TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – It is a point that has been hammered home over the past five days of the 2021 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City: this was about proving yourself. This tournament was more than cranking out wins.
It was about showing what skills are in your arsenal and how you improved over the summer. For the Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Monsters, they left Traverse City with several tricky and difficult decisions to make, thanks to the performance of their prospects.
Several of the top performers during this tournament belonged to the Blue Jackets’ camp. Since they are on entry-level contracts, they are eligible to spend time in both Cleveland and Columbus this upcoming season. The biggest question is: where do they go?
Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov unsurprisingly stole the show in Traverse City. Chinakhov’s six goals and zero assists led the scoring race for all teams. Meanwhile, Sillinger (two goals and three assists) and Jacob Christiansen (five assists) were tied for second. Out of the top 20 scorers in Traverse City (two tied for second place, four tied for fourth place, and 13 tied for eighth place), six were from the Blue Jackets. Tyler Angle was tied for fourth while Josh Dunne and Tristian Mullin fell in the eighth place slots.
Except for Mullin who is on an AHL deal with Cleveland, all of those players are on their entry-level NHL contract.
What do the Jackets do? The chemistry that was evident in the squad’s tournament-leading 4-0 record is one I doubt they want to mess with. Do they keep some up with the Blue Jackets while sending others down to Cleveland? Do all the ELC players go to Cleveland?
Many have already written off the upcoming Columbus season as the team goes through a pretty intense rebuild. One option is to send all the eligible prospects to Cleveland to play top-line minutes against players that are mainly closer to their age. In the AHL, they would have a great chance at making a playoff run and making some noise while doing so. Having high-stakes games under their belt could instill confidence in these young men while also giving them experience that would work wonders for their overall development.
The other option is to break them up and send some to Cleveland while others stay in Columbus. Could the likes of Sillinger and Chinakhov be ready to immediately make the jump to the NHL full time to start the season?
After all, they did dazzle at the tournament. But, being first-round draft picks, that sort of performance was expected. What is left to be seen is how that talent translates to the NHL ice.
As with any tournament, season, or series, you have your surprises, your long shots that come out of nowhere and play well above expectation. For the Blue Jackets, some of the upcoming Cleveland Monsters players stepped into this role with ease.
Cole Fonstad and Mullin rose above their station and all expectations to be among the forefront of the undefeated Blue Jackets. These two, along with Monsters Jake Gaudet and Cole Clayton, all spent considerable time on special teams throughout the tournament, to much success. Fonstad, Gaudet, and Mullin skated on the same line to start the tournament, scoring several goals in the process.
To me, that sounds like a line that Cleveland will want to keep intact moving into the season.
Tournament head coach Trent Vogelhuber and assistant coach Mark Letestu, both of whom will be serving in assistant coach roles in Cleveland this season, have a great start in helping to form this year’s lineup.
In net, Jet Greaves looked right at home against his age peers. He seemed comfortable with the defensive squad in front of him and took charge at the right times. Sure, there were some rough moments (like in Monday’s 7-6 OT victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs), but he should settle in comfortably in the backup goaltending role behind Daniil Tarasov.
Then, you have upstarts that are still searching for that first professional contract. James Malatesta, a fifth-round selection by the Jackets in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, fits this bill.
For one reason or another, his name was constantly in fans’ mouths (and at the fingertips of the media). He notched a hattrick in Monday’s game against the Leafs, along with generally strong play all tournament long. Yes, the controversial hit against Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jared McIsaac will need to be considered.
But, overall, he had a solid showing at the NHL Prospects Tournament that put him squarely on the radar of the Blue Jackets brass.
Surprising Stat of the Tournament
Usually, I like to find a funny or silly stat to pass along when I cover games. Quite frankly, there were multiple funny moments throughout the five-day-long tournament. However, the stat that deserves its own section this time isn’t funny or silly. It was downright surprising.
The Blue Jackets scored at least one goal in every period played, dating back to the second period last Thursday, which was their first match of the tournament. That is at least one goal in 11 straight regulation periods. If you count the OT winners- that’s 13 consecutive periods with a goal by the Blue Jackets
Not bad for a sport in which offense can be difficult to come by.
The Columbus squad caught a flight home yesterday after the game. Those under contract, the recent draftees, and select invitees will be jumping straight into training camp. For others, it’s back to prepare for their junior league seasons.
Each player should hold their head high for a superb, hard-fought showing at the 2021 NHL Prospects Tournament.
The Monsters have not yet released training camp information. However, they will start their season on October 15 at 7:00 p.m. against the Syracuse Crunch at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Personally, I would like to thank the Detroit Red Wings, Centre Ice staff, and Traverse City for being such welcoming and gracious hosts over these past six days. Covering this tournament has been such a joy and definitely was a bucket list item in my “must cover events” list.
Just as the teams and players, I too am heading home to gear up for a long and fun season ahead. Thank you for following along on my coverage of this tournament. None of this would’ve been possible without you, our readers at Field Pass Hockey.
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