TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. ― It took one game for the Blue Jackets to show off a talent level that has lifted their prospects toward the top of NHL rankings lists.
Despite a few miscues plus a lengthy pause for an ice issue Thursday at Centre Ice Arena, the Jackets opened the 2023 Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament with a 7-3 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Six players scored, four had two points and Jordan Dumais scored two goals. Adam Fantilli, picked third overall in July, assisted on two goals and defenseman Denton Mateychuk (12th overall in 2022) was arguably the best player on the ice with two assists.
In other words, the Blue Jackets' system is loaded.
That’s exciting for the future in Columbus and the present in Cleveland, where Monsters head coach Trent Vogelhuber will start this season with an enviable roster. Vogelhuber and his staff are running the bench for the third straight year in Traverse City and this team is even deeper than the previous two.
“There’s firepower all over the place,” Vogelhuber said. “Not just on the forwards side, but on the defensive side as well. It’s nice, as a coach, when you can just throw guys over the boards and you’ve always got a threat.”
How stacked is this roster?
Fourteen of the Blue Jackets’ 18 skaters against Toronto were drafted, including four first-round picks from the past three years. They also dressed a second-round pick, three third-rounders, three fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder and two-seventh round selections. That’s without mentioning Hunter McKown, a free agent center from Colorado College who signed last spring and jumped right into the Jackets’ lineup.
Cam Butler, a power forward, and goalie Nolan Lalonde signed NHL entry deals last season while playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
“We all know how good our prospect pool is,” McKown said. “It’s exciting because you can’t help but look down the road a bit and see where that’s going to end up. It’s a good group and it’s fun.”
Columbus Blue Jackets impressed after early look at Dmitri Voronkov
McKown was asked whether he could “feel the size” whenever Russian power forward Dmitri Voronkov skated a shift against the Maple Leafs.
“You can feel it when you’re in the locker room,” he said. “He’s a big body. He’s big. His little plays were good, his breakouts and stuff like that, so he’ll be good once he’s able to settle in.”
That happened as the game aged, including some situations where Voronkov, 23, threw his size around. The Blue Jackets still list him at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, but Maple Leafs prospects in Traverse City can probably attest that he’s much bulkier. Voronkov plastered forward Jacob Frasca (6-4, 214) in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench and angrily confronted Toronto players around the Blue Jackets’ net .
He doesn’t speak English, but still sent a message loud and clear.
“He’s nasty, man,” Vogelhuber said. “He’s a player you can win a seven-game playoff series with. Even in this exhibition tournament, he’s getting angry at guys, which can be contagious. You need guys like that. You can’t teach size, you can’t teach that nastiness he has, and he also has skill to go along with it, so I’m excited.”
Voronkov starred in a top-six role with Akbars Kazan the past three years in the Kontinental Hockey League, so his biggest adjustments to North America will be the language barrier and playing faster on smaller rinks. That may take some time, but Voronkov’s potential to become an NHL force matches his size.
Hunter McKown continues to impress with Columbus Blue Jackets
McKown gets lost in the shuffle when experts assess the Blue Jackets’ young talent, but that could change if he continues to stand out.
After making his NHL debut, McKown followed up with an impressive performance at the Blue Jackets’ development camp plus two points on a goal and assist against the Maple Leafs to start his first prospects tournament. McKown centered the second line and didn’t take the opportunity lightly.
The next steps are finishing the tournament strong, springboarding into his first NHL camp and vying for a roster spot in Columbus amid a deep field of depth forwards.
“Not being a draft pick, I fly under the radar quite a bit,” McKown said. “It’s nice, in a way, to have the pressure off in that sense and it’s just fun to play with (other Blue Jackets prospects).”
Get more Columbus Blue Jackets talk on the Cannon Fodder Podcast
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Blue Jackets confirming prospects ranking in Traverse City