The Blue Jackets added a significant piece to their prospect pool on Monday, signing sought after center Hunter McKown from Colorado College (NCAA). Several NHL teams were rumored to be courting McKown, but in the end the Jackets come away with what might be an NHL ready player from the college free agent list.
If you’re checking off boxes as far as what the Jacket prospect pool needs, well, this is a great place to start. McKown has NHL size (6-1, 205 pounds), an NHL shot, slick hands, and most importantly: he’s an effective two-way center. He can win pucks on the forecheck, backchecks hard and is effective in his own end, and does a lot of the little things you want out of a two-way pivot.
We’ll find out really soon if he’s truly NHL ready or not – his three year ELC starts this season, and he’ll join the Blue Jackets by the end of the week. This will give us a storyline to follow as the balance of the season plays out; with the club so thin down the middle that they played Patrik Laine at center over the weekend, McKown is a welcomed addition. We could use some of this:
He played three years at Colorado College, scoring 36 goals and 55 points in 96 games played. This season, he set career highs in goals (21), points (28) and penalty minutes (30), in 38 games played. Prior to heading to the NCAA, he came through the USNTDP system; and he also has (limited) World Junior Championship play on his resume.
To me, this looks like a classic late bloomer. He was ranked low in his draft year, but has progressively gotten better and better through this season, where he was a top-15 goal scorer in the NCAA. He’s still just 20 years old, so this isn’t the case of a 22 or 23 year old senior dominating play against younger competition – McKown looks like he could be an NHL player.
I expect him to get into the lineup fairly quickly, though it will be interesting to see who comes out. Part of the reason the Jackets won this player’s rights is likely because he gets to come in and play right away; not every team offering him a contract could offer him that chance. For that reason, I think he’ll see some minutes. But beyond this year, it will be even more interesting to see if this changes up the team’s plans moving forward.
With Dmitry Voronkov rumored to be coming over this fall, adding McKown – and whatever player the team picks inside the top-5 of the draft – could give the Jackets one of the best young cores of centers in the league. They’ll have Luca del bel Belluz turning pro after this season; and lest we forget youngsters Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson on the NHL roster.
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Immediately, McKown becomes one of the top center prospects in the system. This is an exciting pickup by Jarmo Kekalainen, and is an example of the direction this team is heading: up. After all, things can’t get much worse.