Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Columbus Blue Jackets Prospects
The Columbus Blue Jackets were not quite as good in 2017-18 as they were in 2016-17 but were still a solid team. Newly acquired winger Artemi Panarin was a scoring superstar, rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois showed flashes that give many fans hope that he will develop into a number one centre, and Seth Jones finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting. The Jackets made the playoffs and even took a 2-0 lead in their first-round series with the Washington Capitals. However, they lost the next four games as the Capitals went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Jackets big off-season addition was centre Riley Nash who signed a three-year deal. They also added depth pieces in Adam Clendening and Anthony Duclair. There have been other complications though. Trade rumours have swirled around Panarin and the team lost free agents Ian Cole, Jack Johnson, and Matt Calvert. In a minor move, the Jackets added Ryan MacInnis.
2018 NHL Draft Picks: Liam Foudy, Kirill Marchenko, Marcus Karlberg, Tim Berni, Veini Vehvilainen, Trey Fix-Wolansky
Graduations: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Scott Harrington, Markus Hannikainen
Top Prospect: Vitali Abramov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born May 8th, 1998 — Chelyabinsk, Russia
Height 5’9″ — Weight 170 lbs [175 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 3rd round, #65 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Abramov had another big season in junior. With Gatineau looking at a rebuild, he was traded to Victoriaville early in the year. Overall he scored 45 goals and 59 assists for 104 points in 56 games. He also added nine goals and 16 points in 13 playoff games. Abramov also played for Russia at the World Juniors but struggled with just one goal in five games.
Abramov may be slightly undersized, but there are more and more undersized players succeeding in the NHL today. One thing that Abramov has in common with the most successful of these undersized players is that he is an outstanding skater. He has great speed and tremendous acceleration, allowing him to blow past opponents on the rush. He also has great agility, allowing him to make quick cuts and beat defenders one-on-one. Add in a strong lower body, as well as a low centre of gravity and Abramov has the balance and power to be strong on the puck and to fight through checks. For a smaller player, he is surprisingly good in one-on-one battles along the boards.
Abramov marries his skating ability with soft hands and good stickhandling ability. This makes him very tough to defend one-on-one, whether it be off the rush or working the puck down low. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, making Abramov a nightmare for defenders even when they try to take away his time and space. If he gets that space, look out.
Abramov is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot along with a quick release. Abramov also has a very good snapshot, slap shot and one-timer. He can also play the role of playmaker with good vision and passing skills. While Abramov has good lower body strength, he must continue to get stronger in his upper body to take the physical pounding he could face at the next level.
Abramov works hard defensively, as he is conscientious on the backcheck, and tries to help out the defence down low. Unfortunately, this is the biggest area where his lack of size is exposed, as he can be outmuscled by bigger, stronger opponents. He must add upper body strength in order to improve his defensive game.
Abramov is looking for a spot in the NHL, however, it may be a little too soon for him. Upper body strength is still a bit of a concern, and he can use a bit more work defensively. He’s good for a junior-aged player but not yet NHL ready. Expect to see Abramov start the year in Cleveland. He may not take long though, he could be a call-up in case of injuries and might be ready for a full-time role before the end of the year.
#2 Prospect: Liam Foudy
The Blue Jackets drafted Foudy with the 18th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Foudy. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Gabriel Carlsson
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 2nd, 1997 — Orebro, Sweden
Height 6’5″ — Weight 192 lbs [196 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 1st round, #29 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Carlsson spent his first full season in North America last year. He put up two goals and five points in 33 games for the Cleveland Monsters. He also got in 14 NHL games with the Jackets, picking up two assists.
Carlsson is a good skater for his size. He has a long stride and generates above-average speed and acceleration. Carlsson has good balance and can be tough to knock off the puck at times but struggles against particularly big and strong opponents. He can still add more lower-body strength to improve in this area. He also has decent agility, pivots, and edgework which combined with his good backwards skating speed makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations.
Offensively, what you see is what you get with Carlsson. He does not handle the puck much, preferring to move it quickly to a teammate rather than skate it up the ice. He has good passing skills and can make a good first pass on the breakout, or the long breakaway pass to a streaking teammate. Carlsson is very much a stay at home defender though. He does not even join the rush as a trailer very often. Carlsson has a decent slapshot when he gets the chance to unleash it, but lacks instinct in the offensive zone to create opportunities.
The best part of Carlsson’s game is his play in his own end of the rink. He has excellent positioning and his hockey IQ is very high. He anticipates plays well, cutting down passing lanes with a long stick and creating transitions with a good first pass. Carlsson’s big body is an asset as he is willing to play a physical game, throwing hits, fighting for loose pucks, as well as clearing the front of the net. He can still add more muscle to that frame to improve this area.
He battles hard every shift and is willing to do whatever it takes to win games. He doesn’t throw a lot of big hits but is very involved in the dirty areas of the ice and is willing to take a hit to make a play. Carlsson is more than willing to put his body on the line and block shots. He is also very good on the penalty kill. His big frame and long stick really cut down on options for the attacking team.
Carlsson will head to camp looking to make the Blue Jackets. He is likely battling things out with Adam Clendening for a role in the top-six. Carlsson’s time is now. He should make the team out of camp and solidify his role. Even if things don’t go well and he ends up in Cleveland, expect him to be a quick call-up.
#4 Prospect: Jonathan Davidsson
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born March 12th, 1997 — Tyreso, Sweden
Height 5’11” — Weight 185 lbs [180 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 6th round, #170 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
A sixth-round pick in 2017, Davidsson had a break-out season in the SHL. He put up 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 52 games for Djurgardens. He also added four goals and eight points in 11 playoff games.
Davidsson is a strong skater. He has a quick first step and very good acceleration. His top end speed is also very good. Davidsson is very dangerous off the rush, and defenders must back off to respect his speed. He also has good agility and edgework, allowing him to weave through traffic both with and without the puck. He can get stronger, especially in his lower body to improve his balance and be stronger on the boards.
Davidsson is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He is a strong stick-handler and can make plays while moving at top speed. He combines this with his skating ability to create offence. Davidsson can change speeds or make a quick feint, allowing him to open up a passing lane for a teammate.
Davidsson has a decent shot and release but lacks power. He could stand to shoot more often though in order to get defenders to respect that option and open up more space. Davidsson sometimes defers to passing a bit too much. He could also get stronger on the puck in order to be better in the cycle game. This would help him to score more at even strength. Right now, he gets most of his points off the rush or on the power play.
Davidsson needs work on his defensive game. He has a tendency to get caught watching the puck and stop moving his feet which leads to missed assignments. He also needs to work on his intensity and physicality in his own end. Davidsson’s quickness can help him to break up plays but there is work to do on his positioning and instincts.
Davidsson signed an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in May. It is expected that if he does not make the NHL, he will play one more season in Sweden before coming to North America. The Jackets hope he takes another step forward with Djurgardens this year.
#5 Prospect: Vladislav Gavrikov
Defence — shoots Left
Born November 21st, 1995 — Yaroslavl, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 6th round, #159 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Gavrikov put up 14 points in 50 games for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. He also added five points in 15 playoff games. He was part of Team Russia at the Olympics scoring two goals and an assist in six games and helping them to a gold medal. He also played at the World Championships, recording one assist in eight games.
Gavrikov is a good skater for his size. He has decent top-end speed, a good first step, and above average acceleration. More importantly, his backwards skating is as strong as his forward movement, allowing him to play the shutdown style of defensive game that he is known for. Gavrikov also has good edgework and pivots which allow him to keep the play in front of him and cover a lot of ice. His balance and lower body strength give Gavrikov the ability to win board battles.
There is not much to talk about when it comes to Gavrikov’s offensive game. While he has a decent first pass out of his zone and his slap shot is average, he really does not bring a lot of offence to the game. He is a stay at home type of defender, who does not join the rush often and is not one to pinch a lot at the blue line. He is more valued for his defensive contributions than for any kind of offence he puts up. He did take a few more chances with SKA than he has in the past though and made more plays at the offensive blueline. It remains to be seen if this will continue and translate when he comes to North America.
Gavrikov has excellent size and is not afraid to use it. He plays a very physical game, standing up zone entries at the line, punishing opponents who try to go wide on him, throwing plenty of hits in the corners, and clearing the front of the net. He plays excellent positional defence, maintaining good gap control and forcing attackers to the outside and away from key danger areas in his zone. Gavrikov is also a willing shot blocker who is not afraid to get into shooting lanes and uses his long stick to cut down on passing lanes.
Gavrikov has proven to be particularly strong in the penalty kill. Adding muscle since his draft year is a big reason why he was so much better in board battles and clearing the net now.
Gavrikov enters the second year of the two-year deal he signed with CSKA Moscow last summer. The Blue Jackets hope to bring him to North America in 2019.
#6 Prospect: Alexandre Texier
Centre — shoots Left
Born September 13th, 1999 — Grenoble, France
Height 6’0″ — Weight 182 lbs [183 cm/83 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #45 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Texier moved from France to Finland, playing for Kalpa in the SM-Liiga. He adjusted well to the level of competition with 13 goals and 22 points in 53 games. He also added three points in three games in the Champions Hockey League and two points in six Liiga playoff games. Texier also played for his country, he put up four assists in five games at the D1A World Juniors, and three assists in seven games at the Men’s World Championships.
Texier is very quick. His first step and acceleration are excellent and he has very good top speed. He can beat defenders wide and take the puck to the net. He also forces them to back off and this opens up passing lanes. Texier has good edgework and agility. He can change directions on a dime, and manoeuver around defenders. He needs to get stronger though. This would improve his balance and his ability to battle in the corners and out front.
Texier is a very good playmaker. His stickhandling is excellent. He can make plays in tight spaces as well as being able to make plays while moving at top speed. His quick movements open up passing lanes. Texier sees the ice extremely well and finds the open man. He can put a pass through tight areas and onto a teammates tape.
Texier also has a heavy wrist shot and good release. However, he does not always use it enough. He could stand to shoot more often. He also needs to be better at getting to the dirty areas of the ice. Texier plays a bit of a perimeter game at this point. He needs to get to the front of the net and being willing to battle harder for loose pucks along the boards.
Texier’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. He needs to work on his positioning and defensive instincts. He sometimes seems lost in his own end and not quite sure of his responsibilities. Texier could also stand to bulk up and play with a bit more of an aggressive edge in the defensive zone.
Texier is likely to spend another season in Finland. He is still two-to-three years away from being NHL ready. Texier has a lot of natural talent, but the jump from playing hockey in France to the NHL is a big one and he will need to take many little steps with adjustments and improvements along the way.
#7 Prospect: Kirill Marchenko
The Blue Jackets drafted Marchenko with the 49th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Marchenko. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#8 Prospect: Elvis Merzlikins
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born April 13th, 1994 — Riga, Latvia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 183 lbs [191 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 3rd round, #76 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Merzlikins had another excellent season for Lugano in the Swiss league. He put up a 0.921 save percentage in 42 regular season games and 0.935 in 18 playoff games. He was excellent for Latvia at the World Championships with a 1.50 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in six games.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-3, Merzlikins has the type of size that NHL teams look for in goaltenders today. He makes the most of that size by coming well out of his net to challenge shooters and giving them little net to look at. He is a good skater who gets back quickly to avoid being deked. Merzlikins also has a good push and gets side-to-side quickly, however, he can sometimes get caught moving a bit too far. He plays a butterfly style and is quick to get up and down.
Merzlikins has quick and powerful legs. He shuts down the bottom of the net effectively. His blocker and glove are also good. He also shows very good rebound control. Merzlikins gets out of his net and plays the puck effectively. He can start the breakout with a pass to his defenders and can also catch teams making a bad change with a long pass up to a forward.
Merzlikins is a steady goaltender who provides confidence for his defenders. He knows when to keep the puck moving and get it up the ice, or when to force a stoppage to give his team a breather. Merzlikins does not give up many bad goals but when he does, he shakes it off quickly and is ready to make the next save. He doesn’t let things spiral out of control on himself or the team.
According to EliteProspects, this is set to be the final year of Merzlikins contract with Lugano. The Blue Jackets should make a push to sign him next summer. He could provide the team with excellent goalie depth.
#9 Prospect: Andrew Peeke
Defence — shoots Right
Born March 17th, 1998 — Parkland, Florida
Height 6’2″ — Weight 200 lbs [188 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #34 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Peeke had a solid sophomore season with Notre Dame. He put up five goals and 14 points in 39 games. Peeke helped the Irish to the Big-10 regular season and tournament titles. They also went to the National Championship Game, only to lose a close contest to Minnesota-Duluth. Peeke also played for Team USA at the World Juniors, picking up two points and winning a bronze medal.
Peeke has good straight-line speed. He also has a quick first step and good acceleration. This is true in both directions and helps him to play a two-way game. He needs a bit of work on his edgework and agility, however. He can sometimes struggle to contain quick forwards who force him to move laterally. Peeke is strong on his skates. He battles well in front of the net and along the boards, as well as being strong on the puck.
While Peeke is known for his defensive game, there is a bit of offensive ability in him as well. He makes a good first pass out of the zone and starts the transition. He can also be effective at keeping the puck moving at the offensive blueline. Peeke is not one to lead the rush but he does get back in his own zone, retrieve loose pucks and skate them out of danger. He has worked to improve his wrist shot and slap shot throughout his college career. While they aren’t elite, they are above average.
Peeke has excellent size and uses it to play a strong defensive game. He is willing to be physical along the boards and in front of the net. Peeke can also throw big hits, and punish forwards who attack his side of the ice with their head down. He shows good positioning, as well as the willingness to block shots. Peeke uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes and is strong on the penalty kill.
Peeke is headed back to Notre Dame for his junior season. With another good campaign, the Jackets might sign him in the spring.
#10 Prospect: Kevin Steenlund
Centre — shoots Right
Born September 20th, 1996 — Huddinge, Sweden
Height 6’4″ — Weight 210 lbs [193 cm / 95 kg]
Drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Steenlund put up seven goals and 22 points in 43 games for HV71 in the SHL last season. He also added two goals and an assist in three Champions Hockey League games and one assist in two playoff games. At the end of the season, he joined the Cleveland Monsters in the AHL, recording two assists in seven games.
A big centre, Stenlund’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. His speed and acceleration can be improved. He could clean up his footwork and initial strides. Stenlund has good agility and edgework for a big man. He changes directions quickly and makes good cuts. His strong lower body and good balance is a real asset in controlling the puck down low and playing the cycle game.
Stenlund uses his size and stickhandling ability to control the puck down low. He wins battles on the boards and gets to the front of the net. He is also a very smart player, keeping the puck moving effectively, and finding open spaces in the defence. Stenlund has very good vision as well as the skill to make these passes to open areas. He can score with a good wrist shot and strong release.
Stenlund backchecks hard and supports the defence down low. He uses his size effectively to contain the cycle game. He also uses his long stick and good positioning to cut down passing lanes. Stenlund is not afraid to block shots.
Steenlund should spend this season with the Monsters in the AHL. He will likely need a year and possibly two before he is NHL ready. There is not a whole lot of offensive upside here, but he could be an effective third or fourth line centre with the right development.
Sleeper Prospect: Sam Vigneault
Centre — shoots Left
Born September 7th, 1995 — Baie-Comeau, Quebec
Height 6’5″ — Weight 203 lbs [196 cm/92 kg]
Signed as an undrafted free agent, March 2017.
Vigneault broke his finger in training camp last year and missed the start of the season. When he got in the lineup, he put up nine goals and 22 points in 56 games for Cleveland in the AHL.
Vigneault is a good skater for his size. He has decent speed and acceleration. His first step can be a bit of a concern but has improved over the last couple of years. He also has good agility and edgework. Vigneault also needs to add muscle to his frame. He is tall and lanky. While he is stronger now than he was when he signed, there is still more work to do. This would improve his balance and allow him to win more battles on the boards.
Vigneault sees the ice well and is smart with the puck. He makes strong passes and can put the puck through tight areas. Vigneault controls the puck in the cycle game, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. His wrist shot has good power and accuracy, but he needs to improve his release. It takes a bit too long to get his shot off which allows goaltenders to get set for the shot. With his frame, he could be effective in screening goalies and creating traffic in front of the net but must put on more muscle and improve his balance.
Vigneault is defensively responsible. He seems to always be on the right side of the puck. He uses his big frame and long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He is also good in the faceoff circle. Vigneault supports the defence down low and applies good back pressure. He is also effective on the penalty kill. Vigneault will
Vigneault is likely to start the season in Cleveland. If he continues to grow his game he could see time as a call-up in case of injuries. Vigneault likely tops out as a third or fourth line centre, but that would still be a valuable addition, especially when acquired as an undrafted free agent.
The Blue Jackets have a very good, young hockey team. Over the last three years, they have graduated most of their highest quality prospects. They have also moved some draft picks for rental help in recent years. As a result, the system needs to be restocked. There is no blue chip prospect in the system, and the overall depth is a bit depleted as a result.
The Blue Jackets are strongest in goal, where Merzlikins is joined by Daniil Tarasov and freshly drafted Veini Vehvilainen.
On the blue line, the Jackets added Tim Berni, to a group that also includes Robbie Stucker, Blake Siebenaler, and Veeti Vainio.
Depth forwards also include Calvin Thurkauf, Marcus Karlberg, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Carson Meyer, Emil Bemstrom, Kale Howarth, and Paul Bittner.
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