After making their first-ever post-season appearance, the Columbus Blue Jackets will experience another first at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft as they select out of the top 10 for the first time in franchise history. There likely won’t with the skill set of past first-round picks Nikita Filatov and Jakub Voracek available at No. 16, but getting over the hump of the playoffs was likely worth the price.
Columbus general manager Scott Howson made last year’s draft a success by selecting a future franchise winger in Filatov with the sixth overall pick. Filatov completed a solid first year in North America with 32 points in 39 games for Syracuse of the AHL while having a successful stint with Columbus, contributing four goals in eight games. Filatov was the only Blue Jacket draft pick to play for the big club this past season but there is an abundance of optimism hovering around the 2008 draft class.
The Jackets head into the 2009 entry draft holding eight picks; seven of their original selections and Colorado’s fourth-round pick which was acquired in the Adam Foote trade two seasons ago.
The trade market should be fairly busy on draft weekend and do not be surprised if Howson is able to acquire the puck-moving defenseman the Jackets truly need. Kris Russell has the ability to be a solid puck mover but Columbus needs a true power-play quarterback if they want to solidify their chances at returning to the NHL’s second season. It’s likely that Howson, if a deal is made, will go with a less-flashy option, opting not to sell the farm for immediate help on a team he already feels is quite capable and continually improving.
Much like last year, the Blue Jackets still desperately need that top puck-moving defenseman. Howson and brass could dip into free agency to bring in someone like Mathieu Schneider or Marc-Andre Bergeron to fill the gap, but with the big names expected to be available during draft weekend it is a certainty they will be active in trade talks.
Steve Mason, already a top netminder in the league, will hold the fort for the Blue Jackets next season, but there is a need for a veteran backup in case things go awry. Dan LaCosta had a surprisingly good stint last season with the Blue Jackets but probably isn’t ready for full-time backup duty.
Beyond Mason, the Blue Jackets also have 2004 draft pick LaCosta and Kevin Lalande in Syracuse, both of whom are quite good in their own right.
Even with Voracek and Kris Russell graduating from the Blue Jackets prospect system, there is still a lot of skill left over. Derick Brassard possess great playmaking abilities and his ability to control the puck is beyond his age. Combined with the Russian tandem of Filatov and 2007 fourth round pick Maxim Mayorov the Blue Jackets have one of the strongest prospect pools.
While the Jackets have a plethora of talent on the wings in Filatov, Mayorov, Alex Picard, Jake Hansen and agitator Stefan Legein, they are extremely thin down the middle. They possess a true stud in Derick Brassard although behind the gifted playmaker the Jackets’ best prospect at center is Sean Collins, a 2008 seventh-round pick. Outside of Brassard, not one of their top 20 prospects is a center.
Cody Goloubef, a defenseman out of the University of Wisconsin, was a key selection in the second round of last year’s draft. The Jackets eventually selected four defensemen last year, giving them an abundance of prospects on the point, yet they remain without a true top defense prospect in their system.
One thing that stands out while surveying over the Blue Jackets draft history is their desire for offensively skilled forwards, especially with their first-round picks. Voracek and Filatov have been Howson’s only first-round picks and they are purely offensive dynamos. Also contributing to the trend under previous management are former first round picks Derick Brassard, Nikolai Zherdev, Rick Nash and once highly touted offensive forwards Gilbert Brule and Alex Picard.
Also, despite the lack of an IIHF transfer agreement in place and despite previous trouble with Zherdev, the Blue Jackets have not been afraid to take Russians high in the draft. There is a risk in selecting Russians but the Jackets have clearly taken calculated risks and have succeeded in bringing their Russian selections to North America.
There is a clear affection for the NCAA as well. Exactly half of Howson’s selections the past two seasons have been players either already playing college hockey or about to enter it. Goloubef and Will Weber, both playing NCAA hockey, are good examples. In both of Howson’s drafts he has selected a solid all-around defenseman with his second-round selection.
Howson has also shown an affinity for vertically gifted players. Only three of his 16 selections stand under six feet tall. He’s selected guys like 6’6 Steven Delisle and 6’4 Weber. Does this mean the team is due for a smaller crop?
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Ryan Ellis, D
Columbus looks to build their defensive corps with small, offensively-talented Ellis. He could quarterback the power play in a couple of years.