in 2016 Draft, could be in line for promotion

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Columbus Blue Jackets got an expected excellent season from rookie defenseman Zach Werenski and unexpectedly solid seasons from two unheralded first-year players, defenseman Markus Nutivaara and forward Lukas Sedlak, in 2016-17.

 

[COLUMBUS 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

It bodes well that the Blue Jackets won't have to rush future prospects to the NHL, and that there are enough quality players in the system they can use in a trade. Goaltender prospect Anton Forsberg was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with forward Brandon Saad and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on June 23 for left wing Artemi Panarin, forward Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

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

 
1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, C

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

Last season: Cape Breton (QMJHL): 20 GP, 6-12-18; Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL): 28 GP, 15-22-37

Two seasons ago, Dubois (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) made the switch from wing to center and could be ready to replace William Karlsson, who the Blue Jackets lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21.

"To make the team, you have to make your way in whether it's -- I don't want to be mean, by pushing somebody out -- but you have to make your place," said Dubois, 19. "It's really fun to see the team you're drafted to win and be doing well. It makes me more motivated to make the team this year."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

2. Gabriel Carlsson, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 29 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Columbus: 2 GP, 0-1-1; Stanley Cup Playoffs: 5 GP, 0-0-0; Cleveland (AHL): 3 GP, 0-1-1; Linkoping (SHL): 40 GP, 2-2-4

Carlsson (6-4, 191) played briefly for Cleveland in the American Hockey League before getting called up to Columbus at the end of the season. The 20-year-old played all five games in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It happened quick. Quicker than I thought," Carlsson said. "I just tried to come up (to Columbus) and enjoy it. It gives me a lot of confidence. I kind of know what everything is about now."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

3. Vitaly Abramov, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 65 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Cleveland (AHL): 4 GP, 1-3-4; Gatineau (QMJHL): 66 GP, 46-58-104

Abramov (5-10, 181) was the MVP and leading scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. If the 19-year-old does not make the Blue Jackets this season, he must return to juniors, where he had 197 points (84 goals, 113 assists) in 129 games the past two seasons.

"If he has to go back, it's part of our job to keep him in the right framework and not get into bad habits," Blue Jackets development coach Chris Clark said. "He's fun to watch. He's a player that it won't hurt him to go there. Might as well win the (scoring) title two years in a row."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: 31 in 31: Columbus Blue Jackets 2017-18 preview

 

4. Sam Vigneault, C

How acquired: Signed as free agent to entry-level contract March 16

Last season: Cleveland (AHL): 16 GP, 1-4-5; Clarkson (NCAA): 39 GP, 12-24-36

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen sees Vigneault, who turns 22 on Sept. 7, as a thoroughbred because of his size (6-2, 202) and skills.

"He's a big horse," Kekalainen said.

Kekalainen said three players who aren't full-time centers in the NHL could compete to replace Karlsson, mentioning Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Dubois before adding, "Sam Vigneault could easily be a dark horse that can challenge."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

 

5. Sonny Milano, LW

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

Last season: Columbus: 4 GP, 0-0-0; Cleveland (AHL): 63 GP, 18-29-47

The time is now for Milano, 21, who has yet to earn a full-time role in the League and is entering his third full professional season.

Milano (6-2, 197) has often been the subject of trade rumors and a strong season in Cleveland could mean either a call-up or being moved as part of an impact deal, which ultimately may be his biggest contribution to the Blue Jackets.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: Sonny Milano spins and whips an incredible backhand

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