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Future is bright in Columbus as experts agree CBJ prospect pool impresses

Experts across the NHL agree -- the Blue Jackets have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL.

Potential, of course, doesn't mean anything until it's realized, but if those who look at such things around the hockey landscape are to be believed, there could be bright days ahead in Columbus.

You could argue the Blue Jackets have never had a group of young, highly regarded prospects that runs as deep as the current pool, highlighting the strong work general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, director of amateur scouting Ville Siren and their group of scouts have done the past few seasons at the NHL draft.

For example, Yahoo! Sports analyst Ian Kennedy ranked the Blue Jackets second in the NHL among prospect pools after the June draft, a ranking echoed by the NHL Network earlier this month. 

In addition, The Athletic prospect guru Corey Pronman's rankings last week placed Columbus fifth in the NHL, while before the draft,'s Byron Bader listed the Blue Jackets as having the best group of prospects in the NHL.

Led by first-rounders Adam Fantilli, David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk and Corson Ceulemans, and boasting excellent depth, the Blue Jackets have a bevy of young players who should be making an impact in the years to come. Add in Kirill Marchenko and Kent Johnson, who posted two of the most productive rookie seasons in CBJ history this past season, and there's a lot to like for the Blue Jackets and their future.

"I think we definitely have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL," Ceulemans said. "I'm super excited. A lot of great skill players. We havre a lot of hard-working guys, a lot of guys that want to play in the NHL. It's awesome. It's great to see."

It helps that the Blue Jackets buttressed an already impressive group of prospects with another strong draft this summer. Steven Ellis of The Daily Faceoff was the most impressed with a haul that was highlighted by University of Michigan star Fantilli with the No. 3 choice in the draft, giving the Blue Jackets a grade of A-plus.

Columbus also took fellow U-M standout Gavin Brindley in the second round, chose forward William Whitelaw and defenseman Andrew Strathmann out of Youngstown (USHL) in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, and grabbed productive OHL forwards Luca Pinelli and Tyler Peddle later on.

"The Blue Jackets got their next superstar in Adam Fantilli, something I can't imagine the team could have possibly expected," Ellis wrote at the time. "They then snagged his good buddy in Gavin Brindley, one of the best undersized wingers in the draft. William Whitelaw, Andrew Strathmann and Luca Pinelli are great value picks, too. CBJ fans have to be thrilled."

Ellis wasn't alone in his praise, as Kennedy, Pronman and Chris Peters of also all gave the Blue Jackets letter grades of A for their results in this year's draft.

As Ellis said, the addition of Fantilli was the biggest boon to the Jackets' prospect pool, as most analysts had him as the second-best player available going into the draft behind wunderkind Connor Bedard. The forward dominated at the University of Michigan, posting one of the most productive college hockey seasons in decades (30-35-65 in 36 games) and becoming just the third freshman ever to win the Hobey Baker Award.

Boasting a combination of size, skill and snarl, Fantilli is expected to begin the season with the Blue Jackets and doesn't turn 19 years old until opening night Oct. 12.

"He's exactly what we need, exactly that player we're always looking for," Kekalainen said at the draft. "He's a 200-foot player that plays the game the right way, produces not just with skill but with determination and character. Those players are rarely available, so we're very, very pleased to have him." 

NHL observers agree, as recent rankings of the top prospects in the league all slated Fantilli in the top three. NHL Network and Elite Prospects both slotted Fantilli as the second best drafted prospect in the NHL behind only Bedard, while Scott Wheeler of The Athletic placed him third behind both Bedard and Philadelphia's Matvei Michkov.

Jiricek also ranked highly in those ratings, as the defenseman who was chosen sixth in the 2022 draft impressed during his first pro season in the American Hockey League a season ago. An AHL All-Star who made his debut with four NHL games this past season, Jiricek is ranked the seventh best prospect in the league by Elite Prospects, eighth by NHL Network and ninth by Wheeler.

Mateychuk, another first-round pick in 2022 who was chosen 12th overall, also has drawn praise. A swift-skating defenseman who serves as captain of Moose Jaw of the WHL, Matechuk is ranked the game's No. 24 prospect by Elite Prospects, 32nd by Wheeler and 40th by NHL Network.

In addition, Stanislav Svozil, a third-round pick in 2021 who had an impressive year with the Czechia World Juniors team as well as Regina of the WHL, was ranked 47th by NHL Network and 52nd by Wheeler. 2022 third-round pick Jordan Dumais, who had the third-most productive season in the QMJHL in the past 20 years and finished second to Bedard in scoring in Canada's junior ranks, was ranked 43rd by Wheeler.

Brindley was ranked the No. 56 prospect in the game by Elite Prospects, while he, Svozil and Ceulemans also received honorable mention among the top prospects in the game from Wheeler. Add it all up and that's seven CBJ draftees earning mention among the top youngsters in the game going into the season, and that doesn't even include such prospects as 40-goal OHL scorer Luca Del Bel Belluz and Memorial Cup MVP James Malatesta.