As CBJ fans, most of us have been here before: the playoffs aren't happening, yet there are 25-30 games left to play. During this stretch of losing seasons my mind starts to wander, away from the standings and games and more toward things like the draft, free agency and how the prospects are doing. Here are a couple of things bouncing around inside my head as we wind down toward the end of the regular season:
1) The Mike Reilly thing bothers me. Every year there is seemingly a young prospect coming out of college who the media tries to divorce from the team that drafted him simply because he's playing well. If a kid playing in the CHL is having a terrific year, it's celebrated. A college prospect? It's worrisome, because thanks to a loophole in the rules when it comes to signing players, a college prospect who is ready to turn pro (depending on how many years it has been since he was drafted) can elect not to sign with the team that drafted him, becoming a UFA.
Look at Justin Schultz. Drafted by Anaheim, he elected to not sign with them, instead looking for more money and a greater chance of playing in the NHL right away. Ask Oilers fans how it's worked out.
None of us outside of the Mike Reilly cone of privity know what his intentions are, but aside from the fact there's a maximum amount of money the Jackets are allowed to sign him for, there's a good chance he's got an NHL roster spot with his name on it next year. So Mike, take the ELC, knock our socks off, and when your ELC expires, and the Jackets will back up the Brinks truck.
If I was a betting man, I'd say Reilly signs with the Jackets. He'll have the opportunity to play right away. That said, Elliotte Friedman tossed out an interesting nugget in his most recent "30 Thoughts" - Reilly's father is a limited partner with the Wild.
2) The World Cup of hockey is taking place next September, and though there will be roster turnover with the Jackets, the CBJ should be well-represented. Sergei Bobrovsky has the inside track on the number-one goaltender spot. He should be joined by Fedor Tyutin and Artem Anisimov. I really like Ryan Johansen's chances of suiting up for Canada, while Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno have outside shots at making Team USA. The tournament will have an Under-23 North America squad, where Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray stand a very good chance of making it.
3) While the World Cup is over a year away, this spring the annual World Hockey Championship will take place, and for NHLers not participating in the NHL playoffs, this is a chance for them to suit up for their home nation. The players I previously mentioned would all be candidates to participate, if they are healthy and willing. Some additional players like Scott Hartnell, David Savard or maybe even Alexander Wennberg or Marko Dano could get asked to play.
4) Speaking of Dano, how good has he been since his most recent callup? Long term, I think Wennberg and Kerby Rychel (the two other players, taken earlier in the first round by the CBJ in the 2013 draft) may become the more well-rounded stars, but Dano will always be a rugged scorer who can be relied upon to put up points for the Jackets. I fell in love with him before he was drafted when he starred at the World Juniors for Slovakia.
5) There's been a lot of talk about how the James Wisniewski trade was bad for the Jackets. Short term? Sure, it's a hit. I'll reserve final judgement until we see what kind of blueline is assembled going into next season.
6) What to do with Rene Bourque though? I get it, it was to make the dollars work, but he's signed for next season. Is he in the team's plans? I haven't been impressed so far, and yes, I'm looking to be wowed where he's more than a rest-of-year salary dump.
7) By necessity, Wennberg and Dano have seen significant time this season. With a healthy roster next year, who has a chance of making an impact as a first-year player? Rychel? Josh Anderson in a bottom-six role? Maybe a surprise player like Oliver Bjorkstrand? One thing the Jackets have, is a prospect pool that is very deep, very diverse in terms of skill sets, and very talented.
8) The NHL draft in June is an excellent opportunity to fill what I consider to be a slight organizational deficiency: high-end talent on the future blueline. Top of the list is Reilly, with defensive defensemen Dillon Heatherington and Ryan Collins near the top. A stud two-way guy like Zach Werenski or Ivan Provorov would go a long way in balancing out the talent and depth in the pipeline.
9) Will we see Joonas Korpisalo move to North America next year? Early returns on Oscar Dansk, a second round pick, have been so-so.
10) Here's a crazy thought - would the Jackets use their prospect depth, multiple picks in the first three rounds of this year's draft, a roster player like Anisimov or some combination of either to make a swing-for-the-fences trade for a star player? How about Jordan Eberle?