Later this week, the Columbus Blue Jackets will head north to Traverse City, Michigan, to partake in the annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament. Coached by Cleveland Monsters head coach Trent Vogelhuber, they will be joined by the Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. The Blue Jackets open up on Thursday, Sept. 14, with a 3:30 p.m. game against the Maple Leafs. They will face the Red Wings on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. after having a day off on Friday. On Sunday, the Blue Jackets will finish the weekend with an 11 a.m. game vs. the Stars.
The annual prospect tournament consists of prospects from each NHL team. Most players have been drafted by the organization in years past, although each year, there are a handful of undrafted players on each team. Some have spent time with their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliates, while others have played in NHL games already. We’ll take a look at some of the drafted prospects coming to Traverse City, as well as some of the undrafted players.
Top Drafted Blue Jackets Prospects in Traverse City
Headlining the drafted prospects making the trip are defensemen David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk and forward Adam Fantilli. Jiricek and Mateychuk, both first-round picks in 2022 at sixth and 12th overall, respectively, are highly touted prospects. Jiricek spent the majority of last season in the AHL with Cleveland, while Mateychuk played the full year in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Fantilli needs no introduction, as the Hobey Baker winner from the University of Michigan was selected third overall in 2023. This will be his first opportunity to play as a member of the Blue Jackets organization.
For these three, Traverse City is an opportunity to gain confidence and spend some time getting back into rhythm after a long offseason. It is an early start ahead of Blue Jackets training camp for Jiricek and Fantilli, while Mateychuk is slated to return to Moose Jaw in the WHL. Regardless of where they will be this season, it’s also a good opportunity to compete against other high-end prospects from around the NHL. It will be interesting to see how this trio performs in relation to other teams’ top prospects, such as Detroit’s Marco Kasper, who was selected eighth overall in 2022.
Other Drafted Prospects to Watch
Up front, Luca Del Bel Belluz and Dmitri Voronkov are two prospects to keep an eye on in Traverse City. Belluz was selected in the second round, 44th overall in 2022, and spent last season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) between the Mississauga Steelheads and the Sarnia Sting. He amassed 87 points in 66 regular season games between the two teams before putting up another 15 points in 16 playoff games. Del Bel Belluz has a natural scoring touch and has been able to find the back of the net at every level he’s played, from U16 to the OHL. He will be starting the season with the Monsters, so this is a good opportunity to play in front of Vogelhuber.
Voronkov was selected in the fourth round, 114th overall in 2019. He has spent the last four seasons playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with Ak Bars Kazan. Last season, the 23-year-old Russian potted 18 goals, good for third on the team. While Voronkov is a bit older than some of the other drafted players, there have been other Russian prospects to follow a similar path before finding success in the NHL. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Artemi Panarin spent multiple seasons playing in the KHL before coming to the NHL. This seems to be a common occurrence for Russian players who wish to or are contractually obligated to continue developing in their home country for a few extra seasons. Voronkov should be a little more seasoned and ready to play at this level than some of his younger counterparts.
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On the back end, Corson Ceulemans is another drafted prospect to keep tabs on. Ceulemans was selected in the first round of the 2021 draft at 25th overall. He finished his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin this past season, producing 23 points in 33 games. He then joined Cleveland at the end of the season, appearing in 13 games and registering one goal and one assist. Ceulemans is known for his excellent skating and ability to impact the play with his speed. He is expected to be a top blueliner for the Monsters in his first full pro season.
Who Are the Blue Jackets’ Undrafted Prospects?
There are currently 10 undrafted prospects rostered for the prospect tournament: forwards Cameron Butler, Hunter McKown, Justin Pearson, Sean McGurn, Oasiz Wiesblatt and Kocha Delic; defensemen Gunner Kinniburgh and Nicholas De Angelis; and goaltenders Pavel Cajan and Nolan Lalonde. We’ll look at a few of these undrafted prospects joining the drafted group.
McKown is an interesting addition as the 21-year-old played 12 games with the Blue Jackets last season. Joining the team after the conclusion of his junior year at Colorado College (CC), he registered two assists. With CC, he led the team in goals and points with 21 and 28, respectively, in 38 games played. His path to the NHL was somewhat atypical as the former National Team Development Program (NTDP) player went undrafted during his two years in Plymouth, MI (from ‘Blue Jackets’ Hunter McKown endured a humbling, challenging path to the NHL’, The Athletic, 2023). This is relatively uncommon as a good majority of NTDP players are drafted during their time with the program. McKown then got off to a slow start in his first year at CC, recording only two goals and six points in 23 games. His growth over the last two seasons shows promise as a potential NHL player in the future.
Another forward with an interesting path is Cameron Butler. Butler appeared in three games with Cleveland last season while spending the majority of the season in the OHL. Over the last five seasons, one of which no games were played due to COVID, Butler has played in 257 OHL games and racked up 154 points. With Oshawa last year, he held a stat line of 27 goals and 28 assists for 55 points in 63 games. Listed at 6’4″ and 210 lbs, he has the frame to be a successful power forward in the NHL. While adjusting from the OHL to the AHL will likely take some time, the 21-year-old has a combination of size and offensive ability that make him a prospect worth tracking over the next few years.
With the NHL preseason a little less than a month away, Traverse City is an opportunity for prospects to show they are ready to compete at the NHL level. It will be an entertaining four days in Michigan to see how the Blue Jackets prospects fare against other NHL clubs’ top prospects.
For the full Traverse City prospect tournament roster, click here.