Puck moving defenseman Eric Hjorth is our subject on this week’s edition of Prospect Watch. Once thought of as a potential top prospect for the Blue Jackets, Hjorth has fallen off over the last couple of years, and has yet to earn a professional contract from the team that drafted him.
Hjorth was originally selected in the fourth round (#104 overall) at the 2019 NHL Draft. If you’ll recall, that was the year the Jackets went all in, trading away most of their draft capital for a playoff run that was stunted by the Boston Bruins in the second round. Because of those moves, Hjorth was the highest pick of the three made by the Jackets that summer, ahead of Dmitry Voronkov and Tyler Angle.
He had missed much of his draft year with a knee injury – skating in just 10 games during the 2018-19 season (six of those in the playoffs) – but the Jackets saw potential in the big, rangy defenseman. They took a swing on Hjorth in spite of the limited number of picks, hoping his near point-per-game effort from the season before was a sign of his potential.
Hjorth made the jump to North America that fall, joining the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He skated in 60 games there, scoring 12 goals and 29 points, before the season was cut short due to the COVID pandemic. Ultimately, I think this killed his developmental pace. He missed a lot of hockey games in his 17 and 19 year old seasons.
Since that COVID-shortened year, he’s been back overseas, mostly bouncing between tier 2 leagues in Finland and Sweden. This season, he’s produced just 3 goals and 9 points in 41 Allsvenskan games. That is a professional league, and hockey in Sweden is typically more defensive-minded – but for a 22 year old puck mover who was a fourth round NHL pick, you would hope to see more production at some point.
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Hjorth has good size at 6-foot-3 and over 190 pounds, and his game isn’t built entirely around offense. He’s a good skater with a long reach, who can be effective on both sides of the puck. He isn’t a big, punishing physical presence, but he’s an active player that stands out when he’s on the ice because of his raw abilities.
As we mentioned earlier, he’s still unsigned by the Blue Jackets to this point, which means he may end up off of our list of prospects in the near future. With the way the team has drafted over the last few seasons – especially on the back end, and really especially on the right side – it’s tough to project him as a future member of the big club.