Blue Jackets 2003 draft evaluation

By Ryan Madden

After a third straight season finishing in the basement of the Central Division, Columbus entered the 2003 draft with hope for the future.  Holding the fourth overall selection, the Jackets were hoping to add to a growing prospect pool.  With GM Doug MacLean firmly at the reins of the team and entering his fourth draft, the team was heading to Nashville, Tennessee still believing in a bright and near future in Columbus. 

The Jackets had traded away their second-round pick (33rd overall), their fifth-round pick (170th overall), their ninth-round pick (264th overall) in transactions at the 2002 draft, and had also traded away their sixth-round pick (170th overall) to Detroit.  They had acquired at the March 2002 trade deadline Chicago’s second-round pick for 2003 (46th overall) in a trade for Lyle Odelein, and Pittsburgh’s fourth-round pick (103rd overall) in exchange for defenseman Jamie Pushor. 

MacLean had seven picks heading into the draft, and wanted to add more.  He traded away Columbus’ 2004 fourth-round pick to Carolina for their fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2003 (138th and 168th respectively).  MacLean then traded Columbus’ ninth-round 2004 pick to the Kings in exchange for their ninth-round in 2003 (283rd overall).  These moves gave Columbus 10 picks in 2003. 

The net result for the draft is a mixed success for the Jackets.  Their first two picks (Zherdev and Fritsche) are playing regularly for the team, and a third pick (Marc Methot) has been scratching at the door the past two seasons, and might earn a regular NHL pay cheque in the near future.  Their 51.8 games per pick average lands them sixth out of 30 teams.  However, the success must be mitigated by the fact that Zherdev has yet to fulfill his high potential.

Nikolai Zherdev, LW – 1st Round, 4th overall (CSKA – Russia)

NHL Games played: 283
Status: NHL regular
2007-08 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)

The 2003 draft marked the beginning for Columbus of their relationship with the extremely talented but much-maligned Russian.  Zherdev is the highest drafted Russian ever by Columbus.  Their previous highest selected Russian was 98th overall, Ivan Tkachenko, in 2002.

The feeling was that Zherdev had the talent level something close to that of Ilya Kovalchuk, who had settled into the NHL quite nicely, and displayed a surprising willingness to distribute hits.  Unfortunately for the Jackets, Zherdev has taken longer to make his mark in the NHL, and concerns about his attitude persist up until this season.  The talent is there for all to see, as Zherdev has top hands, quick feet, and can dipsy-doodle his way out of a New York City traffic jam. 

To his credit, his 2007-08 season was much more inspired than the one before.  If he continues to play up to his potential, there is no lack of talent, and he should become one of the NHL’s best young players.

Dan Fritsche, C – 2nd Round, 46th overall (Sarnia – OHL)

NHL Games played: 206
Status: NHL regular
2007-08 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)

The first Ohio-born player drafted by the Blue Jackets in the club’s history, Dan Fritsche went into the 2003 draft ranked 10th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.  However, concerns about his health, in particular a shoulder problem, effected his draft stock, which allowed Columbus to select him midway through the second round. 

Injury troubles have continued for Fritsche, who has never played more than 69 in any season.  However, he reached that mark this past season, so while injuries continue to be a concern, he has managed to suit up for a respectable number of NHL games.  In addition, the same two-way game, grit and determination that made Fritsche so successful in junior have endeared him well to his NHL coaches, including current Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock.

Up until now, Fritsche has played primarily a third-line role.  While that is not likely to change anytime soon, there is still room for his offensive production to blossom a little more, as his scoring numbers in junior indicate.  All things considered, the addition of Fritsche to this draft class for the Jackets is a real blessing, and the Jackets have to be very happy with his progress up to date. 

Dimitri Kosmachev, D – 3rd Round, 71st overall (CSKA – Russia)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2007-08 Team: Khimik Moscow (Russia)

Lured by the potential upside of this big 6’3, 205 lbs. defender, who had shown such remarkable progress in the year leading up to the draft, the Jackets felt they had unearthed a real draft day gem in the third round.  An added bonus was that he was a teammate of fellow 2003 draft pick Nikolai Zherdev.  Unfortunately for the Jackets, they could never bring the big Kosmachev over to North America, and the big pivot continues to play the back end in the Russian Super League.

In the end, the Jackets were left waiting by this big Russian, which happened so often in the former CBA.  The truth is that Kosmachev has not continued to improve as dramatically as he had in his draft year, and he has never reached his potential.

Kevin Jarman, LW – 4th Round, 103rd overall (Stouffville – OPJRA)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2007-08 Teams: Youngstown Steelhounds (CHL), Syracuse Crunch (AHL)

With the first pick of two consecutive fourth-round selections, the Blue Jackets went in an increasingly popular direction, selecting Kevin Jarman from Stouffville out of the Ontario Junior A league.  Teams began to tap directly into the leagues that feed the NCAA, such as Canadian Junior-A leagues, the USHL, and US high schools.  Jarman was ranked 99th among North American skaters by the CSS heading into the draft.  He led his team in scoring as a 17-year-old with 79 points in 46 games.

Jarman played with University of Massachusetts-Amherst for four years.  Upon his graduation, Jarman was not offered a contract by the Jackets.  He was invited by the Jackets to their September 2007 training camp, and he played most of last season with the Jackets affiliate in the CHL, the Youngstown Steelhounds.  He also played eight games for the Syracuse Crunch.   

Without an NHL contract, Jarman’s hopes to play in the NHL are slim, but his recall to the Crunch in March indicate a possibility he may be able to earn some playing time there next season. 

Philippe Dupuis, C – 4th Round, 104th overall (Hull – QMJHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL prospect
2007-08 Teams: Syracuse Crunch (AHL), Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

Dupuis was ranked the 56th North American skater by CSS, scoring 56 points in 68 games his draft year, and was not much of an offensive force during the QMJHL playoffs which Hull won to get to the Memorial Cup.  However, he did show promise in the playoffs the previous season, scoring 11 points in just 12 playoff games in the 2001-02 playoffs as a 16-year-old.  His main attribute was an ability to score, but there were always concerns about his two-way game. 

Dupuis played three more seasons in the QMJHL, one more with the Olympiques, then a second with Rouyn-Noranda, and another as an over-ager with Moncton under head coach Ted Nolan. His offensive production continued to increase, and he capped the 100-point mark in his final junior season.

Now finished his second AHL season, Dupuis continues to struggle offensively as a professional.  Unfortunately his defensive game is not strong enough to make him an asset when not scoring regularly, and because of this, Dupuis has found it difficult to maintain his place in the lineup on a regular basis.  He was traded this past season to the Colorado Avalanche, who hope to see his offensive game mature. 

Arsi Piispanen, RW – 5th Round, 138th overall (Jokerit Jr. – Finland)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2007-08 Team: Tappara Tampere (Finland)

This tall and lanky 6’3, 163 lbs. Finn was ranked 25th among Europeans by CSS heading into the draft.  Known for his soft hands and ability with the puck, the main flaws with his game were his size and strength, many questioning whether he would be able to handle the rough going of the North American style game.  Piispanen had played well at the U-18 WJC with 5 points in 6 games, and the hope was that this talented Finnish forward could make the leap and use his stick
handling to dazzle fans in Columbus.  Piispanen has never been able to meet his potential, and the Blue Jackets never brought him over.  He continues to play well and progress in Finland.

Marc Methot, D – 6th Round, 168th overall (London – OHL)

NHL Games Played: 29
Status: NHL prospect
2007-08 Teams: Syracuse Crunch (AHL), Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)

The third possible success story from this draft for the Blue Jackets is Methot, a tall 6’3, 224 lbs. defender who has seen NHL games the past two seasons.  Methot was a bit of an off the board pick by the Jackets. A stay-at-home defenseman, Methot has proven the Jackets’ scouts correct, as he has developed into quite a solid sixth-round selection, and is much closer to the NHL than most of the Jackets’ other higher ranked selections.   

Methot still has one last hurdle to climb to fully celebrate his success.  He has played well in the OHL with the London Knights, and with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.  He has also played well in his two brief stints in the NHL.  Now he must win himself an NHL job.  This might prove the hardest for the young blue liner, but he certainly possesses the necessary size to become an able NHL defender.

Alexander Guskov, D – 7th Round, 200th overall (Yaroslavl – Russia)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2007-08 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Russia)

The third of three Russians selected by the Blue Jackets, they select Guskov and for the second straight year select an overaged Russian in the draft.  Guskov had led the Russian Super League in points by a defenseman the year before, with 27 points in 48 games.  Looking for immediate help, the Jackets select the 26-year-old Guskov in the hopes that he might come over and play in the NHL.  Guskov has never come over to play with Columbus, and continues to be one of the better puckmoving defensemen in Russia.

Mathieu Gravel, LW – 8th Round, 233rd overall (Shawinigan – QMJHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2007-08 Team: Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes (CIS)

In the eighth round, the Jackets found another offensive player from Quebec in Mathieu Gravel.  The big, 6’3.5, 195 lbs. power forward was ranked 110th by CSS among North Americans, but fell to the 233rd primarily due to questions about his skating.  He had scored 50 points in 72 games in his draft year, but scored only a combined 90 points in his next two seasons in junior, and was not offered a contract by the Jackets.  Again the Jackets gambled on a big guy that they
thought could become something special, but Gravel never developed further than his draft year production.

Using the CHL’s very admirable scholarship program, Gravel has played the past three seasons with the UQTR Patriotes, and this past season led them in scoring, helping them to the top of OUA division of the CIS. 

Trevor Hendrikx, D – 9th Round, 283rd overall (Peterborough – OHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL prospect
2007-08 Team: Elmira Jackals (ECHL)

Hendrikx was originally drafted in 2003 by Columbus in the last round of the draft, did not sign with the team, re-entered the draft, and was selected by the Jackets again in 2005 in the last round of that draft.  Hendrikx was not highly thought of in his draft year, another big OHL defender.  At 6’2, 190 lbs., he like Methot was also not ranked by the CSS on their top 210 North American skaters.  Following his initial draft campaign, Hendrikx was primarily thought of as a tough guy, but developed a strong offensive game to compliment this.  After scoring just nine points in his first draft year, he followed up with seasons of 32, 48, and 56 points in the OHL. 

Hendrikx has played the last two seasons in the ECHL.  This past season he suited up for all of Elmira’s games and contributed 31 points in 72 games.  The next big step for Hendrikx is to graduate to the AHL and to continue to play a strong physical game, while contributing offensively.  If he can do this successfully, perhaps in two years there will be more promising news for this intriguing prospect.