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Columbus hopes kids help end Playoff drought

by Dan Rosen
While in Atlanta celebrating All-Star Weekend, Rick Nash was talking to about how the honeymoon period in Columbus was over.

The Blue Jackets' winger meant it was time for Columbus to show some growth by making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

"I think it's really close, but the fans are kind of getting antsy," Nash said at the time. "They want to see us make the playoffs, and we want to make the playoffs. We have to start showing up with results."

Well, Columbus fell 11 points shy of a playoff berth this past season, but the future has never looked brighter for the franchise that will celebrate its eighth birthday when the season opens in October.

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told the organizational strengths are at the wings and in net, but the defense has been getting better. Howson still feels the team lacks depth at center, both in Columbus and in the system, but he's working on it.

Here's a look at Columbus' top prospects broken down by position.


Derick Brassard -- Brassard was drafted No. 6 overall in 2006 and made his NHL debut this past season. He played in 17 games from Jan. 11-Feb. 17, posting one goal, an assist and a minus-4 rating.

Brassard, though, was coming off an eight-week stint on the injured list after breaking his jaw in November while playing for Syracuse of the AHL.

"He got his feet wet, but he wasn't strong enough," Howson said. "The injury set him back so we decided to put him back in Syracuse for the rest of the year and he was really good in Syracuse in February, March and April. He had a good playoffs."

Brassard finished the AHL regular season with 51 points in 42 games. He added another 13 points in 13 playoff games. When he was healthy for the entire 2005-06 QMJHL season, Brassard scored 116 points in 58 games.

He's known as a versatile two-way center who skates well and can really move the puck. Brassard likely needs to add a bit more weight to his 6-foot-1 frame. He played this past season around 180 pounds.

"He's another young player that sees the ice real well and he plays a position we're really weak at," Howson said. "He's going make a push to play for us this year."


Nikita Filatov -- The Jackets selected the 18-year-old Russian with the No. 6 overall pick in the Entry Draft in June. He was so highly regarded by the NHL's Central Scouting Department that he was the No. 1 European prospect.

It's possible that Filatov, who is 5-10 and 170 pounds, will make the Blue Jackets' roster at training camp. If he doesn't, he could either go to Syracuse or possibly to a Canadian major junior team for a season.

Filatov had 66 points in 34 games in the Russian junior league last season. He captained the Russians to the silver medal at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships and led Russia with nine points in seven games at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

"He's a dynamic offensive player with a high skill level and great passion for the game," Howson said. "You can see that how he plays. He has excelled in the last two or three years in all the international competitions against older players. We hope he's going to be a real good offensive player in the NHL."

Tommy Sestito -- The former third-round pick (No. 85) in 2006 had a successful rookie season in Syracuse and also made his NHL debut, playing in one game for the Blue Jackets.

Sestito, who is 6-9 and 210 pounds, finished the AHL season with 26 points and 202 penalty minutes in 66 regular-season games. He had three goals in nine Calder Cup playoff games.

"Tommy is a big, strong man and he's just figuring out what he needs to do to be a pro, both mentally and physically," Howson said. "He spent the year in Syracuse and he's one of the ones in Columbus that got in there early this summer and is committed to training hard. Jared Boll did it last year and that gave him great results. Tommy is a very good prospect."

Maxim Mayorov -- He was Columbus' fourth-round pick (No. 94) in 2007 and Howson said the Russian winger has expressed interest in coming to North America this season. Whether he does remains to be seen, but Mayorov's ice time was limited in Russia last season while playing for AK Bars, one of the top teams in Europe. He had only one goal in 11 games.

"Once we get him acclimated, he has a pretty good skill set and is a great skater with great size," Howson said. "He was very highly rated (at the draft) last year and he fell because of the Russian factor."


Jakub Voracek -- Voracek had 33 goals and 68 assists for 101 points in 53 games this past season. He added another 18 points in the postseason. He finished the 2006-07 season with 23 goals and 63 assists in 59 games, plus 24 points in 17 playoff games.

Voracek, who is 6-1 and 187 pounds, improved his rating by plus-28 from his first junior season to his second (minus-7 in '06-07 to plus-21 in '07-08). He also had six assists and was a plus-4 over six games in the 2008 World Junior Championships.

"He's getting stronger," said Paul Castron, the Jackets' director of amateur scouting. "He's 6-2 now and 202 pounds, so he's put on some good weight and that will help him this fall when he comes to camp. He needed strength and he's going to need even more to play 82 games in the NHL."

Stefan Legein -- The Jackets second-round pick in 2007 is another prospect turning pro. It's likely that Legein ends up in Syracuse, where he played in two AHL playoff games this past spring, but Howson likes his tenacity and grit.

Legein played his first three OHL seasons with the Mississauga Ice Dogs and scored a career-high 43 goals and 75 points in 2006-07. The franchise moved to Niagara for the 2007-008 season, and Legein wound up with 37 points in 30 games. He suffered an injury during the World Junior Championships that set him back.

Legein's feistiness showed in his penalty minutes as he finished his junior career with 333 in 202 games. He had 18 points and 28 penalty minutes in 10 OHL playoff games this past season.

"I think he's got to go down to Syracuse and earn his stripes down there," Castron said. "He has to be the type of player that he was in junior. You never say never, but he is a feisty player, a competitive kid that brings a lot of energy every night and he has good skill. He can really shoot puck and he has a great release."


Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 80
(13th West/25th NHL)
Change from 2006-07 +7
Home Points 47
(12th West/20th NHL)
Away Points 33
(14th West/28th NHL)
Derek Dorsett -- Dorsett is much like Legein in that he's a feisty, in-your-face winger who teams despise playing against. He suffered a leg injury during training camp that cost him part of the AHL season, but he returned with ferocity.

Dorsett, a seventh-round pick (No. 189) in 2006, piled up 289 penalty minutes in 64 games for the Crunch this past season. He had 56 more over 12 Calder Cup playoff games. Oh, by the way, Dorsett, who played in junior hockey for the Medicine Hat Tigers, also had 18 points and a plus-5 rating during the regular season.

"He's going to challenge," Howson said. "He's a feisty, competitive player."

Adam Pineault -- Pineault has played the last two seasons for Syracuse, but made his NHL debut this past April, playing in the final three games of the season for the Jackets. He was a minus-2 and averaged a little over 10 minutes per game.

Pineault, Columbus' second-round pick (No. 46) in 2004, put together a fine season at Syracuse with 21 goals and 27 assists in 74 games. He is 22 and signed through next season.


Teddy Ruth -- Ruth, a second-round pick (No. 46) by Washington in 2007, was acquired by the Jackets in the deadline-day in the deal that sent Sergei Fedorov to the Capitals. Ruth currently plays for Notre Dame, but he has given the Jackets some organizational depth on defense, which Howson believes they still lack.

Ruth was a plus-13 with five points in 42 games for the Irish this past season. He is a graduate of the United States National Development Team Program.

"He's a big, physical kid," said Tyler Wright, the Jackets' development coach. "He came in here for just the first couple of days of development camp and he was first in the fitness testing. This is a kid that understands the commitment that you have to have to get to the next step. These are the kids that find a way to win and find a way to play in the NHL. I am really excited about him."

Ben Wright -- A rising member of the 2006 Draft class, Wright was arguably the best defenseman for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL this past season. He is expected to join the Crunch this coming season.

Wright, a fourth-round selection (No. 113) who is known as a smart and steady blue-liner, had 38 points on four goals and 34 assists as well as a plus-15 rating in 69 games. Wright also had 10 points and a plus-12 rating in 19 WHL playoff games.

Will Weber -- Weber is just one season removed from playing high school hockey in Michigan, so he is a long ways away from pulling on a Blue Jackets sweater.

Weber was a second-round pick (No. 53) in 2007. He played for the Chicago Steel of the USHL this past season and is heading to Miami of Ohio this coming fall to begin his NCAA career. He's 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds.


Steve Mason -- Mason, the Blue Jackets' first third-round pick (No. 69) in 2006, is turning pro after putting together a memorable season in juniors.

The 6-foot-3 netminder, who is 20, led Team Canada to the gold medal in the 2008 World Junior Championships with a 1.19 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage.

During the tournament he was traded from the London Knights to Kitchener, and the move was a boom for the Rangers, who rode Mason to a 13-3 record in his 16 appearances.

Mason, who was summoned to Columbus on an emergency basis in January, was also 5-0 in the OHL playoffs before knee surgery ended his 2007-08 season prematurely. Kitchener won the OHL title and lost to Spokane in the Memorial Cup.

He's seen as a future No. 1 goalie in the NHL because of his excellent poise, positioning and maturity. Though it's likely Mason will start the season in Syracuse, Howson won't rule out the possibility that Mason makes the Jackets out of camp.

"I can see him getting NHL games next year, but we want him to play a lot," Howson said. "Whether it's in Columbus or Syracuse, he's going to play a lot. Goalies traditionally take longer so it wouldn't hurt him if he played in Syracuse, but some people are special athletes and I'm not going to say no to anything at this point."

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