The calendar has flipped to September, which means two things in Columbus.
Ohio State is playing football again and the Blue Jackets’ season is right around the corner. As usual, it starts with the annual NHL prospects showcase in Traverse City, Michigan, from Thursday through Sunday and transitions into the start of training camp in Columbus.
As excitement builds in central Ohio, here are five prospects every Blue Jackets fan should know:
Center Adam Fantilli expected to join Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup
If you haven’t heard of Adam Fantilli by now, then you haven’t been paying attention to the Blue Jackets for quite some time and probably checked out around the holidays last year.
Fantilli, projected to go second to the Anaheim Ducks at the NHL draft in July, fell into the Jackets’ lap instead with the third pick. The Ducks took Leo Carlsson, another big center, which paved the way for Columbus to land Fantilli. Carlsson, Fantilli and Connor Bedard, whom the Chicago Blackhawks took first, are expected to be top-flight NHL centers for a long time. That’s something the Blue Jackets once thought they had with Ryan Johansen, but that relationship soured thanks to contractual issues and never truly materialized in Columbus.
Fantilli, who dominated college hockey for Michigan as a freshman last season, is expected to handle an everyday role in the Blue Jackets’ lineup right out of the chute.
There’s also a chance he earns the top center spot by the end of the season, but that will require a high standard of play under Babcock's guidance.
David Jiricek can make NHL roster for Columbus Blue Jackets
Remember the days of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones patrolling the blue line as the Blue Jackets’ top defense pairing?
The Jackets’ front office does, and that’s what makes David Jiricek’s potential so intriguing. He’s an inch shorter than Jones, but the 19-year old Czech defender is a right-handed shot like the former Blue Jackets’ star and has an even bigger shot that could lead to goals for himself or teammates off rebounds.
More importantly, the goal is for Jiricek to ascend the defense pairings someday and match with Werenski as a top pairing that could mimic what the Jackets used to get with Jones in that role. Werenski’s offensive skills have regressed a touch since Jones’ departure to Chicago because he’s lacked a partner capable of consistently playing a solo shutdown role that allows him to chase scoring opportunities.
Jiricek has the size and skill to provide that kind of presence, but lacks NHL experience. Look for newly acquired veteran Damon Severson or Adam Boqvist to get that role starting out this season, but Jiricek has the raw talent to climb the depth chart quickly. The possibility of playing a second season for the Cleveland Monsters also exists, but Jiricek will open camp with an NHL role in his sights.
Dmitri Voronkov will add size, grit for Columbus Blue Jackets up front
There’s a big difference between playing in the Kontinental Hockey League and the NHL, but Dmitri Voronkov has several traits that should translate.
Three in particular — size, strength and snarl — could make Voronkov, 22, an instant fan favorite at Nationwide Arena. Voronkov is listed at 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, but Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he’s, “well over 200 pounds” and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.
That’s particularly true during puck battles in the corners and around the net. Like all rookies, Voronkov will have to earn his way onto the NHL roster. Unlike most rookies, he’s already got an NHL size body and strength after excelling the past four years in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan.
Voronkov played center in Russia, but could also be deployed on the wing as a forechecking menace.
James Malatesta aims to provide Brad Marchand’s style of play for Columbus Blue Jackets
Did the Blue Jackets unearth a gem in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL draft?
It’s a possibility that James Malatesta appears determined to make a reality in Columbus. Malatesta, selected 133rd overall by the Jackets, will begin his pro career after leaving the junior ranks on the highest of highs. The former Quebec Remparts forward led his team to titles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Memorial Cup championship.
Malatesta had 37 goals, 29 assists and 66 points in 55 games for Quebec last season before adding 14-6-20 in the postseason. He’s got a nice shot, isn’t afraid to play in the “dirty” areas of the ice and brings a grinding physical element that tends to annoy opposing players. That combined with a stout frame (5-9, 190) have drawn comparisons to Boston Bruins pestilent star Brad Marchand, a player who relishes being hated by the opposition and loved by his teammates.
Malatesta is most likely destined for Cleveland to start this season, but you can’t eliminate the possibility that he catches Babcock's eye in training camp.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Stanislav Svozil could get NHL time
That’s the main reason Stanislav Svozil is almost certainly ticketed for Cleveland and the AHL to start his professional career. Barring a rash of injuries, Svozil is expected to play for the Monsters most, if not all, season. He’ll keep developing as an offensive defenseman and have an opportunity to thrive after impressing with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League.
Svozil, a third-round pick in 2021, averaged an eye-popping 1.39 points per game with 11-67-78 in just 56 games during his final junior season. Analysts point out that he was Bedard's teammate in Regina, which likely boosted the offensive numbers. It should also be noted that Bedard has said the reason they clicked together was because Svozil has the ability to think and anticipate plays at the same elite level.
Svozil's success spilled over into his two-game NHL debut for the Blue Jackets at the end of the season, when he recorded his first NHL point with an assist before finishing the year with two assists in the AHL for the Monsters. Svozil, 20, isn’t a big defenseman, but he’s not small either. Standing at 6-0, 181 pounds, the Czech defender is capable of matching up defensively while producing offensively.
Svozil sustained a severe ankle sprain early in the offseason while playing tennis in Czechia, but he’s expected to be ready for the start of camp. His name could be one of the first recalled from the Monsters should a need arise.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 5 Columbus Blue Jackets prospects to know