The Columbus Blue Jackets had the 2nd worst record in the NHL this season but slid the draft lottery to the 3rd pick in the draft. Columbus has a lot of issues to address in this draft. This is a mock draft for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Related: Chicago Blackhawks
3. Leo Carlsson, C/LW, Orebro HK/SHL
Leo Carlsson is the top Swede in the ’23 draft has been a highlight machine, routinely going through defenders with skilled moves and then putting them on his back and driving to the net, showcasing the power in his game. The big Swedish forward, who has the versatility to play wing or center, depending on the circumstances, has already earned some great early-season reviews for his play in Europe. A smart and calculated centreman with great IQ, he shows no panic in his game. He’s calm and is always displaying a great compete level. Carlsson’s vision and stick-handling can get him out of well-pressured jams in all three zones. He will find quality passing lanes in the neutral zone when looking for a teammate in stride to pass to and has no issue with maneuvering the puck around tight pressure. “His skill, hockey sense, and compete level are all excellent. He’s able to create a ton of offense in the high-percentage areas with game-breaking skill elements to boot. Carlsson’s a big kid who has begun to come into his body, but he’s also got the slick skill to complement his size, and regularly makes plays and manufactures offense for himself through little shakes, beating defenders one-on-one with his hands or out-waiting them in puck protection off of his hip. Similar to another top prospect Adam Fantilli, Carlsson is a well-rounded forward with a projectable frame. He has excellent puck skills and the ability to beat players with his hands – even in the SHL, where he already established himself as a regular player in his draft-1 season. Leo Carlsson is the best fit for the Columbus Blue Jackets due to his versatility and size, which allows him to play anywhere in the top 6.
22. CALUM RITCHIE, C, OSHAWA GENERALS/OHL
Calum Ritchie is a unique, highly skilled, and intelligent playmaking pivot, with a high motor and intensity, who can play a physical game. Whether it be a perfectly weighted cross-ice pass for an odd-man rush or a weaving off-puck route that ends with him in the slot in the blindspots of all the opposition’s defenders, Ritchie tilts the ice in his team’s favor by strategically outmaneuvering his opponents. This isn’t to say that he lacks tools, however, just that his IQ shines brightest. Ritchie has very good hands and uses them effectively to manage the possession and open passing lanes. His passing ability stands out; he understands passing angles very well and has the ability to hit more complex passes well. One of the reasons for this is a shallow knee bend, something that can be fixed with targeted skating training. Ritchie is also an intense player. He’s not afraid of getting physically engaged, he actively pressures the puck carrier when defending, and his puck protection mechanics are quite good considering his age and size. Although Ritchie is a decent skater for a player his size, he is slow to reach top speed, and he at times can look slow moving around the ice. This hasn’t been the offensive breakout season many expected of Calum Ritchie this year as he finished the season with 59 points in 59 OHL games. Despite the underwhelming (by his standards) season from a production standpoint, Ritchie is still a big C prospect who skates quite well, with a lot of tools that grade out above average. Overall, Ritchie is a very well-rounded and dynamic offensive weapon who has already found an identity that makes him easy to project to a middle-six NHL role. Calum Ritchie could be that big, playmaking Center that Columbus has been coveting for a long time.
34. HUNTER BRZUSTEWICZ, D, KITCHENER RANGERS/OHL
Hunter Brzustewicz is the exact type of player a contending team will rush to the podium to draft in the back end of the first round in the 2023 draft. However, if he does indeed slide out of the first round, Columbus definitely should not hesitate to snatch him with their 2nd round pick. He is a smooth-skating, intelligent right-shot defenseman who is calm under pressure and should be able to play an NHL role sooner than most other defensemen in the class. He’s the perfect blend of skill and strength. He’s got a relatively small frame but makes up for it in muscle. One of the more impressive aspects of his game is his ability to use his upper body strength to shake off his opponent, freeing up lanes to break out the puck. Brzustewicz has a little bit of Cale Makar in him, although he does have the dynamic game-breaking ability of Makar, he is capable of patrolling the blueline on the powerplay, and he is an outstanding skater, which allows him to jump into the attack and get back without an issue. Hunter Brzustewicz would be a luxury to have in the pipeline for Columbus as they already have David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk, Corson Ceulemans, and Stanislav Svozil; it never hurts to have defensive depth in your prospect pool.
66. DENVER BARKLEY, C, LONDON KNIGHTS/OHL
Denver Barkley is an incredibly fun, skilled, and shifty undersized forward with high-end playmaking abilities, a constant motor, and an inside-driven mindset. Every time he gets the puck, his eyes light up, he explodes into his top gear, and he finds increasingly creative ways to advance play toward the opponent’s end. His production is far from elite, but Barkey isn’t tasked with the highest minutes. He alternates between the second and third lines, while mostly seeing second-wave power play minutes. He blends head fakes with hip-pocket handling to misdirect defenders, drag pucks between his own legs, stop and curl up on a dime using his polished edgework, and open up passing lanes using his above-average intelligence. The 5’8 forward is limited in his capacity to contribute defensively, and because he is undersized, tends to shy away from contact. Despite his limits, he has shown the ability to do board work and is relentless in his pursuit of the puck in open ice. Denver Barkley is definitely a project but could be a top 6 forward if developed properly. I can’t see Barkley playing center at the NHL level because he is too small, but I think he would excel on the wing. In fact, Barkley reminds me a bit of a former Blue Jacket, Cam Atkinson, which is a player that fits well in the top 6. Columbus has nothing to lose by picking Barkley in the third round, this is the perfect spot to pick an undersized forward, with a high upside.
80. DYLAN ERNST, G, KAMLOOPS BLAZERS/WHL
Dylan Ernst had a terrific season as the workhorse goalie for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL; he had a 38-10-2 record, with a 2.69 GAA, .906 SV% in the regular season. In the playoffs, played even better, recording a 10-3-1 record, with a 2.57 GAA, .913 SV%, and a 3 shutouts. Ernst is a big, athletic netminder, with great mobility in his crease, good tracking ability, poise, and has shown the ability to steal games at the WHL level. Obviously, with goalies, you never know how well they will transition to the next level, Ernst seems to have the focus and intangibles it takes to be a goalie at the NHL level. Columbus is still searching for their goalie of the future, as they aren’t completely sold on Elvis Merzlikins, so drafting a goalie like Dylan Ernst gives them some options in the pipeline.
98. JAKUB STANCL, LW/C, Växjö LAKERS HC/SHL
The first thing that jumps out when watching Stancl is his size. At 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, he sticks out on the ice, especially when playing against other U18 players. One common issue with prospects that are bigger is that they don’t know how to use their size to their advantage. That is not the case here, as when the puck is on his stick, it is extremely difficult for defenders to steal it away, thanks to his puckhandling skills and body positioning. He also can play a physical brand of hockey and isn’t afraid to throw a big hit if presented with the opportunity. The 2022-23 campaign was a busy one for Stancl, as not only did he play in four division tiers in Sweden, but he also represented his country at the World U18s and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. A smart player, Stancl is great at facilitating breakouts from his own zone. He makes life easy for his defenders by staying close and understands when it is best to carry the puck over the blue line or make a pass to his wingers. Once he has the puck in the offensive zone, he is not afraid to shoot but also is good at scanning the ice to try and find open teammates. When he is in the offensive zone without the puck, he is always moving around, trying to find the open ice so his teammates can get him the puck in scoring positions. Overall, he understands where the holes in the opposing defense are and looks to exploit them every chance he can. At 17 years old, he has already played eight games in the Swedish Hockey League for the Växjö Lakers, who won the championship this season. While he didn’t get many opportunities, never playing over ten minutes in a game, the organization was clearly happy with him as they called him up from the J20 league on six different occasions. Stancl has played at Left wing, Right Wing, and Center, which makes him an extremely versatile player, but what will hurt his draft stock is concerned about his skating. Columbus could get a late-round steal if they draft Stancl, he could be an effective top 6 forward with improved skating, but if not, he could be a solid role player.
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