It's been a busy offseason thus far for the Blue Jackets. In addition to the marquee events such as the draft and opening of free agency, there remains other business that has already been taken care of, with more moves to be made and events to take place before the puck is dropped on the 2013-2014 season. Without further ado, I offer you a collection of thoughts, finally put to paper. Or screen?
2013 NHL Entry Draft
The Jackets had seven picks going into the draft, but pulled off a minor deal, sliding down in the second round from 44th to 50th, picking up a third rounder in the process. That gave the Jackets eight total picks- three in the first round, and one each in rounds two, three, four, six and seven.
With their first pick, 14th overall, the Jackets took Alexander Wennberg. This kid is a safe bet to be a second-line contributor for many years. He's got the versatility to play any forward position, is defensively responsible, and very creative offensively. At 19th overall, the Jackets may have struck gold by drafting Kerby Rychel. Rychel's got NHL bloodlines, a sniper's touch, plays a physical brand of hockey and will drop the mitts when necessary. With two first round picks already in the stable, the Jackets used their third of ing round to get their guy in Marko Dano. Dano was a treat to watch at the 2013 World Juniors, and has the potential to be a high-scoring SOB in the NHL.
Though they traded down a few spots in the second round, Dillon Heatherington was there for the taking. Some had him ranked as a first rounder, and the Jackets were all too happy to add such a promising defender to the organization. An excellent value pick. With the third rounder added on draft day, the Jackets scooped up winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was fresh off a Memorial Cup appearance with Portland of the WHL. This is another high-value pick, as many had Bjorkstrand ranked much higher. In the fourth round Nick Moutrey, a rough-and-tumble forward from the Saginaw Spirit, was chosen. Moutrey just may be the heir apparent to Jared Boll. Taken In round six, Norwegian winger Markus Soberg has the potential to join the likes of Shampoo Knutsen and OK Tollefsen as Norwegians to wear the Union Blue. I've said it before, but Soberg is a player who I am very excited about. In the final round, the Jackets took a shot at Peter Quenneville. He's the cousin of Chicago coach Joel, and is on his way to Quinnipiac this fall. Given this development route, the Jackets can be patient with him and have four years of development time.
Arguably, the most high-profile forward to hit the open market was Nathan Horton, formerly of the Boston Bruins. The Jackets had a glaring weakness on the wing and Horton wanted to play in a quieter market. A perfect match, the Jackets and Horton came together on a seven-year contract worth $37.1 million. This works out to an AAV of $5.3 million, and with an expected yearly increase in the salary cap, this deal will continue to look better and better. That is, if Horton can stay healthy. He just underwent succesful shoulder surgery and will hopefully be in the lineup around Christmas. I love this deal. He fits an obvious need, the AAV is reasonable, and best of all- he's about to enter his prime years.
Horton is the only NHL-level signing so far. That doesn't mean the team wasn't busy signing contracts however- as the Springfield roster was reloaded to take another shot at the Calder Cup. After suffering a beating at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch in the playoffs this past Spring, changes were made and the Falcons again look to be a strong team. One of the most important signings was that of Ryan Craig. Craig was the Springfield captain last season, playing on an AHL-only deal. He was the heart and soul of that team, and his play earned him a two-year, two-way NHL deal. Joining Craig back with the Birds are Cody Bass (a Cannon favorite), Spencer Machacek, Blake Parlett and David Savard. Savard is looking to make an impression after struggling at times last season.
In addition to the returnees, there is some fresh blood ticketed for Springfield. Patrick McNeill, an offensive defenseman who's spent the last few years in Hershey, is a solid addition. AHL veteran Frederic St.Denis was signed to a one-year deal, adding further depth and experience to the back end. Ilari Melart, signed out of Finland, will compete for a spot in Columbus, but if he falls short of that goal, he'll be a physical force for the Falcons. Former NHL first rounder Jack Skille was brought on board to compete for a Columbus job, but is more likely going to be a leader with Springfield. I think this signing could surprise, however. If/when injuries in Columbus occur, Skille can fill in perfectly in the bottom six while the top prospects like Boone Jenner can continue to get tons of ice time in the AHL. The biggest overhaul with regard to the Springfield roster is in net. Last year's AHL All Star Curtis McElhinney is penned in as the Columbus backup. Allen York was not tendered a qualifying offer, leaving two spots open. They were quickly filled in with two AHL veterans- and very good ones at that-in Mike McKenna and Jeremy Smith. The Falcons cage is in good hands.
It's official- NHLers will be participating in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. There are a handful of Blue Jackets who could get the call to represent their country. After winning the Vezina trophy, Sergei Bobrovsky is a lock to make Team Russia. Fedor Tyutin is a former Olympian, and will likely be on the team as well. Artem Anisimov has an outside shot of making the home squad. Marian Gaborik is Slovakia's go-to sniper, and will be returning for his third Olympic games. Jack Johnson is a Team USA stalwart, and should be given lots of consideration. Brandon Dubinsky is a reliable, hard-working player. This is usually the mold that the 'Mericans use when assembling their roster, so he may be in the mix.
Blue Jackets Prospects at the 2014 World Juniors
It's always exciting to see which of the Jackets' prospects get the call to represent their country at the annual World Junior Hockey Championships. The 2014 tournament should feature a handful of future Blue Jackets, with Alexander Wennberg and Oscar Dansk looking to win Gold on home ice. Marko Dano will be the go-to forward for the Slovakians (mirroring Gaborik at Sochi...), Joonas Korpisalo will again look to be the man between the Finnish pipes, while Markus Soberg will be a member of the Norwegian team. Kerby Rychel and Dillon Heatherington have both been invited to Team Canada's summer evaluation camp, and will look to earn a spot on the Canadian roster. In all likelihood, Oliver Bjorkstrand will return to Team Denmark. The Danes are taking part in the Division 1 portion of the tournament, a level below the main group.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, proud member of the Metropolitan Division
Haha, Metropolitan division. Ok, NHL. Toronto and Detroit in the Atlantic? At least Metro division isn't geographically incorrect.
Now Hiring- Assistant Coach
With assistant coach Keith Acton moving on to the Edmonton Oilers, the Jackets have a vacancy on the bench. Here's an idea- former NHL Head Coach Andy Murray. He was a finalist for the Jack Adams while coaching the Blues, and would have obvious familiarity with Jarmo and JD. We don't know if their relationship is positive, or if Murray would want to leave his gig with Western Michigan, but it's somebody to consider.
Jackets and Icemen continue their Affiliation
The Jackets renewed their ECHL affiliation with the Evansville Icemen this upcoming season. With a glut of defensemen in the organization, the Icemen may see a handful of Columbus prospects putting on their sweater. Austin Madaisky, Anton Blomqvist and Thomas Larkin will likely see time in the 'Coast, while Oliver Gabriel is in-tough to crack the Falcons lineup.
Additions to the Scouting Staff
With Tyler Wright taking a job with the Red Wings after refusing an offer to take another position with Columbus, there were some changes required with respect to the scouting staff. Ville Siren, formerly of the Blues (shocker!) takes over for Wright, while Josef Boumedienne was added as a European scout, Marshall Davidson as an amateur scout, and Bob Halkidis as a pro scout. Additionally, Columbus hired Blake Geoffrion as a pro scout. Read this article by John Buccigross on Geoffrion. Such a crazy story. Great move by the Jackets to give Geoffrion an opportunity to stay in the NHL.
Preseason Schedule Announced
The Jackets will play eight preseason games this fall. Six are full games, while two are split-squad. Running from September 15-26, the Jackets will play two games each against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Minnesota and Carolina.
I don't think we'll see the Jackets go another season without a true captain on the ice. The "lead by commitee" approach will always be valid, but the team needs a go-to leader to rally around and who'll be the liason between coaches, referees and the media. I'm looking at Jack Johnson or Brandon Dubinsky to get the "C".
A small part of me still holds out hope that Vinny Prospal will be re-signed. You can't help but love everything he brought to the team during his brief tenure as a Blue Jacket. Wherever you end up, Vinny, all the best, and thanks for the memories.
I can't be there of course, so I'll live vicariously through all of you. Have a great time and be safe. Wagner will keep you up to date on everything leading up to the big event!
New Eastern Conference Rivalries
Hey Devils- I heard about what Kovy did. What a meanie. Please don't sign Vinny.
Hey Islanders- All the best, guys. We're two franchises trending upward. Dump the thirds, they're heinous.
Hey Hurricanes- $% you, that's what. I hope you like having us around. Jerks.
Hey Capitals- Say hi to Chimmer for us.
Hey Pittsburgh- Can we have your autograph?
Hey Philadelphia- How's the butt? Bob's having a great summer.
I hope you enjoyed the read. I'm on vacation in Boston for the next two weeks but I'll be checking in when I can. The site's in good hands while I'm away!