Derick Brassard -- The opportunity is there for Brassard to grab one of the center positions on the Blue Jackets this season. Brassard had shoulder surgery early last season and missed most of his final junior season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He did return for the final 14 games and had six goals and 25 points. Drummondville also finished 8-0-0-2. Brassard led the Voltigeurs in scoring as they eliminated the Quebec Remparts in the first round, then fell to Rouyn-Noranda in the second round. Brassard had an outstanding junior career, being named the QMJHL rookie of the year and in his third season being named Offensive Player of the Year.
"He suffered a major injury before last season started and underwent surgery," Howson said. "He tested fairly well at our development camp and the shoulder seems to be fine. He has an appealing skill set and sees the ice very well. His strength is good and his skill is evident. The players will decide who makes the team. If someone is good enough, he'll be on the roster, but we never expect a first-year player out of junior to make it. If he does, great. We expect he will play some games with the Blue Jackets this year. Whether that's out of training camp or later after he's played in Syracuse, his play will dictate that."
Joakim Lindstrom -- This could be the year that Lindstrom sticks with the Blue Jackets. He can play either wing and he's got pretty good size at 6-foot, 187 pounds. He was the Syracuse Crunch's leading scorer last season with 22 goals and 48 points in 50 games. He also played nine games with the Blue Jackets, scoring his first NHL goal in December. He also played three games for Columbus the previous season. Lindstrom was given a really good look in the last five Columbus games last season, even seeing time on the second power-play unit. He's a second-round pick from 2002 and 24-years-old so the Blue Jackets are looking for him to make an impact now.
"He's got good skills and he had a little taste of the NHL last year," Howson said. "He has to learn how to compete more consistently. If he does that, he has a skill set that is NHL caliber."
Adam Pineault -- You'd think a player named Pineault who starred in the QMJHL grew up in Quebec, but he's from the Central Massachusetts city of Holyoke and played a year at Boston College. Pineault left the Eagles to play two seasons for coach Ted Nolan and the Moncton Wildcats. He had an outstanding 14-goal playoff run when Moncton went to the Memorial Cup two years ago. Pineault struggled a bit last season in his first AHL season, but he finished well. Columbus loves his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame and his strong shot. He was called up last season, but didn't play.
"Adam looked good at prospects camp," Howson said. "He's a big man who really came on in the second half last year in Syracuse. We expect he will contend for a position this year in Columbus. He may need a little more time. He has to keep improving his quickness. He has done that but must still work on it to get here sooner rather than later.”
Kris Russell -- A future Lady Byng Trophy winner at defense? Think Phil Housley. Russell is 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds, but he's a great puck mover and plays his position sufficiently well to be twice named the Western Hockey League's Top Defenseman. He also won the league's most sportsmanlike player trophy twice. Russell had 98 goals and 196 points in 241 WHL games, including a 32-goals, 67-point season in his final year with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He plays with intensity and showed great leadership skills as Medicine Hat's captain. Russell was a key member of two gold-medal World Junior teams for Canada.
"He was a special player in junior hockey," Howson said. "He was the WHL defenseman of the year again, a Memorial Cup finalist and a winner at the World Juniors two years in a row. He is an elite skater and he has great hockey sense. Kris plays a thinking man's game and he has the skating ability to get to pucks quicker. He's not big in stature and he'll have to navigate his way in playing against men. Defense is a harder position for a smaller man to play in the NHL. He may need some time in Syracuse."
Defenseman Marc Methot may be the most advanced of all of the prospects who will be contending for roster spots during the Blue Jackets' upcoming training camp.
Marc Methot -- Nobody has ever had high expectations for Methot, but he keeps progressing. He was an afterthought with the London Knights' Memorial Cup champions and a sixth-round pick in 2003. But Methot has that quality so prized in modern times, he plays well with others. His positioning is excellent. He almost always makes the safe play. He crushes opponents around his net and along the boards. He kills penalties. He rarely scores, but his passing is reliable. Methot led the OHL with a plus-52 rating in 2004-05 and made the OHL All-Star team. He had a goal and 15 assists in 59 games last year in his second season with Syracuse and earned a 20-game call-up to Columbus, in which he had four assists. Methot is a defensive defenseman who could win a top-six spot on the Blue Jackets.
"Marc's a big guy who moves well. He's going to have a long career in the NHL," Howson said. "He had a strong audition here last year, at the end of the season. He should contend for a position. If he's not ready at the beginning of the season, I expect he'll get some games later. He's got experience in winning. He won the Memorial Cup by playing a defensive role for an outstanding London Knights' club. We got him in the sixth round because he was a hidden player in terms of what he could do. After he was drafted, he really came on and he had two good years in the AHL."
Steve Mason -- The Blue Jackets seem to have an intuition about underutilized London Knights rookies. They took Mason with the 69th pick in the 2006 draft, although he had played only 12 games. Scout Rick Walmsley had seen him play in Tier II. This year, Mason was the OHL goaltender of the year while setting a league record with 45 wins. Mason went 45-13-1-3 record with a 3.20 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and two shutouts in 62 games with the London Knights. He led the club to their fourth consecutive division title despite facing one of the highest shot totals in the league. Mason has a good chance of being Canada's goalie at the 2008 World Junior Championship.
"Steve has had really only one good year in London," Howson said. "He didn't play much the year before. The Blue Jackets took a flyer after seeing him play games that weren't part of his London experience. He played some Tier II, just to get some games in. He had an outstanding performance last year, one of the top goalies in junior hockey. He'll be one of the three goalies playing against the Russians in the Challenge this fall. He's a very good prospect in our pipeline."
Tomas Popperle -- It's probably fair to say no one owns the Blue Jackets' goaltending position. Pascal Leclaire and Fredrik Norrena top the depth chart. Czech goalie Tomas Popperle and Dan Lacosta played in Syracuse and Adam Munro was signed as a free agent this summer by the Crunch. Popperle has played a season in the Czech Elite League, a season in the German Elite League and one year in Syracuse. He had a tough start last year but finished 9-4-1 and looked like a much improved goaltender.
"Tomas had a slow start in his first North American pro year," Howson said. "He was a very good goalie by the end of the year. He led Syracuse in a playoff drive after they were essentially out of it. He finished strongly and we expect him to take another jump this year. Just this time, do it for the whole year."