The Columbus Blue Jackets will send a talented team to the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament again this year, highlighted by three recent first round picks. Last year it was the Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov show, as both players dominated at the tournament and propelled themselves into full-time NHL roles. With such a talented group heading up, it’s easy to see this team repeating as tournament champions – but, will any of these guys earn a spot with the big club?
In short, yes. Taking a look at the roster, there are two names that stand out immediately: Kirill Marchenko and Kent Johnson. I think both of them will be in the NHL full-time this year, and expect nothing less than a dominant tournament from both of them. They should be two of the premier talents there, and both should stand out every time they’re on the ice. Johnson is rumored to be playing center for the tournament, and this will be our first chance to really see him in that role since being drafted.
I expect Marchenko to flank Johnson on the team’s top line. Whoever plays the other wing is in for a treat, because they will likely see plenty of quality scoring chances. The best bet for that role may be 2020 4th round pick Mikael Pyythia, who has plenty of goal scoring potential and seems like the most talented fit. Other options here might include Cole Sillinger’s older brother Owen, who at 24 years old brings plenty of experience and some skill to the group – or high scoring winger Jordan Dumais, recently taken in the third round by the team.
One thing that seems pretty clear is that Luca del bel Belluz will anchor the team’s second line, with some combination of Pyythia, Sillinger, Dumais, or even 2021 fifth rounder James Malatesta on his wings. Dumais and del bel Belluz are two players that I believe could stand out in this tournament as well. Both guys have high end skillsets and can finish, though they are still young. Don’t count out the scrappy Malatesta, who makes his second appearance at the tournament. I liked his game at the brief tournament last year, and he has some scoring ability as well.
Rounding out the forwards in Traverse City, the bottom six looks pretty good as well with big bodied draft picks Ben Boyd (6th round, 2021) and Martin Rysavy (7th round, 2021). They are joined by AHL signee Roman Ahcan, and camp invitees Liam Hawel, Evan Vierling, and Samuel Huo. This group will be physical and fun to watch. I don’t expect them to move the needle much offensively – but watch Hawel closely. He’s a big body who’s had some success at every level, and could earn a contract out of camp.