First a disclaimer, Development Camp is not the best place to evaluate talent because the kids are currently at different stages of their summer training and are not engaging in a fully competitive game like environment. With that said, let’s have some fun and look at what a few of these future Blue Jackets players looked like at Camp and what we can expect from them going forward. No stats (fancy or otherwise), just personal impressions and thoughts.
Oscar Dansk – By all accounts Dansk had a solid Camp. He battled and showed off his athletic skills with some impressive saves in the 3 on 3 tourney. Dansk has massive potential, but I worry that he is not ready for Springfield duties yet. His inconsistency the last couple of seasons have been noteworthy for all the wrong reasons and there are whispers in Sweden that he doesn’t have the mental "killer instinct" needed to be a top goalie at the highest level.
In other words, he over-thinks and seems to have a hard time shaking off bad goals at times. I hope that Ian Clark and the Jackets have a well thought out plan for his development because the AHL is no place to have mental meltdowns at such a young age. Hopefully having Forsberg (a fellow Swede) by his side, will alleviate some of the pressure and ease Dansk into pro hockey.
Anton Forsberg – Forsberg impressed me at Camp. He just looked like a pro goalie who wasn’t wasting any motion on trying to look flashy or doing too much. I have said this before, Forsberg doesn’t get enough credit for being a very interesting goalie prospect. I fully expect him to take the No. 1 goalie spot with the Falcons and run with it next season. He still has some growing to do, especially learning to play a grueling schedule as well as some of the finer nuances of the North American game. Don’t worry though, he works as hard on his game as Bobrovsky and one day, not to far from now, he might very well be the one backing Bob up.
Joonas Korpisalo – Joonas has had a tough time since being drafted with injuries and playing for several different teams without getting the consistency or ice time needed for proper development. The next couple of years should be very telling as it looks like Joonas will have the opportunity to play in the SM-Liiga (higest level) in Finland. In terms of pure athleticism he may be the best CBJ goalie prospect, but now he needs to start proving it at the next level. He made some nice saves at Camp, but tends to get caught swimming on the ice a bit more than I would like to see.
Elvis Merzlikins – So now I understand why Jarmo drafted this guy. Elvis made a couple of outstanding saves at Camp in the 3 on 3, with the one where he absolutely robbed Milano being his master piece. Elvis also displayed a "showy" side (go figure) and appeared to quickly turn in to a fan favorite. With Merzlikins added to an already impressive stable of prospects, I feel like our goalie situation has never been better. And we still have Bob – in case you forgot.
Dillon Heatherington – Dillon may have been the player that stood out to me the most relative to my expectations. Not only is he a very large guy, but his skating is fluid with plenty of speed. In addition, he surprised me with some seriously slick hands on the offensive end. I’m expecting big things from Dillon this year. He should be a leader on his team in Juniors and I assume he will make the U20 team Canada for the 2014 WJC. If Heatherington can add some offense to his already impressive shutdown ability, he could turn into one heck of a hockey player.
Mike Reilly – Reilly simply wowed me with his superb skating and puck skills. He was the best d-man and overall the second best prospect in Camp from my vantage point. I know this may come off as hyperbole, but I think his potential is right up there with Ryan Murray and his offensive upside is probably even higher. I can’t wait to see this guy turn pro and Craig Hartsburg seemed downright distraught that Reilly is going back to College for another year. Personally I think he will benefit from one more year of weight training and studies, but if he is truly ready to play for Springfield like Hartsburg indicated, he may be wasting his time in Minnesota.
Oliver Bjorkstrand – Oliver did show some great hands in the 3 on 3 tournament, but my overall impression of him is that he is 2-3 years away from the NHL. He has a lot of work to do in the weight room and needs to develop a more well-rounded two-way game. But the skill is there, no doubt.
Marko Dano – This is a player who doesn’t immediately grab your attention, but the more you watch him, the more you appreciate the way he plays. He is just good at pretty much everything and plays with a fair amount of hustle. He is like a larger and more skilled version of Calvert. I would not be surprised to see Dano called up this season to the big club from Springfield, in case of injuries, and make it very difficult for Richards to send him back down. In addition to his hockey skillsets, he also appears to be a very humble and likeable kid who is just trying his hardest to make it over here in North America.
Kerby Rychel – Rychel may well be the prospect I want to see succeed more than anyone else. Why you say? Just to further prove that we "won" the Nash trade – I’m just vindictive like that I guess. Unfortunately he was the player that disappointed me the most at prospect camp. Yes, I know that his game is based on physicality, shooting the puck and scoring dirty goals and that this camp didn’t do much to display those skills, but what I saw gave me some pause regarding his future.
For all the talk that Rychel has improved his skating and that he "gets where he needs to go", his skating is sub-par, it’s as simple as that. In the power skating drills he looked especially bad, so much so that he stood out in a negative way. I also don’t see much in terms of hockey sense or playmaking ability and if you couple that with his skating problems, I wonder how much upside he really has at the NHL level.
The one thing that I keep coming back to though, is that I felt exactly the same way about Boone Jenner last year and he shut me up pretty darn quickly. The difference between Boone and Kerby however, is that Boone has a motor that never stops running and I am not convinced yet that Rychel can match that kind of output. But then again, Rychel is more of a natural scorer so who knows. I am probably reading way too much into this, but what I can say is that I am almost certain that he will start his season in Springfield and I for one think that’s for the best.
Lukas Sedlak – Sedlak is a player that might become a pretty decent NHLer one day, maybe as a third or fourth line center. Good size, smart two-way player and he showed off some pretty sweet dekes in Camp as well. The knock on Sedlak has been that he doesn’t produce enough offense, but he looks like he has all the tools to me. He has also been a leader for the Czech Junior program which doesn’t hurt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lukas take a step forward with the Falcons this year and maybe he’ll earn a call up to C-bus in the process.
Markus Soberg – I think Soberg opened a lot of eyes at camp this year. His speed is blinding and he knows how to finish. I personally love that he is going to be with the Windsor Spitfires next season playing for Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner. He played for the most progressive Junior program in Sweden (Frolunda) learning a ton, but now it’s time for him to spread his wings and put up some gaudy numbers in Canadian Juniors. I also think that a higher caloric intake (tends to happen here in North America) and weight training will be really beneficial to Markus. Don’t get me wrong, Soberg is a "project player", but the upside is definitely there. In my mind he is not that far from where Bjorkstrand is in his development.
Alexander Wennberg – To say that I’m somewhat biased about Wennberg is probably a major understatement. Despite this I think it’s fair to say that he was the best player on the ice during prospect camp. Having followed his development pretty closely over the last couple of seasons, I knew full well what a good hockey player he is, but with more muscle from summer training he is now starting to look and play like a man. His skating has always been a thing to behold, but with the added weight he is now even better at protecting the puck. His edge work and quick turns are textbook and his hockey sense is simply elite. In addition he has greatly improved his shot and ability to score goals in or around the crease, both things having been weaknesses in his draft year. I just don’t see any particular problem area in his game, in fact he is very good at everything. He also has two full season under his belt playing against men and has already learned how to play a simple and responsible pro style game.
Although the 3 on 3 tourney was just for fun, anyone with a modicum of a hockey eye could see that Wennberg could turn it up to another level whenever he wanted to. Alex also displayed some pretty sick hands with his shootout moves and if I remember correctly he scored on at least a couple of attempts. I’m glad that the Columbus fans finally got to see what we have in Wennberg, because the stats from Sweden (or even the WJC), don’t paint the whole picture. Now, I fully realize that he still has much to learn and that he may not even make the team this year, but in my mind there is no question that we have a very good future NHLer on our hands. But first, there is the Traverse City prospect tournament, Camp and pre-season games to worry about and Wennberg needs a very good showing in all three to even be considered to start the season with the Jackets. At this time I put his chances at 50-50.
Tyler Bird – Tyler was an unheralded US high school hockey player before the Jackets picked him in the 2014 draft. I literally knew nothing about him, but after seeing him at Camp I wouldn’t be shocked to one day see him in a Blue Jackets’ sweater. I like his size and he showed off some decent offensive skills as well. With the right development and plenty of patience he could turn out to be a sleeper pick from this year’s draft.
Ryan Collins – Ryan is huge and I mean HUGE. He is 6’5 and possibly still growing. For a boy (man-child) he is a decent skater with lots of upside as a mainly defensive d-man. But watching him next to Heatherington, who is also a big boy, makes it obvious that Collins has much work to do with his skating and general skill level. He also needs to put on another 50 pounds or so and playing for Minnesota will be the perfect place for him to turn into a hulking presence and a nightmare to play against.
Markus Hannikainen – At 21 years old, the Finnish Jarmo invitee, is a little further along in his development than many of the CBJ prospects and that was evident at Camp. Regardless of this fact, I really liked what I saw from Markus. He has good size, moves pretty well and scored some nice looking goals. Hannikainen could be an interesting option for a two-way deal next year if Jarmo can talk him into leaving Finland. I would peg his upside potential as a bottom six NHL forward although the most likely scenario is that he stays in Europe.
Sonny Milano – When the Blue Jackets stepped up and picked Milano with their first rounder this year, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. I had a few other names in mind like Kapanen, Barbashev and Kempe, whom I felt were more accomplished two-way players and a better fit for Jackets’ style hockey. I was also weary of Milano as a smallish YouTube Phenom that might never live up to the hype.
But after thinking more about the players and prospects we currently have in our system and realizing that Sonny adds a skill set previously not seen, I am now much more excited about him. At Camp, Milano did nothing to dispel the notion that he was indeed a worthy pick. His hands are simply magic and he seems to be able to create something out of nothing time and time again. And how about that backhand?
Weather Milano ends up playing for Boston College or in the CHL, there will still be plenty for him to work on. His skating is pretty good, but he needs to get more explosive and develop his lower body strength so he can better protect the puck. He will also have to work on his defensive game and learn to simplify his decision making in the offensive zone. If he does all this (a tall task), his potential is almost limitless.
Overall, my main impression from Prospect Camp is that the CBJ system is well stocked with future talent in addition to already being the youngest team in the NHL. We have truly come a long way since the dark days of Doug MacLean. With so many new shiny bricks for Jarmo and JD to use - upside, so much upside.