The top prospects in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization have completed the latest edition of development camp, packed their bags and scattered around the world, literally.
They spent a whirlwind week of on-ice workouts and off-ice development. For the players drafted in the 2013 NHL draft, this was their first taste of the many aspects to becoming a pro at the top level.
For the returning players, this was another opportunity, prior to training camp in September, for them to showcase to the organization that their development is on the correct path. While contact during the on-ice portion is “minimal”, their skill level and abilities tend to shine through.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is on record as saying “This is not about them coming here this week and trying to make the team”. But, the payers all know they are being evaluated by the entire staff. They want to make a favorable first impression in the hopes that they will get the invite to participate in the Blue Jackets training camp. While they know that they would not have been drafted if the club had not recognized their potential, making the team is no “sure-thing”.
Very few, if any, of these players will see ice-time at the NHL level this season. That is not to say that the players aren’t good. It just says that they aren’t good enough, yet. The fact that Columbus has 13 forwards already in the line-up and a defense that’s set means that training camp this year will be a very competitive affair. That, in and of itself, is a good situation for the Blue Jackets to be in. For this means that the club is building the “depth” that any team hoping to contend perennially in the playoffs needs.
Going back through the notes from a week of development camp, there are a few players who “stood out” enough that playing time in the AHL with the Blue Jackets affiliate Springfield Falcons is a very real possibility. With the Falcons coaching staff running the on-ice portion of Columbus’ development camp, they got a very good look at some of the players that might make their roster for the 2013/14 campaign. What follows is the “Three to Watch” segment of the development camp wrap-up.
Leading off the players to keep an eye on is the 6’4’’, 230lb., 24-year-old defenseman Ilari Melart. After playing in the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga) for HIFK for the past few seasons, Columbus signed him to a one year, entry level contract in May. While there were questions about his mobility coming into development camp, for all practical purposes he’s a good skater with the ability to pass the puck out of his own zone very well.
Melart has international experience representing Finland, including both the IIHF World Junior and World Championships. He also helped his Finnish club, HIFK, win the (SM-Liiga) Championship in the 2010/11. CBJ GM Jarmo Kekalainen on Ilari Melart, “He’s coming off of a strong season in one of the top professional leagues in Europe and played well for Finland at the (2013) World Championships. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do in North America.” Look for Melart to be playing in the AHL for the Springfield Falcons, with the very real possibility of being called up as injuries occur in the big club.
Next up is eighteen year old forward (RW) Marko “Book ‘Em” Dano. The Slovakian native comes in slightly undersized at 5’11” and weighing 183lbs, but does have a reputation for battling in the corners and being a bit feisty. Before being selected by Columbus (1st Round) in this year’s entry draft, Dano played in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava. He has represented Slovakia at both the World Junior and World Championships.
The consensus on “Book ‘Em” Dano among scouts is that he is a strong skater with decent two-way ability. Look for him to develop into a player that has the versatility to play both power play and penalty kill minutes, starting out in checking-line role. He does have the potential to develop into a top-six forward. The Prince George Cougars of the WHL own his CHL rights and it remains to be seen if Columbus and GM Kekalainen make the push for him to continue his development in North America.
Rounding out the “Three to Watch” is 20 year old Swedish goalie Anton Forsberg. The 6’2”, 176 pound goalie signed a three year entry level contract with Columbus less than two months ago. With both of the NHL and AHL goalie spots filled, the 2011 7th round Blue Jackets draft pick is looking to be the starter for Modo of the Swedish Elite League in 2013/14. He has good reflexes and mobility and is a confident player. Look for him to be playing in North America by 2014/15.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he’s “looking more at the thought process, rather than the execution” of the prospects that took part in this development camp. “Everybody is rusty, with pucks bouncing off of their sticks.” The post-punkers Timbuk 3 seem appropriate to play when talking about a Columbus team on the rise, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.
-The Columbus Blue Jackets signed defenseman David Savard (2009 CBJ 4th round draft pick) to a one year, two-way contract extension for the 2013/14 season. He has appeared in 35 career games with the Blue Jackets while recording 20-76-96 in 176 games with the AHL Springfield Falcons. He was a restricted free agent that has seen spot-duty at the NHL level, but earned his way into the extension.