As a member of the "top prospect trio" of this year's NHL Draft, Seth Jones has received a lot of attention - and for good reason.
On first glance, the numbers speak for themselves: he finished fourth among all WHL defensemen in points (56) and helped the Portland Winterhawks capture both the regular season and postseason titles in the 2012-13 season. The Winterhawks lost the Memorial Cup to Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and the Halifax Mooseheads, but it was a terrific season nonetheless and Jones was a big part of it.
Jones also captained the gold medal-winning Team USA at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship Tournament, and was a significant contributor to the gold medal-winning American squad at the 2013 World Junior in Ufa, Russia.
Not a bad resume for an 18-year-old, right?
At 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., Jones commands attention with his presence alone. His size, skill and mobility are a rare blend that every NHL team is looking for and he's widely regarded as one of the best defense prospects in years.
Note to self: when a GM says something is "close," it's probably really close.
Sitting in Jarmo Kekalainen's pre-draft media session yesterday, the topic of restricted free agents was brought up on a couple of occasions. The first being goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (you can read more about those contracts talks here), but also center Artem Anisimov, due to be RFA on July 5.
Kekalainen said on Tuesday that the club was "very close" to getting Anisimov re-signed. It's almost like he knew something we didn't.
Over the past few weeks, Kekalainen has been very frank in stating his confidence of reaching a deal with Anisimov in the near term.
Today, it was made official: Anisimov re-upped with a three-year extension that will keep him in Columbus through the 2015-16 NHL season. Anisimov will be 28 years old and an unrestricted free agent when the deal expires.
Speculation will always exist, but Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he doesn't have any immediate concerns about getting Sergei Bobrovsky signed to a new contract.
At his pre-draft media availability this morning at Nationwide Arena, Kekalainen said the club is in the midst of an ongoing process with Bobrovsky and his agent. Negotiations are continuing, Kekalainen said, and he's optimistic of a deal in the near future with the Vezina Trophy winner.
Bobrovsky, 24, won 21 games for the Blue Jackets in his first season with Columbus and posted a career-high four shutouts. He was named the NHL's top goaltender during the Stanley Cup Final, winning the award over Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi.
"Nobody wants to lose the Vezina winner," Kekalainen said. "We're working hard to get him back, we're optimistic we can get him back. We've had some good conversations with his agent."
Every year, there's a prospect or two whose combination of hockey sense and a prototypical NHL frame make for intense discussions at the draft table. This year, look no further than Frederik Gauthier.
Scouts have raved about his complete, 200-foot game and total commitment to excelling in all three zones. For a young kid, the emerging skills and towering 6-foot-3 frame are a rare commodity and you have to think some team (if one hasn't already) will fall in love with the kid and do whatever it can to move up the draft board.
In his first season with Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), Gauthier was a standout player. He scored 22 goals and totaled 60 points in 62 games, and didn't miss a beat despite a broken jaw that caused him to miss two weeks of action in the fall. Gauthier is considered to be a bit of a project because of an occasional bout with inconsistency, but there's no questioning his hockey sense.
He has a knack for being around the puck at the right time and being on what coaches call "the right side of the puck." At 18 years of age, that's quite the compliment to be paid. Scouts have projected Gauthier as the ideal second or third-line center that can play against any of the opposition's lines, but preferably in a position to shut down offense.
(photo credit: Hockey's Future)
Valentin Zykov's first season in North America gave scouts and their NHL clubs a birds-eye view of the game-breaking talent that's put him high on many draft boards.
After one year spent with CSKA's second-division (junior) team in Russia as a 17-year-old, Zykov opted to bring his game to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and prepare himself for a possible career in the NHL. A strong performance for Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior A Challenge put him on the radar for this year's draft, but gaining experience in North American was deemed the best route for his career.
In one season with Baie-Comeau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Zykov was responsible for a lot of flights to Quebec - and there weren't many nights when scouts left the rink disappointed. He played 67 games this year for the Drakkar and scored 40 goals and totaled 75 points, and was named rookie of the year in the QMJHL as a result.
Zykov was also named the top rookie in the entire CHL with goal and point totals that were unsurpassed by any players in the WHL, OHL or QMJHL.
Selecting two goaltenders at last year's NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo) was merely a continuation of what came before. Former GM Scott Howson made a deal for Bobrovsky earlier that week, then signing Curtis McElhinney and retaining Anton Forsberg with an entry-level deal helped round out the goalie stable.
The club also has University of Maine goaltender Martin Ouelette in its system. Allen York, who has spent time in the ECHL, AHL and NHL over the past few seasons, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 5. Qualifying offers must be submitted by NHL clubs to RFAs by July 2 this year.
Got all that? Alright, let's continue.
The first item of business for John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen is to get Bobrovsky signed to a new contract, Davidson said, but there's more work beyond that. A fantastic season with Springfield (AHL) earned McElhinney a new one-year, NHL contract with the Blue Jackets but there are no guarantees he will backup Bobrovsky in the fall.
Nikita Zadorov is one of the top defensemen in the 2013 NHL Draft class and is one of the largest available players. Seriously, he's a beast.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs., Zadorov is one of the biggest and strongest defensemen available in this year’s draft and isn’t afraid to take advantage of it. He doesn’t back down from a fight when challenged and forwards shy away from him when he goes for a check, allowing him to play a simple-yet-effective defensive game that is conducive to big minutes. He was the kind of player London Knights coach Dale Hunter loved to have on his blue line: solid, steady and with a bit of a mean streak to his game.
His skating ability and agility are impressive because he is such a big guy. Among this year's defense prospects in the NHL Draft, Zadorov has a clear advantage because his size gives him dominant potential - a distinct edge above most defensemen. His confidence is evident whether he’s skating the puck up the ice or punishing players on the boards.
Ever wondered what it's like inside the Blue Jackets interview room when hockey operations is talking to draft prospects?
NHL Network is taking you behind-the-scenes and giving you an inside look at NHL teams and what goes on at the annual Scouting Combine, which was held in late May in Toronto.
In the video clip above, Jarmo Kekalainen and the amateur scouting staff have their combine sit-down with top prospect Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks. The Scouting Combine Recap show will air on NHL Network on Saturday, June 29 at 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 30 prior to the network's live Draft pre-game show.
Valeri Nichushkin is perhaps one of the most interesting prospects in the 2013 NHL Draft class.
He spent this season playing for KHL powerhouse Chelyabinsk Traktor, proving that even as a 17-year-old he could handle the pace and demands of the professional game. At the World Junior Championships, Nichushkin scored a phenomenal goal to capture the bronze medal in overtime against a stacked Canadian team.
Nichushkin possesses pro-style size at 6-foot-4 and weighing in around 200 lbs., pretty much the size of your ideal NHL power forward with room to grow and has proven he can compete with the best in the game.
What makes Nichushkin’s skill set so interesting is that though he is a powerful big-body player, his skating ability matches the speed and swiftness of much smaller NHL players. On the physical side, he is not afraid to throw his body around and knock opposing players off the puck. On the skating and scoring side, Nichushkin possesses incredible talent and potential. His ability to dangle defensemen, weave into the zone, set up shop and blast the puck makes him an incredibly difficult player to defend.
It has been a lengthy and at-times frustrating rehabilitation process for Ryan Murray, but the finish line is finally nearing.
Originally scheduled be to ready for "game action" sometime in early-to-mid July, Murray's injured shoulder is getting back to normal. Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told BlueJackets.com this morning that Murray's shoulder is "back to 100 percent" and he's doing very well in offseason workouts, and should be completely ready for training camp in September.
Murray is also scheduled to be in attendance at the Blue Jackets' annual development camp, which will take place in mid-July at the OhioHealth Ice Haus attached to Nationwide Arena.
"He's doing very well," Davidson said. "By the time September comes around, he's going to be a well-conditioned young man."
Murray has spent the first part of his offseason back home in Saskatchewan, but his workouts will shift to Columbus for the balance of the summer after development camp. The Blue Jackets' first pick (second overall) at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, Murray suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery in November during a game against the Victoria Royals when he was captain of the WHL's Everett Silvertips.