Drafted in the 2nd round with the 47th pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Collins was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 18 year old from Bloomington, Minnesota, is a defenseman, whom the whole front office was especially high on coming into the draft.
The projection for this player has been one of the odder evaluations to date. When looking over his numbers; intangibles and overall ceiling, its tough to come to a conclusion on him. Defensemen, overall are a very hard position to project even if they are a top five pick in the draft. It makes it even harder when it is a defenseman drafted outside of the first round. You can often look at someone’s prior offensive output as a bellwether for other players but in a case such as his where he is a “defensive defenseman” it is almost a crapshoot. You have to look at the elements around him and make an inference on some elements to see whether or not he hits certain litmus tests.
One of the first elements to look at when evaluating a player would have to be the program he is joining in college. Going to one of the perennial powerhouses in collegiate hockey, University of Minnesota, he should be put in a situation completely conducive to improving his skills as a hockey player. Joining his good friend, Jack Glover, teammates from both high school and the national team program, he can’t really ask for much more than playing with a long time friend in college. While a long standing friendship is a nice cherry on top of the proverbial sundae, as pointed by SB Nation College Hockey, the top two defensemen for the Gophers are left handed shots. Glover and Collins will be competing for a couple of prime spots within their top four.
When looking at Collins’ intangibles you start to see what Jarmo & Co saw in him. He is a tall (6’5″), lanky (203 lbs) guy who has some room to fill out in his frame but the thought of him being in a college weight training program is extremely tantalizing. While filling out his frame will be priority number one, not losing his speed will be right behind that, more like priority 1B. His speed is an interesting attribute because from what I have seen he has above average speed for his size and players like that are very, very hard to find. In addition to his size and speed, he was also an assistant captain on the U-17 US team and won a Class AA State Hockey title with Benilde-St Margaret School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. All good things to have on your resume when moving forward, especially when competing for a spot on the WJC team.
Talking about the ceiling of a defenseman is just like throwing darts, sometimes you’ll hit a bullseye, other times you may just want to sit the next couple rounds out. It may be an exercise in futility but the prognostication is part of what makes it fun.
When looking at his offensive production the past few seasons it is tough to find a bright spot in his game, but while trying to focus solely on his defense it is encouraging that he doesn’t take a lot of penalty minutes with the amount of games he plays. While not comparable offensively to Ryan Murray, I do see a lot of similarities in their games. Both are smooth skating and fundamentally sound players who aren’t overly physical. Collins, needs the college game to find more of his offensive game to compete at the NHL level. His positional awareness and overall solid play puts him as a fringe top four defenseman when trying to project his ceiling. He will more than likely never become a power play asset but I could see him being a part of the PK unit, which if his lack of penalties is any indication, will be a valuable piece in the near future.
While discussing with Mark and Matt, two of our newer writers but long time Jackets fans, about the projection of Collins, they both spoke frankly about him. While the defensive pipeline is relatively weak, there won’t be any need for him to be anything he isn’t for the Jackets. Going to a great program such as the University of Minnesota, should do wonders for his development, having seen Mike Reilly grow into a Hobey Baker candidate, right in front of their eyes, the front office may view this program as a very attractive pipeline for years to come.
For a player like Collins, who has all the intangibles to be an imposing figure on the blueline, it may take four years playing in the NCAA to produce some tangible skills in the greatest league on earth. This is no slight on Collins, who at his age is one of the best defensemen in the US, this is more about how the game is evolving and isn’t looking for the traditional defensive defensemen. If you aren’t driving play toward the other side of the rink, you’ll find yourself looking for a job in short order (sorry Douglas Murray). The luxury of a player percolating in lower leagues is something elite teams have enjoyed for quite some time, an indulgence the team is just now able to savor. While Ryan Collins may not be seen in the short term it doesn’t mean he isn’t a part of the long term plans. Instant gratification is a staple in American sports but patience is after all a virtue; value it Jackets fans.