Ever since Jarmo Kekalainen took the helm in 2013, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been pointed in a positive direction. Heading into the 2015 NHL Draft, the club had spent a number of selections on forwards, boasting an enviable group of high-caliber, quality scorers. The major question heading into the draft was what the team would do to bolster the blueline.
With Mike Reilly choosing to spurn Columbus in favor of the Minnesota Wild, there was a clear and distinct lack of defensemen in the system. That situation was clearly addressed early, as Kekalainen and company chose two rearguards in the first round, and then added four more with a wide range of skillsets later on in day two.
The Blue Jackets cannon will have plenty of reasons to fire in the future, and with an influx of defenseman on the way, preventing goals in the future may very well come from this draft group.
Zach Werenski, D, University of Michigan (Big Ten)
1st round, 8th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 214 lbs
It was very clear that the Blue Jackets were planning to take a defenseman early on, and after the club failed to trade up, one ended up falling to them without the need to remove assets from the organization. Columbus took Zach Werenski eighth overall from the University of Michigan, after the freshman defenseman had a phenomenal season under the tutelage of Red Berenson.
Werenski graduated from high school in three years, accelerating his schooling in order to get an early start on college. He won’t turn 18 until July 29th, but the poised, confident defender had a pretty astute scouting report of how he plays.
“I play a two-way defenseman type of role, someone that can hopefully play a lot of minutes one day,” the Grosse Pointe, Michigan native said. “It’s what I’m used to at Michigan, and hopefully that’s the style I’ll get to play when I get to Columbus.”
Leading up to draft day, Werenski was on a short list of prospects that Columbus wanted to personally sit down with. He had two interviews with the team, and it was the last one that provided a bit of foreshadowing.
“I think after that interview I felt pretty comfortable, and thought I had a good one with them. I thought I did pretty well, and came away thinking that maybe they do like me.”
Columbus agreed with that assessment, and didn’t make him wait too long, either.
“It’s a pretty long day, I’ve been waiting for it.”
Now that he is on board with the Blue Jackets, Werenski can focus on returning to Michigan for his sophomore season, taking yet another positive step in his development.
“It’s a relief, it’s perfect, and I’m really excited to be drafted by Columbus.”
Werenski met with the media after his selection by the Blue Jackets, with some of his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping J20 (SuperElit)
1st round, 29th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 183 lbs
Kekalainen had a bevy of picks ready for day two, and decided to expend a few of them in a late first-round trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, landing the 29th overall selection. The target was another defenseman, this time opting to go for one of the top European options in Gabriel Carlsson.
The slick-skating defenseman wasn’t worried about having to wait until day two in order to hear his name called, but had an idea something was happening when the Blue Jackets traded up.
“Sometimes you get that feeling, but you still have that hope in you that some team will pick you,” Carlsson said.
Carlsson won’t light up the scoresheet, but excels in the defensive zone and has a good chance to reach his potential. With Dillon Heatherington and Ryan Collins on board as defensive specialists, Carlsson fits the Blue Jackets mold as a shutdown player.
“I’m a defensive defenseman with good size and a good reach, and I read the game well.”
It’s unlikely that he will be pressed into NHL action next season, but Carlsson has a plan in place.
“I need to fill out my frame a little bit before I’m ready for the NHL. I signed a two year contract with the pro team back home in Sweden.”
Linkoping has churned out a number of NHL-ready defenseman, and with time on his side, Carlsson might just be the next in line to make the transition to North America.
Carlsson took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in early June. He spoke with the media following his testing session, with his comments being captured in this HF video.