The Columbus Blue Jackets have made the playoffs six times in 22 years and have just one playoff series win – the miracle four-game sweep over Tampa Bay in 2019. Since then, they’ve fallen down to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, with not much notable to cheer about. But better days are ahead. The team signed Johnny Gaudreau last summer, and youngsters Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko, among others, made their mark as rookies last year.
And then it happened: they selected Adam Fantilli with the third overall pick this year.
With all due respect to Rick Nash, who was electric during his time in Columbus, Fantilli might be the closest the team has ever had to drafting a true star. In most other years, Fantilli would have been a No. 1 prospect. Unfortunately, Connor Bedard had different plans this year.
The Blue Jackets have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, and adding Fantilli and Gavin Brindley only helped. It’ll be hard to be as bad as they were in 2022-23 as long as the team stays healthy, but they’re still not a contender just yet. So, add another high-profile prospect next June, and see where this team can go.
If you’re a Blue Jackets fan, you’ve got to be thrilled right now. The sky isn’t falling anymore.
You could arguably say center depth, with Fantilli, Brindley and Luca Del Bel Belluz all being strong options. But with four defensemen in the top seven, few teams have the quality the Blue Jackets have on the back end. And that ignores Zach Werenski, Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov, three key pieces of the team’s current core, with Andrew Peeke and Adam Boqvist also providing value. The team’s defense corps is about to get much younger, but also more dynamic, too.
For all the scoring talent on the way, the team could use some left wingers. Gaudreau and Johnson are holding the fort for now, but the team’s missing a high-quality option in the pipeline. That’s why it’s safe to assume Dmitry Voronkov will play there once he finally gets a chance with the big club.
TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Adam Fantilli, C, 18 (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Drafted: No. 3, first round in 2023
The Blue Jackets should thank their lucky stars that the Anaheim Ducks elected to take Leo Carlsson this year. Fantilli dominated the University of Michigan this past season, notching an NCAA-leading 30 goals and 65 points in 36 games, earning him the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top collegiate player. Add in gold at the world juniors and World Championship with Canada and Fantilli had as dominant of a college freshman season as you could ask for. Fantilli will likely start the year on the second line, perhaps with fellow youngsters Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko. But it won’t be long until he’s the team’s No. 1 center.
2. David Jiricek, D, 19 (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Drafted: No. 6, first round in 2022
Jiricek looked like a creature among mortals last year, showing very few signs of weakness in his first season in North America. Jiricek put up an impressive 38 points in 55 games with Cleveland to lead all U-20 defensemen. The Blue Jackets added some strength on the back end with Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson, but Jiricek looks ready to challenge for a roster spot. The Blue Jackets are building something notable here, and Jiricek will be a huge part of the surge.
3. Denton Mateychuk, D, 19 (Moose Jaw, WHL)
Drafted: No. 12, first round in 2022
Jiricek wasn’t the only defenseman taken early by Columbus in 2022. Mateychuk has 129 points over the past two seasons with Moose Jaw and even served as the captain this past year. A quick-skating, smart blueliner, Mateychuk would be the top defensive prospect on many other teams. Instead, the Blue Jackets can play the patient game, but there’s no doubt he’ll stand out with Canada’s world junior team this winter.
4. Jordan Dumais, RW, 19 (Halifax, QMJHL)
Drafted: No. 96, third round in 2022
The only CHLer with more points than Dumais last year? Connor Bedard. The Halifax Mooseheads star had a whopping 54 goals and 140 points in 64 games and another 21 in the playoffs. He’s up to 278 points in 172 career games, which is just utterly ridiculous. He’s only 5-foot-9, which plays against him, but his offensive production in junior has been special. And, of course, Dumais could join a small list of NHLers to ever wear No. 69, his number with the Blue Jackets through development camp the past two years. Andrew Desjardins is the best player to wear that number, and Dumais can change that. Please stick with it, sir.
5. Gavin Brindley, C/RW, 18 (University of Michigan, NCAA)
Drafted: No. 34, second round in 2023
It was cool to see the Jackets snag Brindley, a close personal friend of Fantilli’s. Small but feisty, Brindley went under the radar in Michigan, largely due to Fantilli’s heroics. He’s as competitive as it comes, and he’s a solid straight-line skater, but there’s still some room to improve from an overall puck skill and hockey sense standpoint. Brindley is just 5-foot-9, but he isn’t afraid to play with a bit of an edge. Give him the right teammates and Brindley will have no issue succeeding.
6. Stanislav Svozil, D, 20 (Cleveland, AHL)
Drafted: No. 69, third round in 2021
Svozil had an eventful season, captaining Czechia to one of its best world junior performances in about 20 years. He also served as one of the key set-up men for Connor Bedard in Regina, with Svozil finishing his junior career with an incredible 67 assists and 78 points. He had points in both his NHL and AHL debuts, and finished the year with three pro games in three nights. Svozil is only down this low due to the team’s pure depth, because Svozil himself looks capable of being an NHLer before too long.
7. Corson Ceulemans, D, 20 (Cleveland, AHL)
Drafted: No. 25, first round in 2021
Ceulemans, like Kent Johnson, is another Canadian Junior A success story. The former Brooks Bandits star had no issue adjusting to life with the University of Wisconsin, where he posted 45 points over two years before getting his first taste of pro hockey to close out the season. Scouts describe him as being “toolsy,” capable of doing a bit of everything on the ice. A year in the AHL will be big for his development, especially with Jiricek set for full-time NHL duty.
8. Daniil Tarasov, G, 24 (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Drafted: No. 86, third round in 2017
This past year, Tarasov was a constant call-up for the Blue Jackets due to the team’s injury issues. He had a 4-11-1 record in 17 games, but generally gave the team a fighting chance. The 6-foot-5 goaltender has faced quite a few shots in his pro career, and the stats haven’t always been pretty, but neither has the defensive crops in front of him. Tarasov will be the backup this season, a big test after the departures of Joonas Korpisalo and Michael Hutchinson.
9. Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, 19 (Cleveland, AHL)
Drafted: No. 44, second round in 2022
The 19-year-old center struggled in his rookie OHL season and then missed all of 2020-21 due to COVID-19. But that lost time didn’t seem to slow Del Bel Belluz down, who had 30 goals and 76 points in his draft season. He upped the ante this year with 40 goals and 87 points between Mississauga and Sarnia. He was also one of the Sting’s best players in the postseason, with 15 points in 16 games. A solid two-way forward, Del Bel Belluz could challenge for third-line work down the line with a solid shot to boot.
10. Dmitry Voronkov, C/LW, 22 (Cleveland, AHL)
Drafted: No. 114, fourth round in 2019
After a breakthrough KHL campaign with Kazan, Voronkov is ready to make his North American pro debut this year. He’ll get some time in Cleveland before potentially fighting for bottom-six work down the road. Voronkov was given more opportunities in the KHL and developed into a solid goal-scorer, something that scouts were looking for ever since his draft year. A big, 6-foot-4 forward, Voronkov likely projects more as a winger in the NHL, especially with Columbus’ depth, but he’s flexible.
Other notables: William Whitelaw, C (18), Luca Pinelli, C (18), Andrew Strathmann, D (18), Sergei Ivanov, G (19), Jet Greaves, G (22), James Malatesta, LW (20), Hunter McKown, C (20), Samuel Knazko, D (20), Tyler Angle, C (22), Mikael Pyyhtia, C (21), Cameron Butler, RW (21), Ole Julian Bjorgvik Holm. D (21), Nolan Lalonde, G (19)
Previous 2023-24 NHL Prospect Pool instalments
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