FanPost

Columbus Blue Jackets 2009 Fantasy Preview


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Columbus has one of the best collections of young talent in the league, after achieving their first playoff spot last season, the goals have shifted and the Jackets must now prove that they belong.

With all the young talent in Columbus expected to progress and a much deeper unit down the middle, the Jackets are poised to improve upon their 7th place finish. The only fear is a regression from Calder Cup winner Steve Mason and the lack of an elite puck mover to jump-start a middling offense. Should those fears be quelled, the Jackets will leap to the next level.

For a breakdown on how to read the profles, click here. For a larger version of the previews, click on the individual profile.

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Ken Hitchcock is a goaltender's best friend. His defensive philosophy has created fantasy goaltending stars at every stop of his career as his stifling system insulates his goaltenders from exposing their weaknesses. What Mason accomplished as a 20 year old was amazing, but it would be folly to ignore the impact of Ken Hithcock on his statistics. The starting goaltender for Ken Hitchcock has managed a top 10 finish 65% of his career, including stalwarts Robert Esche, Roman Cechmanek and Pascal Leclaire (Ottawa is in for a shock).

His success as an offensive coach is varied, Hitchcock has had offensive success when provided with the weapons. In Dallas with the transition game in Zubov's hands, the Stars enjoyed three top 10 finishes. In Philadelphia, with Desjardins at his disposal, the Flyers also managed to crack the top 10.

Mason is a lock for big numbers even if he regresses. The real fear in the fantasy world is the Jackets young talent may have their offensive abilities stifled by Hitchcock's conservative vision. If the Jackets can acquire a proven PP quarterback or Tyutin/Russell make the leap, they will score.

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What type of production would we see from Rick Nash if he played with Marc Savard? 79 points with Manny Malholtra? That is unbelievable; it is like teaming Batman with Captain Planet. Is Derrick Brassard ready to don the yellow unitard and fill the role of Robin? If Brassard can stay healthy, Nash's numbers will finally match his potential. I am continually amazed how a 6'4" man can possess such great hands and agility. Nash is equally dangerous on the rush and cycle and now that Hitchcock has him fully committed to the defensive zone he will ascend to one of the elite players in the game. Vermette and Brassard is an upgrade and 90+ points is in play.

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As outrageous as Steve Mason's numbers were in 2009, he is still a work in progress. He will likely suffer from inconsistency as he matures, even Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur suffered momentary crashes as young players. In Roy's first two years following his rookie year, he struggled with inconsistency and failed to wrest the starting job from the mediocre Brian Hayward. Brodeur also suffered inconsistency after his first Cup as the Devils failed to make the playoffs in 1996. The good news for Mason's fantasy owners, statistically both Hall of Famer's numbers didn't suffer drastically as they too were insulated in a strong system. If he struggles, don't abandon ship like Carey Price owners last season. Mason is a very efficient butterfly goaltender with great athleticism. His puck tracking is very advanced for 20, and his gap closure is strong but overly reliant on reflexes. At this point in his young career he still needs Hitchcock, but as he develops he will enter the top tier of goaltenders on his own merit. Stay patient and he will lead you to a fantasy championship in the future.

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Derick Brassard rocketed out of the gate and averaged close to a PPG over the first quarter vaulting him into the early Calder race. The stat that jumped out at me in November was his ability to lead the team in scoring while averaging less than 15 minutes a game, a mark that placed him 17th on the team. Just as I was buying into his future greatness his shoulder injury reminded me of his recent brittle nature. Brassard plays larger than his frame and with his ability to control the tempo and create space for the open man, he is a natural to ride shotgun with Nash. There is no doubt he has the offensive tools to be an NHL star, but he has only played an average of 35 games over the last 3 seasons. Coming off shoulder surgeries to each shoulder, he needs to prove his durability in 2010.

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Although the numbers don't show impressive production, one needs to remember that Hitchcock tends to ease his rookies into the lineup. Jakub Voracek's 38-point rookie campaign was accomplished in just over 12 minutes per game (21st on the team), and a shade over 2 minutes of PP time. Voracek is another of the elite young offensive forwards in the Jackets system. Voracek overcomes his choppy, powerful stride with hard work and is on par with Kris Russell for skating ability. He also possesses great hands that allow him to maneuver in tight spaces. He shows flashes of what is to come, but his immaturity shows with his tendency to fall into defensive lapses and his willingness to gamble. Hitchcock will eradicate those habits, but until he does, his potential will only come through in bursts. Expect another leap in 2010, followed by his breakthrough in 2011.

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Nikita Filatov teased the Jackets fan base with his offensive capabilities by scoring 4 goals in his first 44 minutes in the NHL (including a hat trick in 9:59). Now using advanced grade 11 math, Filatov projects out to 150 goals and 0 assists with Nash's 2009 minutes. In other words, Filatov was on his way to the greatest goal-scoring season in history before a sore knee slowed him. Filatov is a rare talent that has the physical capabilities to match his imagination and has the innate ability to drift towards open space. Just another in the line of talented young offensive stars accrued through the results of Doug Maclean's ineptitude (I prefered when he was in Columbus and I didn't have to see/hear him on TV/radio 24/7. Did you know he drafted Steve Mason, he never mentions this enough?). When Filatov fills out, look out.

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With the Jackets lacking an elite level puck mover, Fedor Tyutin carries a lot of offensive responsibility. A solid offensive contributor, Tyutin does not possess the elite skill set of an offensive defenseman. Fortunately fantasy production is reliant on opportunity and he is likely to lead the team in ice time and PP minutes. He is a competent passer, but he is more of a finisher than a quarterback, if Kris Russell can man the point and feed his heavy shot Tyutin should remain productive in 2010.

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Kris Russell is an intriguing fantasy prospect. He is a mobile defenseman that possesses an explosive offensive package. He refuses to let his size determine his fate and throws his 160 lb. frame around like it is 200 lbs. If Scott Howson could get the team doctor to sign off on a double heart transplant between Russell and Huselius, it would already be done. Unfortunately the position Russell plays is called DEFENSE, and he doesn't really play any. His size is routinely exploited and his inexperience leads to inefficient challenges, which result in him digging pucks out of his net. He will remain in the NHL because of his ability to quarterback a powerplay. Because of his offensive upside, he is a tremendous value pick with the potential to surprise in 2010. Playing on a Hitchcock coached team bodes well for his long-term future.

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Antoine Vermette seemed to find his stride upon his arrival in Columbus as he produced 13 pts in 17 games and resembled the player who seemed to have broken through in 2008. One of the top faceoff men in the league, Vermette is an explosive skater with great offensive skills, but he struggles to consistently engage physically and lacks the essential instinct to operate efficiently at full speed. He has plenty of room for improvement, but he seems to have settled into the 40-50 pt range, any spike in his future production will be reliant on his explosive teammates. Take heed of his line mates before investing in the former Sen.

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If the Blue Jackets brass could convince R.J. Umberger that every month was April he would produce a 50-goal season. Over his last 156 regular season games Umberger has produced 39-goals (a 20-goal pace). Over his last 21-playoff games Umberger has produced 13 goals in 21 games (a 51 goal pace). Umberger's versatility and unselfishness may ultimately cost him his fantasy potential, as Hitchcock will deploy him in roles that benefit his team concept. He may not win you any fantasy titles, but he is the type of player you need to win Stanley Cups. One more playoff season like the previous two and I will begin to call him RJ Kontos.

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And I'm freeee, freeee fallin. Kristian Huselius has endured three straight seasons of declining production. Even though Huselius had a torrid second half where he produced 31 points over his final 36 games, I like to stay away from talented forwards who are streaky, struggle to engage and suffer from dedication issues. Huselius has the offensive talent to explode in the proper situation, but his production bounces like it's riding a sybian. The only interest in Huselius should be a late round pick or waiver pick up that rides the bench. If he gets hot ride the streak, if he doesn't drop him at no real cost.

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The depth of the Blue Jackets minor league system depends on what you determine to be a prospect. Ranking players outside the NHL paints a grim picture, but when you include the 20-21 year olds on the NHL payroll the picture is altered dramatically. The Jackets are a rising powerhouse, if Scott Howson can avoid foolish deals like the one he prematurely gave Leclaire, then they will contend for years to come.

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The Jackets made a solid step to shoring up one of their organizational weaknesses with the acquisition of John Moore. Moore is a slick, explosive skater with tremendous offensive potential. His instinct is to push and force the issue, he likes to release from the point in order to slide into the offensive scoring zones. Due to immaturity his decision-making can be suspect at times. He has worked to improve his puck carrying but his transition game is still a work in progress. Moore is solid in the defensive zone and is not afraid to get physically involved. He is 2-3 years away, but patient keeper league owners will reap the benefits when he matures.

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Maxim Mayorov had a solid rookie campaign in the AHL as he adjusted to the North American game. He has high end potential, but has plenty of weaknesses that he must address before graduating to the NHL. Deficiencies in intensity, intelligence and defensive awareness are his first roadblock; roadblock number two is the glut of high end forwards at the NHL level. He has a reputation as a free spirit, so how long he remains in North America is another question.

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Brent Regner blossomed last season with the Vancouver Giants. With increased ice time and responsibility, Regner was able to breakout and produced 67 pts (15G, 52A) in 70 WHL games. He possesses a strong two-way game and is adept at handling the point on the power play. Although he is very dependable in his own end he looks to need a couple of more years of seasoning before he challenges for an NHL roster spot.

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Stefan Legein is blessed with explosive speed and what he lacks in size he makes up for in work ethic and dedication. A former world junior fan favourite, Legein will likely make his mark as a 3rd line agitator, but he possesses enough offensive upside that if provided the opportunity, he could produce offensively (ie. Darcy Tucker on the PP in Toronto). If he ever does produce offensively, his value will go through the roof, as he will also bring a ton of PIMs to the fantasy table. If not for his self-imposed sabbatical he would likely be in Columbus already.

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Kevin Lalande is an athletic goaltender with quick reflexes and is extremely competitive. After struggling in his initial stint in the AHL he was sent to the ECHL. After earning a return to the A, Lalande posted dominant numbers. Although his numbers only span a 21 game span, any goaltender in the Columbus system that shows a pulse possesses monster upside in a Ken Hitchcock system. One look at Dan LaCosta's three game stint that resulted in a 1.54 GAA and .950 SV% is all the proof I need.