With the Columbus Blue Jackets offloading a lot of experience and entering a rebuild, they will lean more on young talent. Luckily for Columbus, they have a promising prospect pool overseas in leagues such as the KHL and Liiga. Some could be difference-makers as soon as next season, and some may be a few seasons away from the NHL.
Below, we will look at four prospects for the team. The focus will be on their recent stats and the possible impact they could make for the Blue Jackets in the next few seasons.
The Blue Jackets Have a Great Overseas Pipeline
The Blue Jackets have a very deep and talented prospect pipeline overseas. Narrowing it down to four players was a challenge. The players who will have the biggest and quickest impact in Columbus were chosen. Those players are Samuel Knazko, Justin Danforth, Kirill Marchenko, and Yegor Chinakhov. They were selected based on their statistics, upside, and draft profiles.
Samuel Knazko was selected in the third round at 78th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. This pick was made possible through the Josh Anderson-Max Domi trade, where the Montreal Canadiens also sent their 2020 third-round pick to Columbus.
Knazko is described by Eugene Helfrick of the Hockey Writers as a “top-flight offensive-defenseman,” with an “incredible toolkit that every team hopes to find in a potential mid-range pick.”
In the 2020-21 season, Knazko proved the above statement. He scored 15 points in 23 games with TPS U20 (Turun Pallosera under 20), showing that he is an offensive defenseman.
Despite his offensive and skating ability mentioned in his draft profile, he has some weaknesses that he needs to improve upon. Knazko is not a physical player and needs to improve his defensive game, according to Helfrick. If he wants to be a defenseman for Columbus in the NHL, he will need to improve in those areas.
With Seth Jones rumors swirling and his departure imminent, there is no doubt that Knazko could become an important piece in the NHL for Columbus. If he can improve his physicality and defensive play, there is no doubt that he will be a prospect to watch in the next few seasons.
Justin Danforth is an undrafted free agent that just inked a one-year deal with Columbus in May after a very successful 2020-21 season in the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). He was sixth in scoring with 55 points in 58 games with Vityaz Podolsk.
Danforth’s offensive success is not just limited to the 2020-21 season either. Before playing in the KHL last season, he spent two seasons in Finland playing in Liiga. In two seasons, he had 45 goals and 67 assists for 112 points. In the 2019-20 season, he won the Lasse Oksanen Award for best player and the Golden Helmet for top scorer, along with an all-star selection.
Danforth has performed well offensively overseas. There is no doubt that his skill will be invaluable for the Blue Jackets, who have been in the bottom third of the league in goals for (570) and goals per game (2.74) in the past three seasons. He is definitely a player to watch.
The Blue Jackets selected Kirill Marchenko at 49th-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. Since his drafting, he has continued to show promise overseas and will be looking to make his way to Columbus in the next couple of seasons. He currently plays right wing in the KHL with SKA Saint Petersburg, where he has recorded 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 73 games, including 28 points in the 2020-21 season with 41 games played.
With those 28 points, Marchenko would have been in the top five in scoring for the Blue Jackets and tied for second in goals with Cam Atkinson this season, with 14 fewer games than Columbus played. Much like Danforth, he could help elevate the level of Columbus’ struggling offense and, for this reason, is a prospect to watch for Columbus as well.
The Blue Jackets selected Yegor Chinakhov as their 2020 first-round pick. Despite the surprise of this selection, it became clear it was a great pick, especially when he won the Alexei Cherepanov Award for the KHL Rookie of the Year. The young right wing scored 17 points in 32 games with the KHL’s Avangard Omsk and had seven playoff points in 21 games. On top of that, he also recorded four points in eight games of international play with Team Russia, including three goals.
With all of his success, the Blue Jackets signed him to a three-year entry-level contract worth $3.975 million with an AAV of $1.325 million. Chinakhov will be an RFA (restricted free agent) once the contract expires.
With his accuracy shooting the puck, Chinakhov has a great chance to be successful in Columbus. If the Blue Jackets can get a center this offseason, he will quickly become a great offensive weapon and will help the struggling offense. He is for sure a player to watch.
Columbus Is in Prime Position For a Quick Rebuild
Danforth, Chinakhov, and Marchenko will all bring a boost to a Blue Jackets offense that has been in the bottom third of the NHL in goals for and goals for per game the past three seasons. Also, with Jones most likely making his departure this offseason, Knazko will be looked upon to improve his defensive game and replace Jones as an offensive threat on the blue line.
All and all, the Blue Jackets have a strong pool of overseas prospects, and it will be invaluable when it comes to rebuilding what Columbus has lost.
Cody Chalfan is currently a journalism major at the Ohio State University who grew up in Columbus and loves hockey, especially the Blue Jackets. He is disabled, therefore he is a major advocate for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone movement. A piece he wrote focusing on the Blue Jackets’ work on expanding the sport into the local special needs community can be found here. Cody can be contacted via Twitter (@cachalfan) direct message for comments, constructive criticism, or story ideas.