Tuesday, July 16, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days - Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets are up next on this 30 day writing frenzy.

Boone Jenner - Oshawa Generals
Jenner had a tremendous year in the OHL and took some massive steps forward offensively. Back when the lockout ended, I thought he might crack Columbus' roster, but I think they were smart to send him back. While maintaining his focus at both ends of the ice, and remaining a physical and aggressive player without the puck, Jenner became a significantly more confident player with the puck. He was a force in nearly all situations this year. He became the type of player who could take the puck from outside the blueline, make a few moves and bury a wrister while bearing down on the opposition. This type of confidence in handling the puck, and shooting the puck, wasn't consistently there previously. It is the reason why we saw such a high spike in his offensive numbers this year. The ability to make things happen with the puck and off the rush made him a more dynamic player when combined with his ability to control the boards and win loose puck battles. And given the production he had at the AHL level to conclude last year, I'd be surprised if he's not a full time NHL player by the end of next year. 

Oscar Dansk - Erie Otters
It's pretty hard to evaluate Dansk's season given Erie's lackluster season. A lot of what happened this year was beyond his control. The Otters gave up a ton of shots (Dansk saw about 34 shots a game), but even that doesn't tell the whole story. A lot of those shots were prime scoring chances (2 on 1's, breakaways, 3 on 2's, etc). I think there are some areas of his game which need work (rebound control in particular), but I do think he did his best to keep his team in the games that he played. It's clear that he's a very talented netminder. Seeing as though he's drafted out of Europe, the Jackets could have the option of playing him in the AHL next year. But given that they just signed Jeremy Smith, and also have Anton Forsberg under contract, I'd say he probably returns to Erie. The Otters should be a better team next year, but their defense will still be rather porous. If he can post an above .900 save percentage next year while getting the Otters near the .500 mark, I'd call that a very successful second year in the league. 

Josh Anderson - London Knights
I thought Anderson looked much improved this past year. He took some big steps forward in becoming the type of power forward that the Jackets obviously envisioned he'd become. I don't think his offensive stats (49pts) tell the whole story as to how valuable he was to London's offense. He was very difficult for opposing defenses to contain in the cycle and basically had his way with the opposition along the boards. He protects the puck very well and created a lot of scoring chances off of longer possessions, spotting open teammates in the scoring area. He also never hesitated to take the puck to the net off the wall and is a big fan of the wrap-around. Below the hash marks, he was a horse this year. All that said, there are still areas where he could improve. I'd like to see him create more chances in transition, off the rush, by looking to use his size and speed down the wing. I'd also like to see him develop his shot and get himself in better shooting position. I'm hopeful that the Knights employ him on the first powerplay unit next year, given some of the losses they may incur (Griffith, maybe Broadhurst, Horvat and Domi). I think a 30-30 season is well within his capabilities next year.  

Gianluca Curcuruto - Plymouth Whalers
Like Anderson, Curcuruto had a terrific season which saw him greatly improve; under different circumstances though. The 7th rounder was terrific as a rookie in the Soo back in 2010/2011, so much so that he was receiving consideration for the first round on some early lists. Then came a massive sophomore slump that actually saw him fall out of favor within the organization. He was shipped to Plymouth and the fresh start re-invigorated him. A complete 180. Curcuruto regained his confidence with the puck, looking composed when making a crisp breakout pass, or skating out of trouble to lead the rush. He also looked comfortable running the point on the powerplay. Defensively, he was a rock and is very sound positionally. Moving forward, I'd love to see him play a bit more physical, but he reads and reacts to situations well and saw a ton of ice for Mike Vellucci this season. Next year, the Whalers won't be nearly as strong, but Curcuruto will still have some other quality defenseman (like Connor Carrick and '96 Alex Peters) to run with. I'd love to see him crack the 50 point plateau while maintaining a positive rating. But even if he has another year similar to this, he'll be a no brainer to sign to an ELC.

Kerby Rychel - Windsor Spitfires
There's no question that Rychel was a better player this year once Alex Khokhlachev returned. He struggled at the beginning of the year as a one man show in Windsor. He's an absolutely fantastic goal scorer. His shot is pro caliber. His play in front of the net is second to none in the OHL (at least IMO). And his hockey sense and ability to find loose pucks is also top notch. But, his lack of dynamic skating ability and only average puck skills made it difficult for him to create his own chances consistently without a terrific playmaker. Next year, there will definitely be no Khokhlachev, which means Rychel will have to go back to creating his own chances. Another year stronger, and hopefully quicker, Rychel should be more apt at being the go to offensive guy. Windsor should also have a better team next year, meaning the pressure could be alleviated a bit. If his offensive numbers go down a bit, I wouldn't be incredibly worried. The more important thing would be that his play without the puck improves (in terms of board play and effort level at both ends) and that he's able to take over games more consistently without a dominant centerman.

Nick Moutrey - Saginaw Spirit
Moutrey was a savvy selection by Columbus in the 4th round. I expected him to be off the board earlier. He's a budding power forward with more puck skill than he's given credit for. Next year, the Spirit should have one of the better teams in the West (especially if they get back a guy like Eric Locke). Moutrey has a chance to fill Garret Ross' role on the first line and should see ample power play time as a net presence. I want to see him become more confident in throwing his body around, especially on the forecheck. I also want to see him become more than a cycle player offensively, by carrying the puck into the zone more frequently and looking to use his shot. I could definitely see him putting up 55-60 points next year.

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