Blue Jackets’ Bright Future Clearly on Display in Traverse City

The Columbus Blue Jackets have aced the NHL Draft in the last couple of seasons. You can see proof of that this week at the Traverse City Prospect’s Tournament.

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Although the Blue Jackets have split their two games so far, this tournament really isn’t about the final scores. It’s more about seeing the next wave of talent that will eventually wear their uniform.

These Blue Jackets have no shortage of talent. It started last season with the performances of both Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov. This season they boast even more talent.

The obvious names to many that would be watched were Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk. It turns out that the excitement even goes beyond that with both Luca Del Bel Belluz and Jordan Dumais each making a good impression so far.

We will now look at these six prospects and some early impressions of them based on the two games that were completed Thursday and Friday. The Blue Jackets hammered the St. Louis Blues 7-1 Thursday and were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 on Friday.

Kent Johnson

One look at the scoresheet shows that Johnson is doing what he is supposed to do in this kind of tournament. He is dominating with two goals and three assists in the two games. When his line is on the ice, they are usually dictating the play and creating scoring chances for themselves.

But what stands out is just how dominant he has been with the puck on his stick. Not only can he get to the good areas of the ice, his vision is off the charts. He is able to get the puck to his teammates from anywhere on the ice, even if it doesn’t look like the passing lane is open.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson has been one of the stars of Traverse City this year. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

The big question surrounding Johnson is what will his eventual role be. He is playing the role of top-line center in this tournament and showing he can handle the responsibility in a small sample size. With some question about how will be the top-line center on the Blue Jackets this season, we cannot rule out Johnson playing so well that he forces his way into that spot.

It’s already clear Johnson has the skill to do it. But is he able to be reliable defensively early on in order to earn those top minutes? That will be determined. For now, the Blue Jackets have said from the time he was drafted that he see him as a center and are intent to give him every opportunity to play there. So far, so good for Johnson. He has the makings of being a special player who will be a problem for the opposition for a long time.

Kirill Marchenko

Marchenko has scored in the two games and has the look of someone who’s been doing this for a long time. Considering his time in the KHL, this comes as no surprise.

Right away, you can see Marchenko uses his 6-foot-3 size to his advantage and is able to get in scoring position. When he gets in scoring position, he can finish.

Kirill Marchenko Columbus Blue Jackets
Kirill Marchenko has scored in both games so far in Traverse City. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What I wanted to see was how quickly that he and Johnson could develop chemistry on the same line. It didn’t take them long to get on the same page. This shows an ability to adjust to different conditions in short order. Marchenko is in the running to make the Blue Jackets right out of camp. He has a strong case for the Calder if he is given an opportunity higher in the lineup right away.

Related: Johnson & Marchenko are Strong Calder Candidates

Marchenko comes as advertised. He could become an eventual replacement for Oliver Bjorkstrand on the scoring wing. The hype around him is certainly there. He’s done nothing to hurt that so far this week.

David Jiricek

Jiricek is a future star in the NHL. Although he’s just been ok in the two games, you can see what he brings to the table that shows his upside.

Jiricek is a two-way defender that will create offense one moment and punish you the next. In Traverse City, he has played the point on the power play. You can see the poise he brings back there. He’s not afraid to use his shot to create chances. He can also distribute the puck to the playmakers.

Defensively, Jiricek is not passive at all. He will lay heavy hits on his opponents and play an in your face style that will frustrate the opposition.

Jiricek will be a story to watch throughout Blue Jackets’ camp. They do not need to rush him to the NHL but he has a chance to crack this loaded roster should he crush it in camp. Should more time be needed, they can send him two hours up the road to Cleveland to play top minutes and to further adjust to the North American ice.

With all that said, Jiricek could eventually become Zach Werenski’s partner on the top pair if he exceeds expectations. The Blue Jackets have significant questions on defense especially on the right side. If they think Jiricek is ready, they won’t hesitate to put him there. He will get every chance to do so.

Denton Mateychuk

Like Jiricek, Mateychuk projects to be a star in the NHL. I do think we need to tone down the Cale Makar comparisons at this early stage. But there is still plenty to be excited about with him.

Mateychuk has been ok in the first two games. The thing I wanted to see was his skating and how he’d use that to play his position. He is certainly not afraid to jump into the play and create chances. He actually reminds me of a young Werenski in the sense of playing like a rover.

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You can see there is room for defensive development as you would expect to see. But the speed and awareness are hard to ignore. Once Mateychuk returns to his WHL team, he is expected to be one of the best defensemen in the league. He was already a point per game defenseman during his draft season. There’s no reason to believe a significant drop off is forthcoming.

Think of this. An eventual top four on the blue line could be Werenski, Jiricek, Mateychuk and Corson Ceulemans. That’s an exciting young core for many seasons. That doesn’t include other prospects that could make their mark too.

Luca Del Bel Belluz

The fun goes beyond the first round for the Blue Jackets. With their second-round pick in 2022, they took Del Bel Belluz. Several outlets pegged him as a first rounder. This included the Blue Jackets on their list.

In Traverse City, Del Bel Belluz has shown why there is some excitement around him. Did you see the finish on his goal against the Blues? On a tough angle, he was able to finish upstairs with the goalie having no chance.

With all the talk about Sillinger and Johnson being the centers of the future for the Blue Jackets, Del Bel Belluz could work his way into that conversation eventually. He’s a smart player who can get into prime scoring positions. He will get his chance to work on his skating in a good situation with the Mississauga Steelheads. He is also expected to be a future contributor on Team Canada. Thus far he has shown why many teams had him on their radar for first-round consideration.

Jordan Dumais

What a start for Dumais on Thursday. His scored the Blue Jackets’ first two goals on Thursday. We knew he could score. But did you see how confident he was with the puck?

Dumais comes with obvious questions including his skating and his size. But time and again when you are so good at something and play with a chip on your shoulder, you’ll find a way to make an impact in the NHL. It’s no accident Dumais scored at a high clip in the QMJHL. He knows how to finish.

Jordan Dumais Columbus Blue Jackets
Jordan Dumais is a very confident player. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The question remaining for Dumais is can he consistently do it against the best in the world. Bigger and faster defenders will be able to push him off pucks. How he adjusts to the attention he gets will dictate his true upside. After watching him in these two games, there’s no doubt how confident he is about his game.

Up Next

The Blue Jackets have one more game in Traverse City on Sunday at 2 P.M. against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that comes Media Day on Monday where John Davidson, Jarmo Kekalainen and Brad Larsen will all speak to the media. Then on Wednesday, training camp opens with their first preseason games on the following Sunday, Sept 25.