Blue Jackets 2004 draft preview

By Aaron Vickers





Atlanta Thrashers Draft Preview 2003

Columbus Blue Jackets Top 10 Prospects


1. Nikolai Zherdev, RW

2. Pascal Leclaire, G

3. Danny Fritsche, C
4. Aaron Johnson, D
5. Joakim Lindstrom, LW
6. Dimitri Kosmachev, D
7. Ole Kristian Tollefsen, D
8. Tim Jackman, RW
9. Andrej Nedorost, LW
10. Arsi Piispanen, C

Team Needs


The Blue Jackets are still very much a young organization, and putting a
quality product out on the ice has been a challenge as much as it has been a
concern for General Manager Doug MacLean. He has attempted to do this by adding
a variety of free agents over the course of the last couple of seasons, with
little success. Players such as Luke Richardson, Todd Marchant and Scott
Lachance have been brought in to make the club more successful, but it has
failed to happen thus far.

 

While Columbus has some quality players
down the middle, the organization may have mixed up the roles of some players,
and in turn, have asked individual players to do too much. Andrew Cassels, for
example, makes an excellent second line center. On this team, however, he’s
expected to carry the load offensively. The same can be said for Todd Marchant,
another center added to provide an offensive punch in the wake of having a
career year. Marchant, best known for the work he puts in at his own end,
however, couldn’t duplicate the same season on an offensively inept club.

 

On the wings, Columbus sorely lacks pure
offensive threats, aside from its youngsters. Aside from 2004 Maurice Richard
Award co-winner Rick
Nash
, the only forward with extreme offensive flair is rookie Nikolai Zherdev,
whose flashes have everyone salivating, including Doug MacLean, describing the
talented Russian as “special, really special.”

 

Defensively, the organization was
mediocre at best, with the likes of Lachance, Darryl Sydor and Luke Richardson
unable to control the opposition in their own end. In fact, Columbus gave up a
total of 238 goals, better then only six other organizations. Last offseason,
Columbus was expected to install a system which relied strongly on defensive
play, but it was evident early that the players weren’t too interested in using
a trap-like system, and it was soon deemed useless.

 

Goaltending has been strong for the
Columbus Blue Jackets, with former Chicoutimi Sagueneens goaltender Marc Denis
carrying the load. Columbus may be in search of a back-up for Denis, however,
with the struggles of Fred Brathwaite.


Organizational
Strengths


General Manager Doug MacLean seems pleased with the work he’s done over the
course of the last four NHL entry drafts. In fact, MacLean is so sure of his
prospects, he expects Columbus to ice a line-up next season that will host at
least eight Blue Jacket draftees. “If you can get eight players on your team
from the draft, that’s pretty solid,” remarked MacLean in an interview with
Hockey’s Future back in March. “My goal is to have eight draft picks on the
team next year.”

 

While MacLean may be a bit overzealous in
his attempts to ice a young line-up, eight youngsters on the opening day roster
isn’t out of the question. The quality of depth the Blue Jackets have
established is impressive, ranked eighth among National Hockey League clubs
according to Hockey’s
Future NHL Organizational Rankings
, a position certain to increase given
their great draft ranking.

 

It appears as though MacLean is
attempting to build an exciting team on the ice, consisting mainly of
youngsters. “We’ve always been a club that’s put the young kids on the team,”
spoke MacLean, “we’re going to continue to do that until we become a good
team.” Columbus fans shouldn’t hold
their breath on becoming a contending team, though. MacLean’s intentions of
building a young core are genuine, and building a strong team from youngsters
will certainly take patience.


Organizational
Weaknesses


Looking up and down the depth charts of the Blue Jackets, it is clearly made
evident that Columbus is in need of some defensive aid. The Columbus Blue
Jackets roster boasts one defenseman, 2000 first round selection Rostislav Klesla,
under the age of 26. Looking over the roster of their AHL affiliate Syracuse
Crunch, the future doesn’t get much brighter, with only Aaron Johnson,
Columbus’ fourth ranked prospect, as a true standout. The Syracuse Crunch may
get a boost next season with the addition of former Brandon Wheat King Ole-Kristian
Tollefsen
, but other than the Norwegian Tollefsen and Russian Dimitri Kosmachev,
the Columbus Blue Jackets sorely lack quality defenders with NHL potential.

 

Futhermore, the Columbus Blue Jackets
lack quality goaltending depth. While they have a unique talent in Syracuse
Crunch goaltender Pascal
Leclaire
, the organization is dangerously thin on bodies, nevermind talent.
Leclaire, widely regarded as the successor to goaltender Marc Denis, struggled
greatly in his first professional season in 2002-03. Leclaire rebounded,
however, posting strong numbers and re-affirming Blue Jackets brass of their
eighth overall selection in the 2001 NHL entry draft. In fact, MacLean was so
impressed with the progress made by Leclaire in his second professional season,
he suggested Leclaire could find himself behind Denis come October. After
Leclaire, the Columbus Blue Jackets have former Guelph Storm netminder Andrew Penner,
whose NHL potential is shaky at best.

 

Up front, the future of the Columbus Blue
Jackets is suspect at best. The acquisition of Alexander Svitov has
bolstered the center position, but outside of him and Parma, Ohio native Danny Fritsche, the
Columbus Blue Jackets have cause for concern. Fritsche, widely regarded as a
steal when taken 46th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, appears
to have secured a potential second line center. Couple Fritsche’s potential
with the likes of Svitov’s impressive third line upside, and Columbus has the
makings of an excellent duo. The only thing missing, however, is a front line
centerman. Finnish youngster Arsi Piispanen may
challenge for the role in the future, but certainly has to be considered a
long-term project with the potential of not panning out.


Draft
Tendencies


With four NHL entry drafts under their belt, it is safe to say that General
Manager Doug MacLean and Director of Amateur Scouting Don Boyd haven’t vocally
agreed that the Blue Jackets organization has displayed any prominent patterns
when it comes to selecting youngsters.

 

The 2000 NHL Entry Draft saw the
selection of Rostislav Klesla of the Brampton Battalion of the Canadian Hockey
League. It was Pascal Leclaire, again of the CHL selected with the Blue Jackets
first round selection. Rick Nash, Columbus’ first round selection and the first
overall selection of the 2002 was plucked from the London Knights of the CHL.
It was only when Columbus selected Nikolai Zherdev from HC CSKA that the trend
was broken.

 

In talking about draft tendencies, or
potential strategies in the draft, MacLean insists there isn’t a method to the
Blue Jackets technique. When asked about potential approaches, MacLean simply
responded by saying, “Strictly best player. We’re not at the stage where we can
hand-pick.”

 

Despite what General Manager Doug MacLean
may tell you, the Columbus Blue Jackets have drafted a different position each
year their first round selections, which looks very much to be need-based. In
Klesla, you’ll find a defenseman. In Nash and Zherdev, you’ll find a winger to
patrol both sides of the ice. In Leclaire, a potential franchise goaltender
lies. Judging by this pattern, one could expect a center to be drafted.

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets will be absent
from round two this year, resulting from the trade that saw General Manager
Doug MacLean acquire defenseman Darryl Sydor (who was later dealt to Tampa Bay,
a deal which saw Columbus acquire Alexander Svitov). The Blue Jackets attempted
to secure a second round selection (last year), but efforts were in vain. “You
know, I tried to (trade for a second round pick), and it just, the market went
sour there,” explained MacLean, “and so south with the player dumping and I
just couldn’t get it.” Aside from Klesla, who was selected fourth overall in
2000, Columbus has never drafted a defenseman higher then Ole-Kristian
Tollefsen, taken 65th overall in 2002.

 

Player most likely to be taken with the
first selection
(Hockey’s Future staff mock draft
result): Cameron Barker, D