Blue Jackets 2004 draft evaluation

By Chris Leary

The 2004 NHL draft was an active one for Columbus. Sitting with the fourth overall pick heading into draft weekend, the Jackets watched as a pair of premier European prospects rolled off the board (in first overall pick Alexander Ovechkin and second pick Evgeni Malkin), followed by defenseman Cam Barker, which led directly to the decision to trade down in the first round. Dealing away the fourth pick to Carolina (used to select left wing Andrew Ladd), the Jackets grabbed Alexandre Picard with the eighth overall selection. That was only the beginning of a busy day for then-GM Doug MacLean, who ended up selecting twice in both the second and third rounds.

Of the 11 players selected by the Jackets in the 2004 draft, none have yet to make a significant impact at the NHL level. Those 11 players have combined to total just 65 games with the Jackets, the majority (58) by Picard in limited roles over the past four seasons. The per-pick average works out to just 5.90 NHL games each.

Of the seven players remaining in the system, Picard remains the most likely to make a splash with the big club, and that is thanks largely to a strong run at the end of this past season (after several largely-disappointing seasons shuttled between Syracuse and Columbus) and may yet earn a spot on the third line with Columbus.

Alexandre Picard, LW

1st Round, 8th Overall
2008-09 Status: Syracuse (AHL), Columbus (NHL)
Career NHL Games: 58

It may have taken five full years, but Picard may finally be ready to provide real returns on the Jackets’ investment of the eighth overall selection in the 2004 draft. In 58 career games spread over four years with Columbus, Picard rarely looked the part of a former top 10 selection, usually struggling to earn ice time on the fourth line before relegation back to the AHL. Even his Crunch career was something of a disappointment, as he never established the high level of talent that made him a top-tier prospect as a junior.

All that changed down the stretch this past season with the Crunch. Over the final two months of the season with Syracuse, Picard looked like a changed man. Playing a strong game at both ends of the ice, Picard tallied 20 goals in 22 games to close out the season in style. That performance should put Picard right back into the mix this autumn at the Jackets training camp, with the question of his ability to translate his obvious talents to the NHL level yet unanswered.

Adam Pineault, RW

2nd Round, 46th Overall
2008-09 Status: Rockford (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 3

A highly-regarded offensive forward coming off his rookie season with Boston College back in 2004, Pineault never developed into the sniper many expected in his four years within the Columbus organization. Heading north to the QMJHL after a single season with Boston College, Pineault looked the part of a future scorer with Moncton.  He followed that up with three solid, if unspectacular, seasons with the Crunch, potting 38 goals and 50 assists in 160 games with Syracuse. Those totals were not enough to earn a significant look at the NHL level, and the organization parted company with Pineault this past season in exchange for Michael Blunden of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Kyle Wharton, D
2nd Round, 59th Overall
2008-09 Status: Johnstown (ECHL), Syracuse (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

A mainstay on the minor-league shuttle over the past few years, defenseman Kyle Wharton has yet to make a significant impact as a professional. Viewed as one of the better North American skaters when the Jackets tabbed him at the end of the second round, Wharton graduated out of a solid amateur career in the OHL to a short European vacation with Berlin of the DEL in 2006-07. The past two seasons have been spent as a role player at the AHL and ECHL levels, as the solid package of skills he displayed as a junior have not translated well to the professional ranks. Now 23 and starting to lose ground to a new crop of prospects, Wharton will need to earn his way into a regular role with Syracuse this season to remain on the organizational radar.

Dan LaCosta, G

3rd Round, 93rd Overall
2008-09 Status: Syracuse (AHL), Columbus (NHL)
Career NHL Games: 4

After several seasons of part-time duty across several levels, 24-year-old LaCosta settled in as the top netminder for most of the 2008-09 season with Syracuse of the AHL. As with many young goaltenders, LaCosta displayed a very strong game at times around spells of blinding inconsistency, even if the overall picture was positive. In 45 appearances with the Crunch this past year, the former Barrie Colt rolled off a 19-18-2 record, to go with a 2.79 GAA and .913 save percentage on a team starved for wins. A mid-season injury to Calder candidate Steve Mason provided LaCosta with a short three-game audition with the Blue Jackets, which he made the most of in posting a pair of wins along with a 1.54 GAA and .950 save percentage. The addition of Kevin Lalande this past season means that LaCosta will have to display continued improvement to ensure his spot, both within the organization and in the Syracuse net. 

Andrei Plekhanov, D
3rd Round, 96th Overall
2008-09 Status: Syracuse (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

Considered a strong blueline prospect coming off an eye-opening nine-goal, 16-assist rookie campaign with Syracuse in 2007-08, Plekhanov’s sophomore season with the Crunch represented a significant step back. While the organization expected the two-way defenseman to challenge for an NHL audition as early as this past season, Plekhanov instead played his way out of the Syracuse lineup as the season wore on, and was regularly watching from the press box by the end of the year. Noted for a heavy shot from the point and above-average hockey sense in the offensive zone, Plekhanov did not look like the same player from the season before, contributing only a pair of goals on the year.  Just about to turn 23, there’s still more than enough offensive talent here to suggest that a new season may bring with it a change in fortunes, even if a look at the NHL level remains on the far horizon for now.

Petr Pohl, RW

5th Round, 133rd Overall
2008-09 Status: Johnston (ECHL), Syracuse (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

A skilled offense-first wing coming out of juniors, Pohl has spent the majority of the past three seasons shuttling between the ECHL and AHL as he tries to work his way up the organizational ladder. His scoring touch with Gatineau and Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL has translated well to the ECHL, as evidenced by his 31-goal, 43-assist effort in just 62 games for Johnstown this past season. Still just 22, the three-year pro needs to make that next step up to the AHL in 2009-10, as he’s just about learned all he can at the ECHL level.

Rob Page, D
6th Round, 167th Overall
2008-09 Status: Trenton (ECHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

A four-year veteran of the Yale Bulldogs hockey team, defenseman Rob Page turned in an impressive collegiate career, both on and off the ice.  Columbus opted not to sign Page to a professional contract after his graduation, and Page therefore made his professional debut with the Trenton Devils of the ECHL this past season, tallying a goal and two assists in 31 games as a rookie.

Lennart Petrell, C

6th Round, 190th Overall
2008-09 Status: HIFK Helsinki (FNL)
Career NHL Games: 0

An important physical presence up front for Helsinki of the FNL over the past five seasons, 25-year-old Lennart Petrell was never signed to a deal by the Blue Jackets, and appears likely to remain in Europe for the duration of his career.

Justin Vienneau, D
7th Round, 198th Overall
2008-09 Status:  Out of hockey
Career NHL Games: 0

Considered a defense-first blueline prospect when the Jackets tabbed him in the seventh round, Vienneau earned a one-game audition with the Syracuse Crunch in the 2005-06 season. Returning to the QMJHL for the 2006-07 season, Vienneau never made the jump back to the professional ranks, and is currently out of hockey.

Brian McGuirk, LW
8th Round, 231st Overall
2008-09 Status:  Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

A veteran of international competition at the amateur level, speedy forward Brian McGuirk made a solid transition from the college ranks to the AHL this past season with Syracuse. Coming out of a successful four-year run with Boston University, McGuirk followed up a six-game audition with Syracuse in 2007-08 with a full 60-game rookie season this past year. Not known for his offensive capabilities (as evidenced by his slight two-goal, four-assist performance this past season), McGuirk was a regular contributor on the penalty kill and a strong presence defensively. The 23-year-old will need to show marked improvement at both ends of the ice as a full-season sophomore this coming year with Syracuse.

Grant Clitsome, D

9th Round, 271st Overall
2008-09 Status: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
Career NHL Games: 0

The final pick for the Jackets in the 2004 draft, 23-year-old Clitsome made his full-season rookie debut as a professional with the Syracuse Crunch in 2008-09. Clitsome, who skated at the collegiate level with Clarkson over four of the past five years, turned in a solid campaign this past season, contributing four goals and 15 assists in 73 games for the Crunch. Firmly on the organizational radar, Clitsome will likely need another year’s internship with Syracuse before challenging for an audition with the big club in 2010-11.