Corson Ceulemans 6-2, 198 pounds
University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
1st round (#25 overall), 2021 NHL Draft
Playstyle comparisons: Seth Jones, Evan Bouchard
NHL upside: Top-four defenseman
Professional ETA: 2023
Corson Ceulemans comes in as the top ranked defense prospect for the Columbus Blue Jackets – third overall on our list. Ceulemans was selected by the club with the the third of their first round picks in last summer’s draft, acquired from Toronto as part of the trade that sent long-time captain Nick Foligno to the Leafs. While he’s likely a couple of years away from playing in the NHL, early indications are that Ceulemans could be a very nice selection in the late first round.
A common theme with the prospects on this list, is the COVID pandemic and how it affected their draft seasons. Ceulemans was no exception and may have suffered more than others. Slated to go the NCAA route, Corson played his junior hockey in a lower tier league with the Brooks Bandits (AJHL), where he was able to skate in just 8 games due to provincial lockdowns. He performed as expected for an NHL prospect playing in that league, scoring 4 goals and 11 points – while also starring for the Canada U18 team, posting 8 points in 6 games en route to a gold medal at the World Championships in Texas. But the viewings were scarce for the young defenseman, whose draft stock may have improved with more games played.
The Blue Jackets clearly did their homework and took a shot on Ceulemans late in the first round, and the early return seems positive. This season, the young defenseman tied for the team lead in scoring for the Wisconsin Badgers with 22 points in 34 games as a freshman. While these numbers may not jump off the page and scream elite player, this is impressive output for an 18 year old defenseman jumping into a league dominated by 21-22 year old young men.
Already built like an NHL player, Corson has an odd skating style but shows good mobility and does a good job closing gaps quickly; and can jump into the rush. He has an excellent shot that should make him a threat on the power play, and is a good puck mover, which makes him a dangerous threat any time he has the puck on his stick.
The only downside to his game is that he’s a raw prospect, who will need time to weed out the occasional glaring mistake before he’s ready to make an impact in the NHL. That said, his skillset makes him an obvious candidate to play on a second defense pair, with enough upside to creep onto the top pair – though maybe only in emergency situations.
The Blue Jackets acquired what would become pick #25 in the 2021 entry draft by trading beloved captain Nick Foligno prior to the 2021 trade deadline.
Slated to return to the Badgers this fall, the Blue Jackets will be hopeful that Ceulemans can mature his game on both sides of the puck. If he can work out those ill-timed pinches or mis-reads, while still producing impressive offensive totals, look for him to debut with the Jackets soon, rather than later. More than likely, he will need at least one year in the AHL to adjust to the longer schedules and learn the ropes of the pro game; but he’s a terrific prospect with a lot of upside. One that will likely make the sting of trading this pick felt by the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years to come.