Prospect of the Week: January 27, 2014

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for January 27, 2014 is … Dylan Blujus, D, North Bay Battalion (OHL – Canada).

Long ago the great philosopher Hugh Anthony Cregg III stated, “If this is it, please let me know.”

Perhaps you remember him by his stage name, Huey Lewis. We aren’t sure if he was ever informed if “it” was indeed love or not, but we’re going to borrow his inquisitive statement for this week’s Prospect of the Week, Dylan Blujus.

Two of the past three weeks we have received BP Mailbag questions asking if Blujus, a second round pick in 2012, was a bust. Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe he’s watching every word we write (highly unlikely), but since that time Blujus’ game has exploded.

Is this it? Has Blujus finally turned the corner?

Blujus was drafted as a slick-skating, puck-moving righty defenseman with good size and a high ceiling. He was coming off a good draft year in which he had 34 points in 66 games. Third year major junior players are usually impact players and Blujus was expected to continue his development, especially offensively, in an upward direction the following season. He didn’t.

The 6’3”, 191-pound rearguard dropped to 29 points in two more games played, though he had four points in five playoff games as Brampton was eliminated in the first round. After the playoffs he was flown to Tampa so the Lightning could get a closer look at him.

A lot was expected of him as the Bolts’ 2013 camp rolled around, but Blujus never saw the ice. He underwent knee surgery and missed NHL camp and the first couple weeks of the Battalion’s season – their first after moving to North Bay.

Blujus, who by all accounts was excellent in his own end last year, had a good first game, scoring a goal and earning first star honors. After that there wasn’t much to get excited about. He didn’t score again for three months and only had seven assists in those 12 weeks. He ended 2013 with nine points in 25 games for the season.

Then came 2014.

Blujus has nearly matched his 2013 totals with North Bay in less than a month of 2014. He has one goal and seven assists this month, but perhaps more impressively, he’s plus-17 in his past seven games, which shot him from a minus-14 rating to plus-3. This past week he had two assists and was plus-4 in two games. We’re awarding him our Prospect of the Week more for his month of January and the fact that his game seems to be finally rounding out. We were never worried about his skating or own-end play (and we are well aware there is more to a prospect than stats), but a top-40 pick should be able to put up a decent amount of points.

He’s due a contract at season’s end and can join the Syracuse Crunch for the remainder of their season once the Battalion is done. On New Year’s Eve we would’ve put the chances of Blujus getting a contract around the 50% mark, but we can confidently raise that much, much higher. In fact, we fully expect him to start next year with the Crunch.

He’s a project, but Blujus has all the ingredients to be an NHL defenseman. It may not be a 30-point top-four blueliner, but he should see NHL ice at some time in the coming 3-4 seasons. Should he continue his streak, and this is indeed“it” – the Blujus the Lightning thought they were getting with the 40th overall pick – then that ceiling could be higher. We won’t know for a few development years.

Honorable Mention: Slater Koekkoek, D (Windsor, OHL). Note: Tyler Johnson graduated from prospect status.

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

January 20: Mark Barberio, D, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
January 13: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
January 6: Ondrej Palat, LW, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 17: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 10: Ondrej Palat, W, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)