While Monday’s trade of RJ Umberger for Scott Hartnell completely changed the dynamic and the identity of the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets, resting on the laurels of that trade would be foolhardy and wouldn’t be in the DNA of Blue Jackets General Manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen. While their inaugural season in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division was a rousing success, there is still plenty of work to do to continue to build the organization towards its goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
Kekalainen’s legacy for drafting and development is the stuff of legend as he has accomplished both tasks with the best scouts in the game. And while this draft is not slated to be a great draft, there is solid talent available and a plethora of options available in this National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft.
The Blue Jackets select 16th, overall in the 1st round of the draft; however, they also have four of the top 77 picks in the draft.
The Blue Jackets primary needs are to draft and develop forward line help, particularly on the wings, both the Right and Left Wing positions. However, great teams – a case in point are the Los Angeles Kings, who’ve won two of the last three Stanley Cup titles – are built from the back end specifically, the blueline and in goal so continuing to build at those positions is tantamount.
While the Blue Jackets ranked 12th overall in goals scored, its overall lack of firepower is a constraint, one that prevented them from advancing further in their 1st Round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Penguins. While its young players like Ryan Johansen made a seismic leap towards NHL stardom, there is an overall lack of depth in secondary scoring past Johansen, with only two other Blue Jackets netting more than 20 goals during the regular season.
And while last year’s three 1st round forwards offer hope for offensive fireworks down the road, they are probably years away from playing for the parent squad. However, that is not to say that the draft is the very vehicle to lay the groundwork for sustained future goal-scoring proclivity.
Kekalainen’s primary determinant for drafting players are those prospects who have speed, particularly the speed necessary to process the lightning-quick pace of today’s NHL. Examples of these types of players are Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron and David Rundblad (who was traded to the Ottawa Senators then to the Phoenix Coyotes). Kekalainen also prefers players with NHL-ready bodies who can readily step into the league very quickly. Examples of this aspect are former St. Louis Blues draftees Lars Eller, David Backes, Patrik Berglund and TJ Oshie.
As for this particular NHL Entry Draft, combining the uncertainty of the overall draft talent and the Blue Jackets possessing a pick in the middle of the 1st round versus a top 10 draft pick, something the Blue Jackets were slotted for during 11 of its first 14 NHL Entry Drafts, their targeted players could go a variety of ways.
But, for purposes of the Blue Jackets needs and Kekalainen’s pedigree for specific types of players, and depending on whether a particular player drops down to their slot in the draft that would have been expected otherwise, the list of players that the Blue Jackets may draft in the 1st Round is as follows: forwards Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch, Jared McCann, Kasperi Kapanen, Brendan Perlini or Ivan Barbashev; defensemen Julius Honka and Hadyn Fleury are two offensive defensemen that could provide a boost to the Blue Jackets Power Play and overall scoring success and would be a great compliment to their 2012 1st round (2nd overall) defenseman Ryan Murray who enjoyed a very successful rookie season in the NHL.
Of the list of forwards, Alex Tuch would appear to possess the variables that Kekalainen usually prefers, given his penchant for drafting big power forwards who possess great hands. Barbashev’s skill set would compliment last year’s trio of Blue Jackets forwards drafted – Wennberg, Dano and Rychel. As to the aforementioned defensemen, Julius Honka could be the type of puck-moving, playmaking defenseman that could provide a potent 1-2 punch with Murray as the Blue Jackets top defensive pairing.
As for future rounds of the draft, a name to keep in mind in the 2nd round, unless he is drafted sooner, is Ryan McGinnis, the son of the Al McGinnis, possessor of one of the NHL’s legendary howitzer’s (slap shots), particularly as both Kekalainen and Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson worked with Al McGinnis in the St. Louis Blues’ organization.
No matter the selection, the Blue Jackets hope to add to the NHL’s meteoric rise of drafting and developing prospects under the savvy, watchful eye of Kekalainen and his amateur scouts.