Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Columbus Blue Jackets Prospects
Facing the prospect of losing star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and star forward Artemi Panarin in free agency, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen opted to go all-in at the trade deadline. He acquired Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kincaid at the deadline, giving up a ton of prospects and future draft picks. It was enough to get the Blue Jackets into the playoffs, and even upset the heavily favoured Tampa Bay Lightning in a shocking four-game sweep. However, it was not enough to truly compete for the Stanley Cup, as the Jackets fell in the second round to the Boston Bruins.
The off-season went predictably for the Blue Jackets. All of the high-profile free agents joined new teams. Team president John Davidson also left, joining the New York Rangers. The team made one big free-agent signing of their own, adding forward Gustav Nyquist. Overall though, the team suffered a net-loss in talent this off-season, and so they will turn to what remains in their prospect system to try and pick up some of the slack over the next few years.
2019 Draft Picks (Grade F): Eric Hjorth, Dmitri Voronkov, Tyler Angle
Graduations: Elvis Merzlikins (age)
Top Prospect: Alexandre Texier
Centre — shoots Left
Born September 13th, 1999 — Grenoble, France
Height 6’0″ — Weight 194 lbs [183 cm/88 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2nd round, #45 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Texier played a second season for Kalpa in the SM-Liiga and broke out offensively. He put up 14 goals and 41 points in 55 games. He also added a goal and three points in four games at the Spengler Cup, helping the team win the tournament. Following the Finnish season, he came to North America. Texier put up one goal in two games with the Blue Jackets, along with two goals and an assist in eight playoff games.
Texier also played for the Cleveland Monsters in the AHL. He scored five goals and seven points in seven regular-season games but was scoreless in his only AHL playoff game. Texier also played for his country, he put up a goal and two assists in seven games at the Men’s World Championships.
Texier is very quick. His first step and acceleration are excellent and he has very good top speed. He can beat defenders wide and take the puck to the net. He also forces them to back off and this opens up passing lanes. Texier has good edgework and agility. He can change directions on a dime, and manoeuver around defenders. He has worked on his lower-body strength in recent years which has improved his balance and his ability to battle in the corners and out front of the opponent’s net. Texier is still maturing though and should get even stronger as he continues to develop.
Texier is a very good playmaker. His stickhandling is excellent. He can make plays in tight spaces as well as being able to make plays while moving at top speed. His quick movements open up passing lanes. Texier sees the ice extremely well and finds the open man. He can put a pass through tight areas and onto a teammate’s tape. He also has the poise and patience to slow down the play and wait for his teammates to get open.
Texier also has a heavy wrist shot and good release. However, he does not always use it enough. He could stand to shoot more often. He has gotten much better at getting to the dirty areas of the ice. Texier used to be criticized for playing too much of a perimeter game in his draft year. As he has gotten stronger and gained experience in tougher leagues he also has gotten better at going to the front of the net. Once there he can bang in rebounds and tip in point shots. He also is not afraid to forecheck opposing defenders and create turnovers. He battles hard for loose pucks along the wall as well. Texier’s increased strength and better balance have helped him to control the puck in the cycle game.
Texier’s defensive game has really improved in the past year. He has improved his positioning and defensive instincts. With more confidence in his game, he has played more aggressive. Texier is willing to support the defence down low, keeping opponents to the outside on the cycle game and cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He battles hard and creates turnovers, which he can quickly transition into offensive opportunities.
Texier is likely to make the jump to the NHL and play for the Blue Jackets this season. There is room amongst the forward group and he made a strong impression on John Tortorella and the coaching staff last year. He might need some time to adjust to the league and things could be up and down at first, but he should eventually be a full-time top-six forward for the Blue Jackets.
Prospect #2: Emil Bemstrom
Center/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born June 1st, 1999 — Nyköping, Sweden
Height 5’10” — Weight 190 lbs [178 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 4th round, #117 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Bemstrom had an excellent season for Djurgardens in the SHL, scoring 23 goals and 35 points 47 games. He won the awards for Best SHL Junior Player and SHL Rookie of the year. Bemstrom led the entire league in goals and power-play goals. He also led junior-aged players in the league in points. With five goals and 10 points in 19 playoff games, he helped Djurgardens reach the SHL Final. Bemstrom also scored three goals in six games in the Championships Hockey League. He played for Sweden at the World Juniors, scoring four goals and six points in five games and being named a top-three player on the team.
Bemstrom is an impressive skater. He has good top-end speed and very good acceleration allowing him to reach that speed quickly. He has excellent edgework and agility. This allows him to maneuver through traffic both with and without the puck. His lack of size and strength can get a bit exposed at times playing against men though. Bemstrom will need to improve his lower-body strength in order to avoid getting knocked off the puck and to win more battles along the boards and in front of the net.
Bemstrom is a natural goal scorer, who can score in a variety of ways. He has a good arsenal of shots as he is effective with his wrist shot, snapshot, and backhand. His quick hands and his quick, deceptive release with these shots allow him to change angles and fool goaltenders. Bemstrom gets to the front of the net, but can also score from further out. His quick hand-eye coordination helps him to pounce on rebounds and score goals on deflections. He is not afraid to get to the front of the net and create havoc for opposing teams.
Bemstrom is a good stick-handler who can make plays while moving at top speed. This makes him dangerous off the rush. He can take a defender wide and get to the front of the net. He is very much a shoot-first player though. Bemstrom can be even more dynamic if he can vary his game up a bit more and use his linemates more effectively. This would keep defenders guessing and give him more room to get his shot off as well.
Bemstrom is a responsible defensive forward who works hard in his own end of the ice. His positioning and commitment to defensive play are both strong. He reads the play well, anticipating passes and breaking them up. When a turnover is created, he quickly transitions the puck up the ice and helps to create scoring chances. However, this is another area where Bemstrom needs to get stronger. This would help him to control the opponent’s cycle game.
Bemstrom has signed with Columbus and is expected in training camp this year. With all the turnover in the Blue Jackets forward group, he has a real chance to make the team. If he does need more time, he could be sent back to Djurgardens rather than the AHL. This makes things more completed and it is unlikely he would be available to be called up during the SHL season. As the European season ends earlier, this would mean that he would be gone until March or April. With this in mind, he will be given every opportunity to prove his worth. Bemstrom seems to be more of a winger than a centre at the next level.
Prospect #3: Liam Foudy
Centre — shoots Left
Born February 4th, 2000 — Scarborough, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 182 lbs [185 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 1st round, #18 overall, at the 2018 NHL Draft
Foudy saw a lot more ice time with the London Knights in his post-draft season and the offensive production followed. He scored 36 goals and 32 assists for 68 points in 62 games. He also added six goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games but the Knights fell in the second round of the OHL playoffs. Foudy joined the Cleveland Monsters for the AHL playoffs, scoring two goals in eight playoff games.
Foudy is an elite skater, amongst the best in the OHL. He is incredibly fast, and reaches top speed quickly, with very good acceleration. Foudy’s ability to change speeds is a weapon in one-on-one situations. He can beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. As they back off to defend him, it opens up passing and shooting lanes. Foudy also has excellent edgework and agility. He can change directions on a dime. His stride is powerful, and Foudy has good balance. He is strong on the puck and wins battles along the boards and in front of the net.
Foudy has a decent arsenal of shots. His wrist shot is good and has a decent release. It continues to improve each season and should continue to get better as he adds more upper body strength. His snapshot is also very effective. Foudy scores most of his goals in tight to the net. He has the speed to generate breakaways, and the soft hands to beat goaltenders in that situation. He has worked harder to get to the net without the puck this past season. While he has always been willing to take the puck to the net, he is now creating issues and taking the physical pounding needed to create offence without the puck. This past season he was able to bang in rebounds and bury short passes in tight to the net.
Foudy is strong on the cycle as he protects the puck well, and has good balance. With good stickhandling, Foudy is willing to try to weave past a defender or make a quick move to open up a passing lane. Once a play is available he has the skill to make passes through tight areas. Foudy has games where he is dominant. He can be dangerous on every shift, and look like the best player on the ice. He also has games where he is near invisible and does not create much. These seemed to be fewer this past season. However, still could work on being more consistent game-in and game-out.
Foudy’s speed helps him in the defensive end. He can create turnovers and quickly transition to offence. He has worked on being more physical and supporting the defence down low on the backcheck but will need to get stronger to keep doing so at the next level. Foudy also needs to work on his faceoffs if he is going to play centre at the next level.
Foudy is likely headed back to London this season. He should get more ice-time on a Knights team that will once again be an OHL Championship Contender. Foudy will also be given an opportunity to compete for a spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors. He is at least a year or two away from challenging for a spot in Columbus.
Prospect #4: Vladislav Gavrikov
Defence — shoots Left
Born November 21st, 1995 — Yaroslavl, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 6th round, #159 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Gavrikov put up 20 points in 60 games for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. He also added one goal in 18 playoff games. Gavrikov was a KHL all-star and led the league in plus/minus. At the end of the season, he signed with the Blue Jackets, playing two playoff games. He was also part of Team Russia at the World Championships, winning a bronze medal.
Gavrikov is a good skater for his size. He has decent top-end speed, a good first step, and above-average acceleration. More importantly, his backwards skating is as strong as his forward movement, allowing him to play the shutdown style of defensive game that he is known for. Gavrikov also has good edgework and pivots which allow him to keep the play in front of him and cover a lot of ice. His balance and lower body strength give Gavrikov the ability to win board battles.
Gavrikov is more known for his work in the defensive end than for his offensive game. However, he has shown some ability to add a little bit of offence in recent years. He has a decent first pass out of his zone and his slap shot is average. He has also improved his passing skills in the offensive zone, controlling plays at the blue line and finding open teammates. However, he is still a stay at home type of defender, who does not join the rush often and is not one to pinch a lot at the blue line.
Gavrikov is more valued for his defensive contributions than for any kind of offence he puts up. Over his KHL career, he began to take a few more chances with SKA than he has in the past though and made more plays at the offensive blueline. It remains to be seen if this will continue and translate when he comes to North America.
Gavrikov has excellent size and is not afraid to use it. He plays a very physical game, standing up zone entries at the line, punishing opponents who try to go wide on him, throwing plenty of hits in the corners, and clearing the front of the net. He plays an excellent positional defence, maintaining good gap control and forcing attackers to the outside and away from key danger areas in his zone. Gavrikov is also a willing shot-blocker who is not afraid to get into shooting lanes and uses his long stick to cut down on passing lanes.
Gavrikov has proven to be particularly strong in the penalty kill. Adding muscle since his draft year is a big reason why he was so much better in board battles and clearing the net now.
Gavrikov looks like he is NHL ready and will compete for a spot on the Blue Jackets blue line this fall. With Zach Werenski (once signed), and Ryan Murray being seen as locks on the left side of the defence, he will compete with Scott Harrington and Gabriel Carlsson for the remaining spot on the Blue Jackets blue line.
Prospect #5: Veini Vehvilainen
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born February 13th, 1997 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 183 lbs [185 cm/83 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 6th round, #173 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Vehvilainen has been dominant with Karpat in the Finnish Liiga. In 38 games, he put up a 1.58 goals-against-average and .933 save percentage, leading the league in both categories. He also won the award for best goalie in the league. Vehvilainen was even better in the playoffs, with a 1.47 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage. Karpat went to the finals, finishing second. He also played one game for Finland at the World Championships as part of the gold-medal-winning roster.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At just 6-foot-1, Vehvilainen does not have the type of ideal size that teams are looking for in their current goaltending prospects. However, he makes up for it with very impressive athleticism. His willingness to get out to the top of the crease and beyond to cut down angles also helps make the most of his frame. Vehvilainen’s legs are lightning quick, effectively taking away the bottom of the net. He also has a very good glove and blocker, taking away the top of the net. His side-to-side movement is also very quick, however, Vehvilainen will need to correct a tendency to overslide past where he should from time to time.
Vehvilainen has an excellent butterfly technique. He gets up and down quickly and efficiently. He also does a good job of keeping his arms in good position, blocking out the holes between his arm and body. His rebound control is also advanced for his age but can continue to improve.
Vehvilainen has shown the ability to deal with both a heavy and light workload. He is just as good facing long periods of inactivity and then being asked to make a big save as he is when facing a barrage of shots. One shows his ability to keep himself sharp during the long periods of inactivity and the other shows his ability to battle through adversity. Both will be important going forward and show that Vehvilainen has the maturity necessary to make the jump to North America.
Vehvilainen has now signed an entry-level deal with the Blue Jackets and heads to camp for his first campaign on North American ice. It is assumed that Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will take control of the Blue Jackets net now that Bobrovsky is in Florida. However, Vehvilainen does have a dark horse chance at pushing for the role. Both he and Merzlikins will need to adjust to the new angles faced on North American-sized ice. The quickest to make that adjustment might have the upper hand in this competition. Even if Vehvilainen ends up in Cleveland, he could see a callup if injuries hit or if either NHL goalie struggles for an extended period.
Prospect #6: Gabriel Carlsson
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 2nd, 1997 — Orebro, Sweden
Height 6’5″ — Weight 192 lbs [196 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 1st round, #29 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Carlsson spent his second full season in North America last year. He put up two goals and 12 points in 67 games for the Cleveland Monsters. He added three assists in eight playoff games. Carlsson also got in one NHL game with the Jackets.
Carlsson is a good skater for his size. He has a long stride and generates above-average speed and acceleration. Carlsson has good balance and can be tough to knock off the puck at times but struggles against particularly big and strong opponents. He can still add more lower-body strength to improve in this area. He also has decent agility, pivots, and edgework which combined with his good backwards skating speed makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations.
Offensively, what you see is what you get with Carlsson. He does not handle the puck much, preferring to move it quickly to a teammate rather than skate it up the ice. He has good passing skills and can make a good first pass on the breakout, or the long breakaway pass to a streaking teammate. Carlsson is very much a stay at home defender though. He does not even join the rush as a trailer very often. Carlsson has a decent slapshot when he gets the chance to unleash it, but lacks instinct in the offensive zone to create opportunities.
The best part of Carlsson’s game is his play in his own end of the rink. He has excellent positioning and his hockey IQ is very high. He anticipates plays well, cutting down passing lanes with a long stick and creating transitions with a good first pass. Carlsson’s big body is an asset as he is willing to play a physical game, throwing hits, fighting for loose pucks, as well as clearing the front of the net. He can still add more muscle to that frame to improve this area.
He battles hard every shift and is willing to do whatever it takes to win games. He doesn’t throw a lot of big hits but is very involved in the dirty areas of the ice and is willing to take a hit to make a play. Carlsson is more than willing to put his body on the line and block shots. He is also very good on the penalty kill. His big frame and long stick really cut down on options for the attacking team.
Carlsson will head to camp looking to make the Blue Jackets. He is likely battling things out with Gavrikov, Harrington and Dean Kukan for what are likely two open spots on the blue line, one in the top-six and one in the press box. Carlsson’s time is now. He should make the team out of camp and solidify his role. Even if things don’t go well and he ends up in Cleveland, expect him to be a quick call-up.
Prospect #7: Andrew Peeke
Defence — shoots Right
Born March 17th, 1998 — Parkland, Florida
Height 6’3″ — Weight 200 lbs [191 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #34 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Peeke had another strong season with Notre Dame. He put up three goals and 24 points in 40 games. Peeke helped the Irish to the Big-10 Championship and was named part of the conference’s all-tournament team. Following the season, he turned pro, signing an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets
Peeke has good straight-line speed. He also has a quick first step and good acceleration. This is true in both directions and helps him to play a two-way game. He needs a bit of work on his edgework and agility, however. He can sometimes struggle to contain quick forwards who force him to move laterally. Peeke is strong on his skates. He battles well in front of the net and along the boards, as well as being strong on the puck.
While Peeke is known for his defensive game, there is a bit of offensive ability in him as well. He makes a good first pass out of the zone and starts the transition. He can also be effective at keeping the puck moving at the offensive blueline. Peeke is not one to lead the rush but he does get back in his own zone, retrieve loose pucks and skate them out of danger. He has worked to improve his wrist shot and slap shot throughout his college career. While they aren’t elite, they are above average.
Peeke has excellent size and uses it to play a strong defensive game. He is willing to be physical along the boards and in front of the net. Peeke can also throw big hits, and punish forwards who attack his side of the ice with their head down. He shows good positioning, as well as the willingness to block shots. Peeke uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes and is strong on the penalty kill.
Peeke is just 21-years-old and ready to make his pro debut. He will join the Blue Jackets for training camp. It is likely that he heads to Cleveland and starts his pro career in the AHL, adjusting to the bigger and stronger opponents he will face in the pro game.
Prospect #8: Kirill Marchenko
Right Wing/Left Wing — shoots Right
Born July 21st, 2000 — Barnaul, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 187 lbs [191 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #49 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Marchenko, who is part of the St. Petersburg system, played just one KHL game this past season, splitting the year between the VHL and MHL clubs. Playing against teenagers in the MHL, he put up eight goals and 23 points in 20 games, as well as four goals and six points in nine playoff games. Marchenko was named to the MHL all-star game. In the VHL, playing against men, things didn’t go quite as well with Marchenko limited to just two goals and one assist in 23 regular-season games and held scoreless in three playoff games. He also scored one goal in seven games at the World Juniors, winning a bronze medal.
Marchenko is a strong skater. He has very good top-end speed but could get a little quicker with his first step and acceleration. Marchenko has very good agility and strong edgework. He makes quick cuts and can weave in and out of traffic with ease. He is dangerous one-on-one with a defender, especially when working off the rush. He does well with his lower-body strength and balance against junior-aged opponents, but he will need to add weight and muscle to improve these areas before getting up to the pro game.
Marchenko has good hands. He can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. When defenders back off to protect against his speed and skill, he can take advantage of the passing lanes that are opened up, finding teammates with tape-to-tape passes. He is a creative player looking to get by defenders one-on-one and create plays that way as well. Marchenko is more a goal scorer than a playmaker. His shot is accurate and features a good release, but is only average in terms of power. Most of his goals come in close to the net.
Marchenko has good size but does not always use it effectively. He could stand to be more aggressive in battling for pucks in the corners. He also needs to be better at establishing his position in front of the net and creating havoc. With the puck, Marchenko is willing to attack the dirty areas of the ice, cutting to the net, and trying to make plays in tight. However, without the puck, he doesn’t always work hard enough, or aggressively enough to get it back.
Marchenko’s defensive game is also a bit of a work in progress. He again seems to shy away from the physical aspects of the game. He is good at getting his stick into passing lanes and intercepting passes, or poke check an opponent and take off in the other direction. When this works, he transitions quickly to offence. However, if it does not work, Marchenko can get caught out of position. He will need to learn how to pick his spots as he moves up to the pro game.
Not yet signed with the Blue Jackets, Marchenko is likely to be back in the St. Petersburg system this season. He will need to start making an impact in the VHL this year, learning to score against bigger and stronger competition in a men’s league before he can take the step of producing at the KHL and NHL levels. At just 19, he has a few years of development ahead.
Prospect #9: Daniil Tarasov
Goaltender — shoots Left – catches Left
Born March 27th, 1999 — Novokuznetsk, Russia
Height 6’5″ — Weight 185 lbs [196 cm/84 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 3rd round, #86 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Tarasov played just two games for Salavat Yulaev in the KHL, putting up a 2.86 goals-against-average and .917 save percentage. He spent most of his season with Toros Neftekamsk in the VHL, playing 25 games with a 1.71 goals-against-average and .928 save percentage. Tarasov was named the VHL Rookie of the year. He also played for Russia’s Under 20 team, appearing in three games in the Canada-Russia Super Series and three games at the World Juniors, winning a bronze medal.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-5, Tarasov has excellent size. He takes up a ton of net and gives shooters little room to shoot at. He takes advantage of this by getting far out of his net to cut down angles. With his strong backwards movement, he is able to get back to his net and avoid being deked when cutting down those angles. He also has a strong lateral push and gets side-to-side quickly. Tarasov is also very athletic. When he does get caught out of position he can recover quickly and make highlight-reel saves. When down in his butterfly, Tarasov’s long and powerful legs take away the bottom of the net effectively.
Tarasov needs to continue to work on his rebound control. This is a common issue of many young goaltenders though and could be something that improves with time. He also needs to be better with his glove hand. Like many tall goaltenders, his five-hole can often be an issue. These are all little things that can be improved with work and good coaching. Considering that Tarasov is still just 20-years-old and missed the entire 2016-17 season with a leg injury, he has plenty of time to iron out these wrinkles in his game.
Tarasov does a good job of staying cool and composed in his net. When he gives up rebounds, he continues to fight his way back into position to make the next save. He never gives up on a play. His cool, calm demeanour shines through even when under heavy pressure. When a goal does go in, Tarasov does a good job of preparing to make the next save.
The Blue Jackets recently signed Tarasov to an entry-level contract. They have opted to loan him back Europe and he will play for Assat Pori in the Finnish SM Liiga next season. Tarasov will finally get some experience against quality shooters in Finland’s top men’s league. Like many goaltenders, he is a long-term project and is three to four years away from seriously contending for a starting job in the NHL.
Prospect #10: Kevin Stenlund
Centre — shoots Right
Born September 20th, 1996 — Huddinge, Sweden
Height 6’4″ — Weight 210 lbs [193 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Stenlund put up 15 goals and 25 points in 59 games in his first full season in North America, playing for the Cleveland Monsters in the AHL. He also added one goal in five playoff games. Stenlund even made his NHL debut but was held scoreless in four games.
A big centre, Stenlund’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. His speed and acceleration can be improved. He could clean up his footwork and initial strides. Stenlund has good agility and edgework for a big man. He changes directions quickly and makes good cuts. His strong lower body and good balance is a real asset in controlling the puck down low and playing the cycle game.
Stenlund uses his size and stickhandling ability to control the puck down low. He wins battles on the boards and gets to the front of the net. He is also a very smart player, keeping the puck moving effectively, and finding open spaces in the defence. Stenlund has very good vision as well as the skill to make these passes to open areas. He can score more if he can improve the power on his wrist shot as he has a strong release.
Stenlund backchecks hard and supports the defence down low. He uses his size effectively to contain the cycle game. He also uses his long stick and good positioning to cut down passing lanes. Stenlund is not afraid to block shots. When a turnover is created, he is able to transition the puck quickly to offence.
Stenlund should spend another season with the Monsters in the AHL. He will likely need a year before he is NHL ready. There is not a whole lot of offensive upside here, but he could be an effective third or fourth-line centre with the right development. He could see more NHL time this season as an injury call-up if the Jackets need help.
Sleeper Prospect: Trey Fix-Wolansky
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 26th, 1999 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 5’7″ — Weight 188 lbs [170 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 7th round, #204 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
The captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Fix-Wolansky scored 37 goals and 65 assists for 102 points in 65 games last season. It was enough to earn him a nod on the WHL’s Eastern Conference First All-Star Team. He also scored six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff games. After being eliminated from the playoffs, Fix-Wolansky joined the Cleveland Monsters, putting up two points in three games.
Fix-Wolansky is an undersized winger with excellent skating skills. His first step and his acceleration are very good and he reaches his top-end speed very quickly. That top-end speed is very good and helps him to be dangerous on the rush. A low centre of gravity helps Fix-Wolansky to be strong on the puck and good at digging for loose pucks along the boards and in front of the net. His edgework and agility are also very good and allow him to manoeuvre through traffic both with and without the puck.
Despite his lack of size, Fix-Wolansky is willing to play a gritty game. He gets to the dirty areas of the ice both with and without the puck. He has good hand-eye coordination and is able to tip-in pucks and bang in rebounds. From further out, Fix-Wolansky can finish plays with an accurate wrist shot and good release. He manages to find the soft spots in the defence without the puck, setting himself up for a one-timer.
Fix-Wolansky protects the puck well and his quick hands help him to make plays while moving at top speed. Fix-Wolansky is also able to make plays with the puck in traffic. He sees the ice well and can find seams to put a pass through and set up a scoring chance. His quick hands help him to change angles and create those seams to set up scoring chances. He can play a variety of roles on the power-play including controlling the play on the half-boards.
Fix-Wolansky’s lack of size becomes a liability in the defensive zone. He is willing to help out on the backcheck but has trouble containing bigger opponents in the cycle game. He also has problems clearing the front of the net. Fix-Wolansky reads the play well though and has strong positioning to cut down passing lanes.
Fix-Wolansky leaves junior hockey behind and heads full time into the pro game this season. He should see time in Cleveland where the Blue Jackets hope that he can prove that he can overcome his lack of size and continue to be productive offensively against pro players. Even if things go according to plan, he is likely a couple of years away from being ready for a full-time NHL role.
Following the trades made at last year’s deadline, and the lack of picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, the reality is that the Blue Jackets have one of the weaker systems in the NHL right now. Goaltending is in good shape with Vehvilainen and Tarasov. They also have Matiss Kivlenieks further down the depth chart. However, there is a lack of quality depth in terms of skaters. There is a real drop off in this area beyond the top four prospects profiled above.
There are a number of good names still in the system, such as Paul Bittner, Kole Sherwood, and Ryan MacInnis still in the system as forward prospects, but there are serious questions if they will ever make an NHL impact. Other forwards to watch include Kale Howarth, Calvin Thurkauf, Maxime Fortier, Marcus Karlberg, Carson Meyer, and Eric Robinson. On the blue line, the Jackets also have Eric Hjorth, Tim Berni, Ryan Collins, and Michael Prapavessis.