Few teams have more elite talent in their systems than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Of course, selecting in the top six or seven on a consistent basis will tend to have that effect.
Still after a few stumbles early in the team's history, the club seems to have taken full advantage of their high picks the past few seasons.
With as many as three “franchise players” in the pipeline, the Jackets have a whole host of candidates ready to join Rick Nash and Pascal Leclaire as the core of what could be an exceptional NHL team in a few years.
The best news for Columbus fans is that almost all of the club's top 5 prospects should be ready for prime time roles in 2008/09, meaning potential could soon become reality.
Here are the Fantasy Hockey Network's selections for the top five fantasy prospects in the Columbus Blue Jackets system:
1. Nikita Filatov, LW: The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Filatov would have been No. 1 if the draft was just about talent.
The 18-year-old phenom averaged almost two points a game playing for CSKA Moscow's No. 2 team last season, including 32 goals in 34 games.
The Moscow native is a dynamic goal scorer and an elite level skater, who has 50-goal potential written all over him. He still needs to add a few pounds of muscle to his 6-foot frame, but the Russian sniper is not afraid to give or take hits.
A born leader with a great attitude, Filatov could crack the lineup in 2008/09. If he does, he's an instant Calder Trophy candidate. He's that good.
2. Jakub Voracek, RW: The slick Czech is a sublime playmaker who uses great vision, explosive acceleration, off-the-charts hockey sense and excellent passing skills to make all of his teammates better.
Would have made the Jackets' roster in 2007/08 if his body would have been NHL-ready. Still needs to bulk up a bit to play effectively at the next level.
The seventh pick in the 2007 draft finished fourth in the QMJHL scoring race last season with 101 points in only 53 games. Developed a reputation as a clutch player in Halifax, so should be ready to contribute right away. A top six forward spot is his for the taking.
3. Derick Brassard, C: The native of Hull, Quebec, had 48 points in 39 games for Syracuse of the AHL and looked good in limited ice time in 17 games with Columbus.
A dazzling playmaker with the ability to read plays, find gaps and deliver laser-like tape-to-tape passes, Brassard surprised the Blue Jacket's brass with his competitiveness.
Like Voracek, he needs to fill out a bit to succeed at the next level, and needs to avoid a major injury, after a pair of broken bones (jaw and arm) cost him significant playing time the past two seasons. When healthy, Brassard has superstar potential and is a definitely a Calder Trophy candidate in 2008-09.
4. Steve Mason, G: It would be an understatement to say Mason had a great year in 2007-08.
The Oakville, Ontario, native starred on Canada's winning teams at both the Super Series and the World Junior Championships, winning top goaltender and most valuable player honours at the WJC.
Add to that a selection as the OHL Goaltender of the Year. Only a playoff knee injury but a damper on what was otherwise a dream season.
Mason, a third round selection in 2006, has all the tools to be an elite NHL goalie: athleticism, positioning, size, determination and the ability to raise his game in pressure situations.
Pascal Leclaire's emergence means there's no rush, but the Kitchener Ranger is a good bet to start 2008-09 in the AHL as Syracuse's No. 1 netminder.
5. Maxim Mayorov, LW – Every team has a boom or bust candidate, a player who just oozes potential but has just as much chance to be a dud as a star. Mayorov is the Blue Jackets player who meets those criteria.
The 6'2" 192 pound winger has the size and the skills to a top-end power forward in the NHL. Blessed with strong skating and puck handling skills, explosive acceleration and a laser-like wrist shot, the fourth round pick in 2007 has all the components that make a true sniper.
Unfortunately, the young Russian's work ethic is somewhat questionable and he definitely needs to work on his defensive game and use his size more effectively if he's to succeed at the highest level.
Definitely a project, but with the potential to be a first-line power forward if he develops. The Jackets hope to have him in North America soon, but he's still at least three to four years away from contributing at the big league level.
In our next installment, we'll have a look at the top prospects in the development pipeline of the Dallas Stars.
Don't forget to check out the past articles in our top prospects' series: