Blue Jackets Draft Preview
Success has its rewards, but in the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets, it also has its drawbacks. Doug MacLean’s vision of a team that would be competitive every night and start building a winning tradition, has blossomed into a 28 win inaugural season. The city of Columbus has embraced the team and the combination of solid veterans and late blooming prospects gives them a strong base for respectability in the future. In achieving these goals, however, Columbus will be drafting 8th in the first round, instead of in the top 2 or 3 that might be expected by an expansion team. The depth of this years draft has made the lower draft position a little bit easier to endure, but the thought of missing out on outstanding prospects like Jason Spezza and Ilya Kovalchuck must be heavy on MacLean’s mind. The Blue Jackets are thrilled with last years first round choice, defenseman Rostislav Klesa and think he will anchor their defense for years to come. In Mark Denis, they feel that they have an outstanding young goaltender. What they lack is a big time blue chip forward that they can build their offence around. Maclean would love to choose any of the top 5 forwards. If the draft goes like most people predict, those 5 forwards will be long gone by the 8th choice. Some people in the Blue Jackets organization think the top prospect still available at that spot might well be goaltender Dan Blackburn. That’s tough to predict in a year that might see a lot of wheeling and dealing on draft day. Doug MacLean is one of the more proactive G.M.’s in the league and by certain comments he has made I believe his first move will be to try trade up for a better draft position and nab one of the top forwards. He has two choices in each of the second and third rounds to play with and he will try his best to improve his first round. That might be tough, if some of the rumors about big names going for draft choices come true. The Blue Jackets might not have the trading power to get what they want. A more likely scenario would be to trade down for a draft choice or prospect, and try to get an R.J. Umberger or a Colby Armstrong, who would still fit in nicely to their plans. The draft is so deep in decent forwards that this might be the most productive move. If no deal can be struck and depending on who is still available the chances are about 50/50 that they will choose one of the goaltending prospects or a forward, possibly Koivu or Ruutu. They were hot for Ruutu, but a late season injury might have changed their minds. In the second and third rounds they will still concentrate on forwards although if a big defenseman like Jay Harrison is still available, they might scoop him up. In the latter rounds, look for them to choose a couple of older Europeans and possibly some depth in goal. The 2001 draft might be the most interesting in years. Potential trades, a nice group of probable free agents and a bumper crop of 18 year olds means that every team has the potential to dramatically improve in the off season. I’m hoping that Doug MacLean is on his game.