detective with magnifying glass

With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.

Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.

  1. Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

3. Jamie Benn

Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.

4. Tyler Seguin

The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.

6. Bo Horvat

Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space. 

9. The Detroit Red Wings

This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.

10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.

Best of the Best


TSN is out with its annual Top 50 Players in the NHL list and it contains some eye openers.

It’s important to note that the list is a compilation of the opinions of a bevy of TSN hockey analysts and a brace of NHL General Managers so it has more validity than the opinion of some fanboy bloggers who over rate the talents of their hometown boys.

But the real flaw that I see is that it compares apples to oranges to turnips by including forwards, defensemen and goalies in the same 50…so it’s interesting to break it down a bit.

Let’s first of all take a look at the top goalies in the league:

Carey Price #2

Henrik Lundqvist #25

Pekka Rinne #29

Jonathan Quick # 35

Braden Holtby #49

I don’t think there is anything to argue with there…I would have ranked those 4 in the top 50 as well…your mileage may vary.

At the D position, I think there may be a few more contentious selections:

Drew Doughty #7

Erik Karlsson #10

Duncan Keith #12

Shea Weber #16

PK Subban #20

Victor Hedman #21

Mark Giordano #27

Ryan Suter #34

Alex Pietrangelo # 39

Roman Josi  #40

Ryan McDonagh #42

Oliver Ekman-Larsson #44

Brent Burns #45

If it were me, I would rank Keith ahead of Karlsson and both Giordano and Suter would rank right behind them although I think TSN has the group surrounded.

At centre, I have few arguments with the group but I think it’s worth noting that Ryan Johansen is rocketing up the standings and that Connor McDavid has been ranked while Jack Eichel hasn’t.

I would wager that situation might be reversed this time next year,

Sidney Crosby #1

Jonathan Toews #2

John Tavares #4

Steven Stamkos #6

Ryan Getzlaf #8

Evgeni Malkin #11

Tyler Seguin #15

Anze Kopitar #19

Claude Giroux #19

Niklas Backstrom #22

Pavel Datsyuk #23

Patrice Bergeron #26

Tyler Johnson #28

Ryan Johansen #30

Joe Pavelski #33

Connor McDavid #37

Matt Duchesse #38

Logan Couture #48

Henrik Sedin #50.

Where the hell is Joe Thornton?

Anyone who tells me Thornton is not among the top 20 centres in the league is on crack.

LW deals a severe blow to Oiler fans who keep insisting that Taylor Hall is the best left winger in the league.

It seems no one, including me, agrees with them.

Alex Ovechkin #5

Jamie Benn #9

Zack Parise #31

Max Pacioretty #32

Rick Nash #41

Taylor Hall #43

Henrik Zetterburg #47.

Sorry folks, I would take Zetterburg all day, everyday before Hall and I believe Filip Forsberg, Jaden Schwartz and Tomas Tatar might knock Hall of his perch this upcoming season.

Speaking of Hall, it’s interesting to take a look at how players from Hall’s 2010 draft are ranked here.

Vladimir Tarasenko #14

Tyler Seguin #15

Ryan Johansen #30

Taylor Hall #43

Seguin passed Hall a while back and both Tarasenko and Johansen are trending much better.

Hall has had a poor pre-season to date so it’ll be interesting to see if his stock drops even further.

Doing It Again


The Edmonton Oilers have just signed Oscar Klefbom to a 7 year contract extension at a cap hit of $4.167M.

The Oiler fans boys are giddy with excitement and virtually none of them see the downside risks in a signing that didn’t need to occur now and happened with Klefbom having only 77 NHL games on his resume.

Most of the comparables I’ve seen thrown about involved Jonas Brodin ($4.166M cap hit) who has 195 NHL games to his credit and was in the running for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season.

Brodin has been playing top pairing minutes in Minnesota since his rookie season while Klefbom, with the offseason addition of Andrej Sekera, will be a second pairing D in Edmonton.

Now, a $4.167 cap hit for an established second pairing D is certainly not an exorbitant amount but, once again, we need to consider the paltry track record Klefbom brings to the party.

We also need to remember he has an established injury history (he only played 11 games in his final SEL season) including at least one major concussion which leaves him as a significant risk.

But, beyond that, we should take a look at what some of the other puck moving Swedish defensemen are pulling down for salary and cap hit.

For my money, the best of the group is Karlsson, followed by OEL in Arizona, Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay and by emerging offensive superstar John Klingberg in Dallas.

Erik Karlsson – $6.5M

Oliver Ekmann- Larsson $5.5M

John Klingberg – $4.25M

Oscar Klefbom – $4.167M

Adam Larsson – $4.167M

Jonas Brodin – $4.166M

Victor Hedman – $4M

Obviously Klefbom is not in Karlsson’s area code either as a productive NHL defenseman or in cap hit but neither does he hang with this group, with the possible exception of Larsson since Klefbom’s offence will likely take a hit (from a very low bar) now that Sekera is on the Oiler’s roster.

The Oilers are obviously banking on Klefbom developing in a straight line and that gamble paying off by his 7 year contract becoming a bargain down the road.

If I were making that bet, Klefbom would be the last player of the above group that I would push in my chips for.

I want to draw attention to the most cogent post over at Lowetide which exactly sums up this situation:

SPEEDS says:

What’s the harm in playing the year out? Is Klefbom the kind of D that will post big points, enough to render all the other comps already out there useless?

Smart cookie.

Ranking the Rebuilds #10…The Toronto Maple Leafs.


The Leafs are just starting on what might be a 3-5 year journey to return the team to relevance.

But, to my eye, they’re off to a very good start.

The rebuild, of course, began with the hire of Brendan Shanahan

After a storied NHL career, which includes 3 Stanley Cup wins, a stint as league disciplinarian and an election to the HHOF, Shanahan was tasked with returning one of the NHL’s iconic franchises to respectability.

Shanahan knows what it takes to win and virtually every move he has made in Toronto shows it.

Here is a great analysis of how the leafs rebuild looked in late June.

Of course, since that date, on July 1 specifically, Shanahan showed he was serious about the task at hand when he traded Phil Kessel:

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In return Toronto gets centre Nick Spaling, forward Kasperi Kapanen, defenceman Scott Harrington, plus first- and third-round picks from 2016. Toronto will retain $1.2 million of Kessel’s salary in each of the next seven seasons.

While it’s almost impossible to get quid pro quo for an elite scorer like Kessel, the Leafs did exceptionally well in the transaction receiving two blue chip prospects, Kapanen and Harrington as well as Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick in 2016. Spaling appears to be a serviceable 3rd line player but, in reality is nothing more than a throw in in this trade.

While not only signalling the beginning of the rebuild, the Kessel trade further stocked the Leaf’s prospect pipeline that will undoubtedly swell even further as pieces of the old guard are moved out and, really, it is the prospect pool that will be important in this process.

So, let’s take a look at where the Leaf’s stand heading into the 2015/16 season from the perspective of players who will likely be around when (if) the Leafs return to respectability.

I think we have to start with 2009 1st round pick Nazem Kadri.

The 24 year old will finally get a chance this season to show he can become a true 1st line centre. There is some doubt he is up to that task but, even if he should fall somewhat short, he would still be considered a building block as a skilled #2.

Beyond Kadri though, the Leafs drafting of late has been heavy on centres and has produced very solid depth at C.

Nazem Kadri – 7th overall 2009

Mitch Marner – #4 overall 2015. (projects as #1C)

William Nylander #8 overall 2014 (projects as #1C/RW

Frederick Gauthier – 21st overall 2013 (projects as #3C)

Carter Verhaeghe – 82nd overall 2013 (projects as #3C)

But that is just the draft.

Going under the radar was the free agent signing of 6’3″ 200 centre Casey Bailey who had a stellar junior season with Penn State.

A competitive power center who brings to the table ruggedness and determination. Works hard to get the puck when he doesn’t have it, and is always productive with his ice time. Is able to come up big when his team needs him most, elevating his game to heightened levels at both ends of the ice. Possesses a tremendous shot, with the focal point being its accuracy. Decent hands and skating ability, but could be worked on. All-in-all, that one player who, by the end of the game, you definitely want to have had on your side. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)

See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=45878#sthash.UgQNL3ps.dpuf

It’s also worth noting that Peter Holland, drafted 15th overall by Anaheim in 2009, is still only 24 and could have more upside.

Nevertheless, the Leafs have seemingly already addressed depth down the middle in a significant way although I expect Marner and Nylander will not be full time Leafs this season….Marner likely headed back to junior and Nylander to the Marlies.

On the wings, things are a little more cloudy.

Kasperi Kapanen, who came over in the Kessel trade, seems like a surefire top 6 winger sooner rather than later and James Van Reimsdyk, at 26, is likely young enough to stick around for better days but, after that, the Leafs have to hope that another pair of under the radar picks turn into players.

From Hockey’s Future:


Strengths: The Leafs have a trio of exciting prospects around whom a restructuring might occur. Center William Nylander is a dynamic and creative player in the Patrick Kane mold, and new Head Coach Mike Babcock is tasked with making him a complete and responsible presence.

Wingers Brendan Leipsic and Connor Brown are also smaller-framed players, but each topped 100 points in a season during his CHL career and, most importantly, showed the ability to translate that junior offense to the AHL last season.

A new regime in Toronto might mean that there is little allegiance to incoming prospects, but there is some additional depth in players like defenseman Stuart Percy, checking center Frederik Gauthier, and 2013 third-rounder Carter Verhaeghe. A European prospect like Pierre Engvall, or puck-moving defenseman Matt Finn, might also be ready for extended looks.

The real issue though is that the Leafs prospects are blocked to a large degree by long term contracts to players I am sure management would like to move,

Players like Tyler Bozak ($4.2M X3), Joffrey Lupul ($5.25M X3) Stephane Robidas( $3M x 2) and Dion Phaneuf ($7M X7) are pulling down way too much of the cap for their production and moving any of them will prove to be very difficult.

So, if this is a 3-5 year rebuild, Bozak, Lupul, and Robidas will be gone so there is that.

The biggest issue, of course is the legacy of Phaneuf’s horrible contract although, the Leafs do have some very promising young D coming up.

Jake Gardiner (at 25 just entering his prime)

Morgan Rielly (#5 overall 2012 – projects as a #1D)

Travis Dermott (#34 overall 2015 high scoring OHL defenseman)

Matt Finn (#35 overall 2012 – projects as second pairing)

Rinat Valiev (#68 overall 2014 – high scoring WHL grad)

Scott Harrington (54th overall 2011 – acquired in the Kessel trade)

Stuart Percy (25th overall 2011)

That may not be the strongest D prospect pool in the league (see Dallas) but it’s a decent place to start and if you take a close look at what the new braintrust in Toronto has done this offseason, Leafs fans should be pretty satisfied with the progress being made.

Toronto has been very aggressive in signing players to short term deals who should be able to be flipped at the trade deadline to load up on draft picks and they already are stocked.

The Leafs have 12 picks in the 2016 draft, five in the first three rounds. They have each of their own plus Pittsburgh’s first-rounder, New Jersey’s third-rounder, Anaheim’s fifth-rounder, St. Louis’s sixth-rounder and Tampa’s seventh-rounder.

The players who it’s possible the Leafs will move at the deadline for even more picks is a long one.


P.A Parenteau

Brad Boyes

Daniel Winnik

Curtis Glencorss

Shawn Matthias

Nick Spaling

Mark Arcobello

Richard Panik

Peter Holland

It’s obvious that Shanahan, new GM Lou Lamourello  and Mike Babcock have agreed that hoarding assets that can deliver another raft of draft picks is a smart strategy and I don’t disagree.

If the Leafs enter the 2016 draft with, say, 15 or more picks, they should be able to restock their prospect pool in very short order).

If, as I expect, they finish close to last in the league, they will have a tremendous chance to draft a generational player in LW Austin Matthews but will also have Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick and another high second round pick of their own in what appears to be another deep draft.

Add another 3 or 4 decent picks in return for some of the above rentals and the Leafs could be rebuilt even faster than their management thinks.

Ranking the Rebuilds #9…the Buffalo Sabres


The Sabres rebuild hasn’t been all that long by normal standards.

They last made the playoffs in the 2010/11 season with a respectable 96 points but it was clear after early playoff exits and It’s plausible their rebuild began in February 2012 when they sent  long time Sabre Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a 1st round pick (which after a trade with Calgary would become Zemgus Gigensons)

That draft also produced Mikhail Grigorenko (since traded to Colorado) and Jake McCabe but it wasn’t enough to save the job of GM Darcy Regier after 16 years on the job.

He was replaced by longtime Assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators Tim Murray, who, since his hiring in January 2014, has been tasked with building a winner.

As anyone who pays attention knows, you build a winner from the back end out and down the middle and it would seem that’s exactly what Murray is doing.

The Sabres again had 2 1st round picks in the 2013 draft before Murray arrived and had selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov so Murray had two blue chip D prospects when he took over the reins as well as Mark Pysyk who was drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and, of course former rookie of the year Tyler Myers who was drafted in 2008

While those players were under development Murray wisely brought in some veteran support in Josh Gorges and Mike Weber. But he was hardly finished.

In a blockbuster deal, Murray sent Myers, veteran Drew Stafford and a 1st round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian and controversial winger Evander Kane.

Bogosian projects as a #1D as does Ristolainen so Murray felt comfortable trading from a position of strength to address the Sabres long time woes at C.

But even with a lot of promise on D, Murray today signed Cody Franson, easily a top 4 D on most any team to a bargain 2 year contract and I would imagine the Sabres are set at the position for at least the next several seasons.

With enough D in the pipeline, Murray set about fixing the Sabres long time woes at C.

First up was the 2014 draft where the Sabres took Sam Reinhart in the list round and then, after losing the draft lottery to the Oilers, got Jack Eichel as a consolation prize.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Murray then swung a trade with Colorado and got two way C phenom Ryan O’Reilly in return for  Zadorov and Grigorenko.

The results going into the season is that the Sabres have addressed their C depth in a big way for years to come.

Jack Eichel

Sam Reinhart

Ryan O’Reilly

Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons

David Legwand

Cody McCormick

Oh my.

The Sabres remain shy on scoring wingers with Kane and Matt Moulson providing most of the top 6 punch but Kane has the potential to score more than 30 goals and there is at least some secondary support coming up through the system. (source)

Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.

There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size.

The Sabres have also had a revolving door of goaltenders since Ryan Miller left but hope to have addressed that with Robin Lehner in the offseason. Lerner, with limited experience as a start is a gamble but one that could pay off.

Given the relative short time the Sabres have been rebuilding, I think it’s fair to assert that Murray is on the right track and has already addressed the most difficult tasks.

He’s going into the season with almost $9 million in free cap space and is imposition to take advantage of any cap strapped team now and in the future.

Considering the 2015 McDavid/Eichel draft, it’s going to be almost impossible not to compare the Sabres and Oilers rebuilds going forward.

To my eye, The Sabres are well ahead of schedule and, with the prudent use of all that cap space, the Sabres could blow by the “infinite-build” Oilers in very short order.

Ranking the Rebuilds #8…the Edmonton Oilers.


Where to begin?

I guess we can say the Edmonton Oilers rebuild started in 2010 when the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall…although any astute observer would point out it should have (and probably did) start in 2006 when Chris Pronger led the exodus out of Kevin Lowe’s Egypt.

Lowe never was able to part the the Red Sea and employed a long list of toadies to insulate him from his failures as a general manager and, later, as a President of Hockey Operations.

No need to belabour his shortcomings as they are well documented so perhaps it will be more instructive to take the temperature of where the longest rebuild in NHL history stands now.

I’ve been saying for years that the Oilers rebuild was ass backwards from the start and that rings as true today as it did when it started.

In  2010, the Oilers drafted a winger, Taylor Hall, as the first piece of their future when a centre with at least as much potential was sitting right there.

Tyler Seguin has already gone supernova and may have won the Art Ross trophy last season had he not been a victim of a dirty hit while Taylor Hall remains an injury riddled gunslinger who gives up more than he creates.

While very far from a perfect stat, Hall’s career plus/minus is -23 while Seguin checks in at +68.

Nuff said.

A year later, the Oilers would start to address their needs down the middle when they selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins overall but they still remained inured to the notion that, since defensemen take longer to develop, it would be prudent to try and find a top pairing D or two to kick start the process and that decision would (and will) haunt them for several more years.

Adam Larsson, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin were all top 10 picks in 2011 and all of them are highly regarded top pairing D while Hopkins is likely a second line C.


While still void at centre and, more importantly on D, the Oilers would totally lose the script and draft Nail Yakupov 1st overall in 2012.

There is substantial evidence that the Oilers scouting staff wanted to draft a defenseman in the 2012 draft but were overruled by owner Daryl Katz who opted instead to draft the shiniest prospect in a draft that was incredibly deep in D in the top 10.

I dare say you couldn’t trade near bust Yakupov straight up for any of the D taken in the top 10 of that draft.

Ryan Murray

Griffin Reinhart (more later)

Morgan Rielly

Hampus Lindholm

Mat Dumba

Derek Pouliot

Jacob Trouba

Old Oiler nemesis Brian Burke left the 2012 draft crowing he got the best player, Morgan Rielly, 5th overall and he was probably right.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are stuck with yet another disappointing winger and have had to overpay wildly to try and correct that mistake by trading for the most disappointing of that first round draft class, Griffin Reinhart.

Apparently two wrongs make a right :)

A year later, the Oilers would spend the 7th overall pick to draft Darnell Nurse who has progressed reasonably well but has already been passed by Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mirco Mueller and will soon feel some heat from Samuel Morin, Ryan Pulock and Josh Morrisey.

Nurse may well have a chance to become a top pairing D but, most often, those guys appear early and Nurse is almost 21 years of age with only 2 games of NHL experience to his credit.

I would wager he’ll be a very good #3 leaving the Oilers without a true #1D they should have in the stable after almost a decade drafting near the top of draft.

In 2014, it’s somewhat understandable the Oilers would address their dire need at C by taking one at #3 overall…the problem is, they took the wrong one.

Dynamic centre Sam Bennett was ranked ahead of Leon Draisaitl by virtually every scouting service including the “Oracle” Bob McKenzie.

Had Bennett not been injured in his draft year, he may have gone 1st overall but the Oilers opted to draft the next Joe Colborne when they had a shot at the next Doug Gilmour.

I expect Flames fans will be mocking that decision for the next decade.

Despite a decade  of gaffes, the Oilers defied the odds and won the 2015 draft lottery and that triggered a series of events that may give even the most jaded Oiler fan some realistic hope for the future.

I’m convinced the potential of drafting Connor McDavid resulted in a phone call from league offices and/or McDavid’s agent Bobby Orr that served as a wake up call to Oilers’ owner Katz that his old boys club gong show needed to come to a quick end.

And it did.

After conducting a “forensic audit” that, honestly, could have been conducted by a drunk chimpanzee, Bob Nicholson decided that Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish were not up to the task of building a winning hockey team.

That neither was fired outright remains a concern but at least someone else is now has the last word on team building.

Enter new GM Peter Chiarelli and new head coach Todd McLellan.

While these hirings represent a huge upgrade on the their predecessors, I believe a little critical thinking is needed here.

Chiarlelli did win a cup with the Bruins but his propensity to overpay bottom 6 role players and his decision to trade Tyler Seguin, combined with his mismanagement of the Bruins’ cap had him run out of Beantown on a rail.

The overpayments for Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart and Lauri Korpikoski suggest Chiarelli may not have learned his lesson.

That he did not exercise buyouts on Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin or Teddy Purcell also shows that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on value for dollars.

Certainly worth watching but, in the interim, he is carrying more than $10 million in cap space for players who are below replacement value and when you consider the $3.9 million accruing to AHL level defenseman Justin Schultz, it looks even worse.

Many Oiler fans are giddy that Todd McLellan is their new coaching messiah but they haven’t exercised critical thinking in assessing his body of work in San Jose.

He took over a team that Ron Wilson had taken to the next level and, despite a star studded lineup, was never able to get the team to reach expectations.

McClellan took over a team that finished with 108 points in Wilson’s final season in 2007/08.

Over his tenure in San Jose, his record was as following:





57 (lockout season)



In other words, the Sharks slowly declined in performance during his tenure and were never able to advance to the Stanley Cup finals despite an almost all star lineup.

Whether or not he can take a young team and move them up the standings against incredibly fierce competition is a question that has yet to be answered.

So, what can we foresee for the Oilers in a season that could see them miss the playoffs for a record 10th straight season?

Well, the playoffs aren’t anywhere near a possibility….the team still has too many question marks to challenge the Big Boys in the western conference.

Once again, the Oilers go into a season with questions marks in goal, and on D and while McDavid will certainly make a difference, unless he can influence the Oilers atrocious team D even with the addition of yet another second pairing D in Sekera, it would take a Vezina Trohpy season from unproven starter Cam Talbot to move up much at all in the standings.

Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and, especially, Dallas will all be better this season and let’s remember the Colorado Avalanche, despite having a very disappointing season, finished 28 points ahead of the Oilers.

I have no doubt the Oilers will be better but I expect only the Arizona Coyotes will care very much.

13th in the west…again.

Ranking the Rebuilds #7….the Colorado Avalanche


I think we can agree that the Colorado Avalanche rebuild began on May 10, 2013.

That is the day that Joe Sakic was named Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.

That’s an odd title and the Avs retained Greg Sherman but he reportedly serves in an advisory capacity to Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy who has a tremendous amount of control over personnel decisions.

Sakic hired Roy on May 23rd of 2013 and the tandem set to work rebuilding a team that had missed the playoffs for 4 of the previous 5 seasons.

The new regime didn’t have to start from scratch since the 2009 draft had produced Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyson Barrie who are all accomplished NHL players.

The 2010 draft produced blue chip goalie prospect Calvin Pickard and 2011 produced Gabriel Landeskog the apparent best player in the draft.

But, in the first draft conducted by the new regime, they hit pay dirt at #1 with Nathan MacKinnon and stud defensive prospect Chris Bigras who may be NHL ready as early as this fall.

The Avalanche would defy the odds in the 2013/14 season, winning the Central Division before bowing out  to the Wild in the conference semi finals.

Pretty much everyone except the Avs most rabid fans saw that season as Cinderella and predicted a much more rational record in the following season and, of course, the expected happened as the Avs fell from 112 points to 90.

But folks, let’s be honest, a team in only the second year of a rebuild, playing in the toughest division in hockey that can accumulate 90 points is nothing to be easily dismissed.

While it’s true the Avs had the second worst possession record in the league last season, it’s important to remember that the LA Kings had the best record in the league with a SAT% of 55.37 and missed the playoffs while 4 teams that fell below 50% did make the post season.

So, while possession stats tell you something, they don’t tell you everything.

Goaltending was not an issue for the AVs last season as Semyon Varlamov posted a decent .921 SV% and the aforementioned Calvin Pickard was stellar in 16 appearances at .931.

No, the issue was that the Avs gave up too many shots at 33.2/G, one of the worst records in the league.

That fact, coupled with an offence that struggled, especially sophomore Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene to a lesser degree, left the Avs gasping for air.

That leaves us wondering if the management team has addressed those issue in the offseason and it seems they have at least somewhat.

In one of the biggest blockbusters of the offseason, Colorado traded 200 foot demon Ryan O’Reilly whose contract demands were “mile high” for former 1st rounds picks D Nikita Zadorov and C Mikhael Grigorenko, University of Michigan Star JT Compher and the Sabres 31st pick in the draft which they later flipped to San Jose for AJ Greer and 2 – 2016 draft picks.

Picking 10th overall in the 2015 draft, the Avs selected Mikko Rantanen who had played the previous 3 seasons against men in the Finnish league who Bob Mackenzie ranked right in that 10th spot.

The 6’4″ 210 RW is thought to be close to NHL ready.
An exceptionally talented playmaker and always a consistent threat on the ice; Rantanen is a combination of elite-level hockey sense, silky smooth hands, and nimble skating. Needs to improve his shot and physical play, as he doesn’t take advantage of his size in many situations. All-in-all, an intelligent, big-bodied forward that oozes skill.

(Curtis Joe, EP 2014) – See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=91186#sthash.Kpm5dZ3D.dpuf

So, if we can agree, as previously mentioned, that the Avs are set in goal, let’s take a look at how they shape up at D and then down the middle.

As well as adding Zadorov in trade, the Avs signed 35 year old Francois Beauchemin to a 3 year contract at $4.5M/season.

Beauchemin has still been very effective but this contract could be a gamble if his play tails off as he ages.

With a top pairing of #1D Erik Johnson and Beauchemin, they should be fine for 20 minutes a night but they will need to find a steady partner for offensive whiz Tyson Barrie who scored an impressive 12 foals and 53 points last season.

The Av’s did not re-sign 37 year old Jan Hejda and Brad Stuart has passed his best before date so, unless Zadorov is ready to step in the #4 role, the team may be gasping agin.

Of course, Chris Bigras may take that spot in camp but there’s not a whole lot behind them on the depth chart although there are some distant bells in the system.

If I were Joe and Patrick, sitting with more than $8M in free cap space, I would have signed Cody Franson weeks ago…hasn’t happened yet.

Down the middle, the Avalanche have an embarrassment of riches even after trading Or’ Reilly.

Nathan MacKinnon

Matt Duchene

Carl Soderburg (signed in the offseason)

Mikail Grigorenko

John Mitchell

Marc Andre Cliche

With Soderburg likely to take a top 6 role, Duchene may find himself playing RW again since it’s an area of weakness for the team so there’s an opportunity for Grigorenko if he is ready to step up.

If Duchene does indeed play on the wing, he’ll be joined by stud Landeskog and the ageless Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay as well as Blake Comeau, Cody McLeod, Patrick Bordeleau and Dennis Everburg.

Hockey’s Future has the Avs ranked 29th in the league in their prospects ranking and I think that’s fair.

Strengths: The Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. Chris Bigras has shown excellent growth at the junior level and may be ready to take that next step in his career, while Stefan Elliot and Duncan Siemens are finding their way at the pro level. Will Butcher, Kyle Wood and recent free-agent signing Mason Geertsen add interesting pieces to the organization’s defensive core. Goaltender Calvin Pickard had a very impressive showing with the Avalanche last season, breaking through after three years in the AHL. He should get a chance to improve in the NHL full time next season.

Weaknesses: Skill. Colorado has quantity in prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. Connor Bleackley will turn pro after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns in the WHL, but the center projects more as a high-energy, third-line pivot.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Connor Bleackley, C; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Stefan Elliot, D; 5. Duncan Siemens, D.

With goal and centre pretty much locked in, they will need at least one D prospect to step in a help right away.

If they hope to finish their rebuild anytime soon, they may have to spend some of that cap space to acquire a couple of skill players to replace the elders in the lineup sooner rather than later. but Rantanen may be able to help in that regard.

Playing in the Central, where I see 5 teams making the playoffs, I doubt they will be contenders this upcoming season but, with some prudent moves in the next 12 months, when many teams will be forced to dump players due to a declining cap, perhaps the best strategy it to wait and pounce when the time is right.

Ranking the Rebuilds #6…The Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB – APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Calgary Flames rebuild officially started on March 28 2013 when they finally pulled the trigger on a trade sending away Jerome Iginla for two prospects and a 1st round pick (Morgan Klimchuck).

None of the assets acquired in that trade have had any impact in the NHL but that doesn’t mean the Flames have been sitting on their hands.

The return on that trade was limited because then GM Jay Feaster was hobbled by Iginla’s no trade clause and, in fact, Feaster had a better deal in place with Boston before Iginla decided he would rater play in Pittsburgh.

Feaster wouldn’t survive long enough for the trade to play out after Brian Burke was named POHO in September 2013 and would fire Feaster several months later.

He was replaced by Brad Treliving, the former assistant GM in Phoenix, and the two men rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The Flames had missed the playoffs for 4 consecutive seasons when the new regime took over and would miss again in 2013-14 but would quickly rebound in 2014/15 with a 97 point season good enough for 3rd in the Pacific Division.

The quick turnaround in Calgary came from a variety of sources.

In the first part of this series, I lauded the rebuild of the Tampa Bay Lightning as being the best in many seasons and it’s interesting to look at a comparison of the two rebuilds (Tampa vs. Calgary) from a respected Flames blogger From 80 Feet Above:

What the Lightning’s success does re-inforce is that the NHL is a young man’s game now. With Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman, Killorn and Palat all in that ‘sweet spot’ of being 24 or 25 years old, it shows what could be possible for the Flames in a few years with their young core of Ferland, Gaudreau, Bennett, Monahan and Brodie.

By turning over a portion of the roster every off-season, building up a solid supporting cast, strengthening the back-end, continually injecting youth, Yzerman has built a Lightning team that looks poised to be good for many years to come.

It’s not to say the Flames won’t be able to accomplish next season what Tampa Bay is doing right now, just don’t expect it.

What you should be hoping for instead is that Calgary stays the course on its rebuild and eventually gets to where the Lightning are at. Being a perennial Stanley Cup threat in which deep playoff runs become the norm, not the exception, should be the real goal here.

That article was written on May 31 and, of course there have been some significant changes for the Flames since then.

Chief among them was the absolute theft of young D stud Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins and the signing of possession monster Michael Frolik in free agency.

Even before that, the Flames had shored up their D prospect depth by grabbing two very highly rated draft eligible players in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington.

They added to that haul when they signed 6’3″ 210 free agent RH D Kenney Morrison out of Western Michigan University who promptly went on to score 6 points in 10 GP in a late season debut with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL

Considering their current NHL D depth chart is likely the best in the NHL, that certainly secures both the present and the future.

The Flames are in the enviable position of have no less than THREE legit top pairing D in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton and their supporting cast of Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Derek Engelland, while being a little shy on the bottom pairing, has blue chip prospects who will, soon make an impact.

Like any team that is rebuilding to win, centre depth is critical and the Flames have addressed that issue through the draft.

In their first draft, the new regime selected Sean Monahan 6th overall. Monahan has already established himself as one of the best 2 way centres in the league…hitting 31 goals in his second season at age 20.

The following year, they selected Sam Bennett, who I rated the best player available in the draft, at 4th overall and, despite needing shoulder surgery, Bennett would score more that 2.0 PPG when he returned to the OHL and then managed 3 goals and 4 points in 11GP in the NHL playoffs.

How is this for C depth?











That’s 10 natural centres folks and, while some have already been shifted to wing, I think you’ll have to agree that position has been well stocked.

With D and C already solved, that brings us to the crease where the Flames have 3 legit NHL goaltenders on the roster and blue chip prospects Jon Gillies and Mason MacDonald working their way up through the system.

All this, and not a mention of Johnny Gaudreau who was the most electrifying rookie in the NHL last season.

The former 4th round pick scored 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie and I expect he’ll build off that success in the upcoming season.

The Flames rebuild isn’t quite done since they’ll have to find another scoring winger and need to move out some deadwood on D (Smid, Engelland) but their future is very bright according to Hockey’s Future:

Strengths: The Calgary Flames have a bright future ahead of them as they have transformed into a resilient team that will only get better. It was thought the rebuild would take years before the Flames would contend for the postseason, but the bar has been raised following a special year that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs through determination and skill.

Most of their graduated prospects from this season were impact players, but their prospect pool is still flush with talent across the board. Markus Granlund has settled into a second/third line role while Michael Ferland stepped up in the postseason.

Expect Sam Bennett to push for a spot in the NHL next season.

There is also competition coming from the AHL ranks with a strong cast of players like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenny Agostino and others fighting for an NHL job.

Further down the pipeline in the NCAA and CHL, there are a host of skilled forwards with promise including Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith. In spite of their shallowness in goal, Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald have shown prospective for the future of the Flame’s net.

Weaknesses: Calgary is fortunate to have a deep defensive pool, but the system needs a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. The Flames also need more depth on the right wing and in the crease.

Please note the bolded.

The Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton to cover the first weakness and added Michael Frolik to address the second.

There is some concern that The Flames were “lucky”last season based on their possession stats but I find it difficult to project that going forward considering the offseason additions of Hamilton, Frolik and Bennett and potentially Morrisson and others.

This rebuild isn’t quite finished but, damn, it’s close and, when you consider it’s only been underway for 2 years, while provincial rival Edmonton has been rebuilding for almost a decade, it’s remarkable.

Ranking the Rebuilds #5…The Florida Panthers


I’ve long been a fan of Florida GM Dale Tallon.

Tallon built the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks team that has won 3 Stanley Cups in the 5 seasons.

Tallon’s first season as the Blackhawks general manager was a busy one. The 2004–05 NHL season was lost to a labor dispute, and the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players was signed in July 2005. Between the new financial structure and many rules changes intended to produce a higher scoring game, Tallon was challenged to build a new team. Tallon signed many free agents, including goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin,[5] defenceman Adrian Aucoin,[6] and forward Martin Lapointe,[7] which led to raised expectations. The Blackhawks finished Tallon’s first season with 26 wins, 43 losses and 13 overtime losses for 65 points, ranking the Blackhawks 14th in the 15-team Western Conference, and with the third-least points in the NHL.

Under Tallon, however, the Blackhawks steadily improved, raising their points totals to 71 and 88 in the next two years. Though not enough to make the playoffs either year, their poor overall standing allowed Tallon high draft picks to work with. In 2006, he selected Jonathan Toews third overall, then Patrick Kane first overall the following year. The two forwards went on to quickly become franchise cornerstones and were joined by fellow young talents Patrick SharpKris VersteegMartin Havlát and Brian Campbell, all of whom Tallon either signed or traded for.

With a new core of players in 2008–09, the Blackhawks finished the season with a 46–24–12 record for 104 points. Ranking fourth overall in the Western Conference, the team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Chicago made it to the Western Conference Finals, where they were eliminated in five games by the Detroit Red Wings.

Tallon further bolstered his team in the off-season by signing star winger Marián Hossa and Selke Trophy-winning John Madden. That same off-season, however, Tallon and the Blackhawks management came under fire in early July 2009, when the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) claimed the team did not submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents before the deadline.[8] In the worst-case scenario, the team’s unsigned restricted free agents at the time, including Kris Versteeg, would have become unrestricted, earning them additional salary and negotiating rights.[8] Tallon was able to sign all his restricted free agents, although at a cost of millions more than he would have to had he qualified them in time.[9]

Soon thereafter, on July 14, 2009, the Blackhawks demoted Tallon to the position of senior advisor, while Stan Bowman, son of Scotty Bowman, was promoted to general manager.[10] The following day, Martin Havlát, who was no longer a Blackhawk, criticized the team’s management and defended Tallon.[11] He stated, “Every single player on that team is with Dale. I still talk to the guys all the time, hockey players know a phony when they see one.”[11] He specifically berated John McDonough, the team’s president, commenting, “McDonough couldn’t stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Finals in 3 short years.”[11]

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June 2010. The Blackhawks engraved Tallon’s name on the Cup and issued him a Stanley Cup ring.[12] Source

Tallon remained in limbo until May 17th 2010 when he was hired by the Florida Panthers as GM and immediately setting about rebuilding his new team.

After serving as a senior advisor with the Blackhawks for nearly a year, Tallon was hired on May 17, 2010, by the Florida Panthers as general manager, replacing Randy Sexton.[13] The Panthers had finished last in their division, the Southeast, the previous season and had not made the playoffs since 2000. Seeking a rebuilding process similar to that which he accomplished in Chicago, Tallon immediately began trading away several players, most notably forward Nathan Horton and defenceman Keith Ballard.

In his first season as general manager, the Panthers finished last in their division for the second straight year, prompting Tallon to fire Head Coach Peter DeBoer (later replacing him with former NHL player Kevin Dineen) and to continue trading for younger players and draft picks. At the NHL trade deadline, he dealt away captain Bryan McCabe, as well as veterans Cory StillmanRadek Dvořák and Christopher Higgins. In the off-season, he acquired three former Chicago players — Brian Campbell, Tomáš Kopecký and Kris Versteeg— while also signing Tomáš Fleischmann and former Panthers fan favourite Ed Jovanovski.

Tallon’s personnel changes helped lead the Panthers to their first Southeast Division title in franchise history, improving by 22 points in the 2011–12 season. Qualifying for the 2012 playoffs as the third seed, they were eliminated in the first round by the eventual finalistsNew Jersey Devils, ironically led by former Panthers head coach, Peter DeBoer. As a result of his leading the team to their first playoff appearance in twelve years, Tallon was nominated for the 2012 NHL General Manager of the Year Award.

We can assume the rebuild in Florida began with Tallon’s tenure with the Panthers in 2010 but unlike the rebuild of the Edmonton Oilers which began the same season with the drafting of Taylor Hall, Tallon’s efforts were much more complicated,

After 3 year’s of lacking the resources to build a winner, that all changed in 2013 when Vincent Viola bought out a rag tag group of minority owners and committed to providing the dollars and stability the team needs to move forward.

Viola said Friday that he was committed to giving the Panthers “the resources needed to win the Stanley Cup,” which brought a smile to Tallon’s face.

“I believe in what he believes in,” said Tallon, the architect of Chicago’s 2010 championship team.

“He’s committed to putting a winning team out there on the ice. That’s all I can ask for. We’re going to get terrific commitment from him and that’s exciting. The fact I can go to them and say ’this is what we need, what are your thoughts?’ is important. That’s the support we need to fix whatever we need fixed.’’

The Panthers were previously controlled by Cliff Viner and a multitude of minor partners, including local heavyweights H. Wayne Huizenga, Alan Cohen, Mike Maroone and Jordan Zimmerman. They were all bought out by Viola. Viola owns a majority of the franchise now, with only longtime business partner Douglas Cifu joining him. Cifu is the new vice chairman and alternate governor of the Panthers. Source

So, if we consider the Panthers rebuild got a reboot in 2013, we’re now only a couple of years into the process.
In the past two years, Tallon has been very busy remaking his team while allowing his exceptional draft record to provide his team with young elite players.
After acquiring Roberto Luongo in trade, the Panthers are set in goal.
The D, anchored by possession monster Bryan Campbell propelled the Cats to a middling 2.60 GA/GP last season but Campbell is on the last year of his contract and it’s expected Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad will assume the role of #1 stud defenseman as early as this season.
With Dimitri Kulkov, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic, Dylan Olsen and Michael Matheson in the under 25 group, the Panthers are loaded with high end D prospects once Campbell, and Willie Mitchell are done.
Likewise, their prospect centre depth, due to astute drafting, is among the best in the league with Alexander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trochek, Rocco Grimaldi and 2014 draft Jayce Hawryluk all surging.
The Panthers weakness is, and has been, scoring wingers and they will need Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Pirri and newly acquired Reilly Smith to step up.
The addition of the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr gave the Panthers and immediate boost last season but the teams rebuild, while solid in goal, at D and at centre is remarkable, they need more scoring from the wings to make things hum.
Since wingers are the easiest players to acquire in trade or free agent signings, I expect Tallon will solve the issue sooner than later considering he is sitting with almost $12 million in free cap space.

Ranking the Rebuilds #4…The Columbus Blue Jackets


The Blue Jackets are about to embark on their 15th season in the NHL…a period of time in which they’ve made the playoffs twice and suffered a first round exit both times.

As you might expect from an expansion team, they were pretty awful in their first 3 seasons but with drafting Rick Nash 1st overall in 2002, there was some hope they would become legitimate.

But in the iconic 2003 draft, the Jackets selected enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev 4th overall and Dan Fritsche in the second round and the positive momentum stalled. For several years running, the Jackets floundered with a mix of disappointing draft picks and underperforming veterans.

But that would all change beginning in 2012 (when I think we can establish the start of the rebuild in Ohio) with 3 very significant moves.

In June of that year, former Blues executive John Davidson was appointed the President of Hockey Operations.

Davidson, just a few months later, would fire Scott Howson as General Manager and replace him with draft wizard Jarmo Kekalainen.

2012 was also the year that the Jackets traded Rick Nash to the Rangers, severing ties to their former 1st overall pick, perhaps realizing that investing your biggest cap hit ($7 million) in a winger was not the best winning strategy.

But, to me, the hiring of the new management team was the most significant part of the Jackets’ rebuild and a review of that management team indicates why:

The Columbus Blue Jackets started to turn a corner when John Davidson became president of hockey operations. When Davidson named Jarmo Kekalainen the team’s new general manager, the Blue Jackets were ready for launch.

They are rapidly ascending and not slowing down anytime soon.

The combo of Davidson and Kekalainen is a known commodity within hockey circles. They spent years together in St. Louis. They’re back together again in Columbus, pulling the same tricks that helped resurrect the Blues to a team of prominence.
So what is their secret? How have they been able to enjoy success over the long haul? It all starts with execution at the draft table. It specifically starts with the genius of Kekalainen.

How else can you explain the Blue Jackets landing three first-round draft talents in this past June’s draft, when starting the night with only one? The Blue Jackets drafted University of Michigan star Zach Werenski with the eighth pick. Then just before the night was over, the Blue Jackets used a second and a third to trade back into the first round. They landed the second-best skater on Central Scouting’s European list in Gabriel Carlsson. If that wasn’t enough, they still had an early second-round pick and drafted Paul Bittner, who many consider a first-round talent.

This shouldn’t surprise you. A look back at Kekalainen’s history suggests that this is the norm for him.

Let’s turn the clock back to the year 1995 for a minute. This is where the story of Kekalainen really starts.

Kekalainen served various roles within the hockey operations department of the Ottawa Senators. He spent a total of seven years with the Senators, most notably as their director of player personnel. He also oversaw both the amateur draft and European scouting for a time.

In his time with Ottawa, Kekalainen helped draft Jason Spezza, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Antoine Vermette and Ray Emery. At the same time, he also served as a general manager in the Finnish Elite League.

Kekalainen then joined the Blues and spent eight seasons with them from 2002 to 2010. He served as their director of amateur scouting. He was later named their assistant general manager.

The list of players that Kekalainen helped bring to St. Louis include David Backes, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo. His eye for talent is superior.

This begs the question: Has Kekalainen cracked the code of sorts when it comes to draft success? He brought star-caliber players to both Ottawa and St. Louis. He’s doing the same now in Columbus. How is he able to consistently do this over the years with different teams?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Kekalainen is one of the best in the business at spotting talent. (source)

***Worth noting that Bob MacKenzie had all 3 of Werenski, Carlsson and Bittner ranked in his top 30 and Columbus got all of them.***

Of course, the new management team doesn’t get credit for the drafts of Ryan Johansen and Dalton Prout in 2010, Boone Jenner in 2011 or, perhaps, even Ryan Murray in 2012.

But the Jackets went into the 2013 draft with 3 first round picks and appear to have hit pay dirt with all 3. (C Alexander Wennberg, LW Kerby Rychel and C Marko Dano (who was traded in this offseason in the Brandon Saad acquisition).

Then the Jackets plucked WHL scoring sensation RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (63G 118P with Portland last season) in the 3rd round which in hindsight was a huge steal.

It’s too early to make a call on 2014 1st round pick Sonny Milano but the speedy LW had 5 points in 10 AHL games late last season and looks like a player.

Hockey’s Future has the Jackets prospect depth ranked 10th in the NHL:

Strengths: The Columbus Blue Jackets have oodles of depth at forward. Centers Alex Wennberg, Marko Dano, and William Karlsson are all close to playing regular minutes at the NHL level, and others such as Sonny Milano and Kerby Rychel are not too far behind. The system also had several other forwards with extremely high upside, namely WHL standout Oliver Bjorkstrand, who has been one of the top goal-scorers in Canadian major junior hockey. There is also strong depth in net, with Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo competing for starts at the minor league level.

Weaknesses: The Blue Jackets lack both talent and depth along the blue line, an issue that was made all the more pressing when standout defensive prospect Mike Reilly opted to test free agency instead of signing with Columbus. The team could probably stand to add more depth along the wing, though given their depth at center, it is not as pressing an issue as it could be.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Alexander Wennberg, C, 2. Sonny Milano, 3. Marko Dano, C, 4. Kerby Rychel, LW, 5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW.

If there is a weakness on the Jackets roster, it is indeed on D.

While Ryan Murray is still an outstanding prospect, he has been plagued by injury playing only 88 games since being drafted #2 overall in 2012.

To get to the next level, the Jackets need Murray to live up to his draft pedigree and become the legit #1D that he was projected to be. If he doesn’t. the Jackets may have to parlay their impressive forward depth into a top pairing D or wait on their impressive 2015 draft picks.

The addition of blue chip D prospects Zack Werenski and Gabriel Carlsson will likely solve their D issues in the medium future but, until they arrive, the Jackets will have to outwork and outscore the opposition.

With Sergei Bobrovski (.918) in net, and several high end G prospects, the Jackets seem set at that position so, in the upcoming season, it will fall to their forwards to win the war.

They are loaded at C with Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner, Branson Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and Gregory Campbell so no issues there.

And the addition of Brandon Saad should give their depth at wing a shot in the arm but it will likely take the emergence of Milano, Bjorkstrand, Rychel and Bittner to turn them into perennial contenders.

The Jackets missed the playoffs last season due to a perfect storm of injuries:


Barring another catastrophic season of walking wounded, that won’t happen again and the Jackets will easily be a playoff team next season.