May 21, 2024

Mateychuk aiming to be big part of Blue Jackets future

COLUMBUS — Denton Mateychuk will attempt to make the Columbus Blue Jackets roster this season, but unlike fellow defenseman and 2022 NHL Draft pick David Jiricek, the American Hockey League won’t be an alternative if he doesn’t.

Mateychuk, who turned 19 on July 12, is too young play in the AHL, so barring an eye-popping training camp, the No. 12 pick of the 2022 draft will return to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, where he was tied for seventh among the league’s defensemen with 65 points (eight goals, 57 assists) and was a plus-15 in 63 games last season.

The agreement between the NHL and Canadian Hockey League does not allow a player to leave for minor league hockey until age 20 by Dec. 31 of that season.

“I think I could probably survive there (AHL) but I’m not allowed to,” Mateychuk said during Blue Jackets development camp last month. “I want to be playing at that level but it’s not really an option. I try not to think about it too much and just try to make the best of what it is.”

Columbus director of player personnel Chris Clark said the key for Mateychuk is to set lofty goals at Moose Jaw.

“You want to be the best of the best of the best,” Clark said, “and if you’re over overripe, that’s better than coming too early to the NHL. We’ve had players play an extra year and then dominate that year.”

Jiricek, selected six spots ahead of Mateychuk in the 2002 draft, played four games for the Blue Jackets last season and 38 points (six goals, 32 assists) in 55 games for Cleveland of the AHL and was named to the league’s Top Prospects team.

Mateychuk and Jiricek join Corson Ceulemans (first round, No. 25, 2021 NHL Draft) and Stanislav Svozil (third round, No. 69, 2021 draft) as prospects expected to eventually anchor the Columbus defense.

Another season with Moose Jaw will allow Mateychuk to hone his defensive skills and adjust to the added muscle needed to play professionally. He is listed as 6-foot-1, 188 pounds but said during development camp in July that he is about 200 pounds.

“I tried to put on the right type of weight where I still feel powerful and still feel like my skating is really good,” he said. “It’s been a really good start to that.”

“You always want to see that progress,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “With some guys, you see some radical jumps. They can make big gains in the offseason at this age. We’re glad to see it.”

Mateychuk said he is is spurred by not being named to the roster for gold medal-winning Canada in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“It’s definitely a big motivator,” he said. “You want to show them that you’re ready to take on that role with them and be a contributing factor.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *