Pale Dragon over at jacketscannon.com had an interesting write up on July 4. The crux of the article is that Jarmo has stocked up on young talent, that young talent overlaps (provides dept and options), and that Columbus isn't reliant on any single prospect panning out. Rather, by letting them all compete for a few roster spots it will enhance their development.
For a 'small market team' like Columbus, prospects are the lifeblood of the organization. Point made that attracting top UFAs to play here is tough and heard loud and clear when guys like Panarin leave money on the table to go to a bigger market with arguably a worse team, although the Rangers do have potential to make a run at the playoffs this year.
A list of prospects to compete for jobs in Columbus this year is long:
G - Veini Vehvilainen
G - Elvis Merzlikins
D - Vladislav Gavrikov
D - Andrew Peeke
F - Liam Foudy
F - Alexandre Texier
F - Trey Fix-Wolansky
F - Emil Bemstrom
F - Eric Robinson
Only three of these players have any NHL experience (Robinson, Gavrikov and Texier). And only one of those has the potential to be a top line guy (Texier). Robinson's potential tops out at the current Boone Jenner level, while Gavrikov (in very limited action) seems to likely have the potential of Fedor Tyutin. These comparisons are not a knock on either player as Tyutin and Jenner are quality players, but not stars in the NHL. Texier is a wild card. We have seen guys with high potential burn out quickly or never reach their full potential. CBJ fans were sold on Filatov, Zherdev, Fritsche, Sestito, Brule...the list could go on much longer. I don't cite this list to say that all Jackets prospects fail, that is certainly not the truth either, but that the potential for a prospect to pan out to be a star is slim - Atkinson in the 6th round is the exception not the rule.
The other failure with the stock-up-on-prospects-strategy is that teams tend to overvalue and become attached to their prospects. GMs see the potential or they would not have signed/drafted them. They tend to 'fall in love' with their guys and want to see them succeed. This validates their job and is a proud moment for a GM when a prospect graduates into NHL stardom. Problem is that they may be wearing rose-colored-glasses in comparing their guy to other talent in the NHL. Competition does not always result in elevated play or enhanced development. It can be mediocrity beating out mediocrity.
Prospects are not a today-fix as much as they should be viewed as a tomorrow-fix. Realizing that experience helps development and at some point the tomorrow for a prospect is today, I don't know that anyone on the above list are today's fix. Rushing guys into the NHL rarely works out.
Having options is a matter of finding the player who will result in a good fit. Good in theory, bad in practice. I go to the football analogy that if you have Two quarterbacks you really have Zero quarterbacks. The meaning of that statement is that (in the NFL) if you have a two guys battling as the starting QB, it is likely that neither are really your answer at the position. This doesn't exactly translate to hockey. Having depth and options in the NHL is a must, but doesn't always mean that the options are good.
The Good News
I feel like I have been over-critical of using prospects in the NHL. The NHL has become a young man's game based upon speed to be successful. This may bode well for the CBJ promoting prospects this season. The other things of note on this team is the strong (+ young) core and the better than average D-corp. I am a firm believer in defense wins championship in all sports.
The core has skated together for several seasons and are on an upward trajectory. Here is one projected line up that may be seen in Columbus this season:
Nyquist - PLD - Atkinson
Bjork - Wenn - Anderson
Foligno - Jenner - Texier (Fix-Wolansky/Bemstrom)
Dubi - Nash - Robinson (Fix-Wolansky/Bemstrom)
extra: Hannikainen, Fix-Wolansky, Bemstrom, Foudy
Jones - Murray
Werenski - Savard
Nutivaara - Gavrikov
extra: Clendening, Kukan, Peeke, Harrington
The obvious deficiency is at center. On the Jackets website it has Nyquist listed as a center but he has primarily played wing throughout his NHL career. Maybe the CBJ plan on using him differently? Nash could end up being the 3rd center with Jenner moving to wing or down to the 4th center. There is no lack of options, but may be a lack of scoring.
There is a glut of talent on the blue line. Which is good because the group of goaltenders is unproven and could find cover behind a quality group of defensemen.
As a realist, I have to admit that it feels like a rebuild year. Questions abound without any clear answers. Could this be a playoff team? Yes, but not too likely. Expectations are low. But the key to happiness is low expectations. Optimistically this is a team that could have some surprises and could finish as high as 3rd in the Metro but as low as last in the East (but not likely to fall that far).
Casual hockey fans will wonder why Columbus isn't better this season, but those who follow hockey will understand if there is a drop off and that the drop off my be steep. My guess is that this will be a season that we see many of the young guys integrated into the line up at some point, a clear starting goalie will emerge by Christmas and that the team will be around .500 all season. This team is likely to hold the same roster most of the season and not make moves at the deadline, but challenge for the final playoff spot. Ultimately this is not a playoff roster, but prove me wrong Jackets...I would love to eat these words come April of 2020.
I tried to check for typos, grammatical errors and spelling, but I am relying on the grammar police to point out my shortcomings. Thanks for the help I don't have an editor and suck at doing it myself.
Thanks for reading.