The Columbus Blue Jackets had one of their most disappointing seasons in recent history, and with the likely departure of Rick Nash, the 2012 NHL Draft could to mark a turning point in the franchise's history. Though they missed out on winning the draft lottery, they should still come away with a top prospect with the second-overall selection.
Top 10 Prospects:
After a miserable year and the inevitable departure of franchise winger Rick Nash this summer, the Blue Jackets NHL roster leaves quite a bit to be desired. Fortunately, they do have some pieces to work with, and Nash should draw a hefty return. As it stands now, the offense will likely come from a trio of natural centers – R.J Umberger, Derick Brassard, and Ryan Johansen. Players like Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, and Tomas Kubalik could possibly fill roles on the top three lines, but it's no surprise that the club is lacking top-six forwards heading into the off-season. Derek Dorsett, Derek McKenzie, Colton Gillies, and Mark Letestu will help round out the club's bottom-six forwards.
As porous as the team's defense was last year, they've actually got some talent on the back-end. Jack Johnson, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for Jeff Carter, has shown flashes of brilliance in his career. His defensive-zone coverage lacks consistency, but he can play the point on the power-pay, and has proven himself as a top-four defenseman in the league. Fedor Tyutin and the emerging Marc Methot are capable defenders, while a healthy James Wisniewski should give the club four solid defensemen. John Moore and Dalton Prout looked good at times in a Blue Jacket uniform last season, and if the team can sign restricted free-agent Nikita Nitikin, the defense should be the strength of their club.
Goaltending is as big a question mark as ever. For the past three seasons, Steve Mason has been a shell of the player that stood between the pipes as a rookie in 2008-09. Obviously, he has the potential to be a capable starting goaltender, but his recent past suggests he's no more than a back-up goaltender. If he can turn back the clock and play as well as he did in his rookie season, the Blue Jackets need not worry, but with Allen York as the only other goaltender under contract, they'll have to make a move or two in the off-season.
Not only was it a terrible year for the NHL club this past season, but the prospect cupboard has been running bare for the past two seasons, particularly with John Moore and Ryan Johansen graduating to become full-time NHL players. In Boone Jenner and Memorial Cup MVP Michael Chaput, the organization has a pair of likely future NHL-caliber players, but outside of those two, they don't have much in terms of offensive talent. Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert have already shown the ability to play at the NHL level, but not with a modicum of consistency.
If the organization did have any strength, it would be on the blue line. It seems every year the club has a new batch of talented defensemen making the leap to the pro ranks – over the past two years they've seen Cody Goloubef, John Moore, David Savard, and Dalton Prout turn pro – and 2012-13 will be no different. One of the top defensive defensemen in all of college hockey, Will Weber will be joining the Springfield Falcons next year, as will WHL defenseman Austin Madaisky.
The club could use help at all forward positions. While they've got some interesting pieces down the middle, they lack top-end talent, and their depth on both wings is quite shallow.
Goaltending is perhaps their biggest weakness. Steve Mason is a huge question mark at the NHL level, and the club doesn't particularly have any promising prospects coming through the pipeline. Allen York appears to be no more than an AHL goalie at this point in his career, and Martin Ouellette has been having trouble earning ice-time for the University of Maine. Anton Forsberg looked promising this year, but he's still more of a project pick.
General Manager Scott Howson has stuck primarily to drafting North American players, or players who plan to play in North America (such as Lukas Sedlak and Petr Straka) over the past few seasons. They've made some ambitious selections in the first few rounds, not always making the most obvious pick, and have failed to really hit a home run in recent years, with the jury still out on Ryan Johansen and John Moore.
While none of their late-round selections have become full-time NHL players yet, it appears as though they've made great value picks in the latter rounds with players like David Savard, Matt Calvert, Dalton Prout, and Cam Atkinson, who were all selected in the second half of the draft.
The Jackets have eight selections in this year's draft, and are in a position to select two promising players with the 2nd and 31st overall picks. They also hold the 45th overall selection which originally belonged to Ottawa and was acquired in the Antoine Vermette deal with Phoenix. With three picks in the top 45, the Blue Jackets have the pieces to make a deal, but they're better off holding on to them.
The club also holds the 62nd, 95th, 117th, 152nd, 182nd selections in the draft.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
With the addition of Jack Johnson prior to last year's deadline and a young group of defensemen like David Savard and John Moore, the Blue Jackets could have their defense set for the next decade with the selection of Murray. By most accounts, Murray is the most NHL-ready defenseman in the draft. He has the experience to back up that claim: he's already worn the Canadian sweater at the World Juniors and the World Championships. Though the Blue Jackets might be more inclined to select a forward, with Yakupov off the board, they'd be best opting for the safer pick in Murray rather than taking Grigorenko or Forsberg.