Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean scouts his troops

By Matt MacInnis

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Doug MacLean was in Moncton on December 3 to take in a QMJHL game between the Moncton Wildcats and Lewiston MAINEiacs. MacLean was there to watch two Blue Jacket draft picks in Adam Pineault and Alexandre Picard. MacLean took some time during the game to talk to Hockey’s Future about the two prospects and the Blue Jackets development system in general.

HF: Without the lockout, were there any prospects who the organization was expecting to make the team this year?
DM: You know what, because we’re a young franchise it’s sometimes easier to put kids into the lineup. A Picard would have had a chance to probably be close because I like to get some of the young guys into the lineup. It’s probably better off that he got another year in junior. He will challenge next year for sure.

HF: Is there anyone that wasn’t really on the radar at the start of the season that’s really turned it on early in the season?
DM: Well we’re thrilled obviously with Pineault and Picard. Both have played exceptionally well, they’re two of our better prospects. We’re really thrilled with both of their progress. We’ve got so many kids down in Syracuse, Aaron Johnson, (Ole) Tollefsen, both kids out of junior for a year this last summer. I think there are five or six that will make our team pretty soon.

HF: Just out of curiosity, had Picard had been taken, who was next on your draft list?
DM: Oh, I don’t know. We were pretty confident we were getting him. I mean we had talked about the effect of another guy who we thought would be there. It’s funny how it goes. We had a group of guys there. After the big guys, (Alexander) Ovechkin and the kid Pittsburgh took it was pretty well across the board. We felt comfortable in the top ten. Any of the kids there we liked.

HF: Did the pick of Blake Wheeler surprise you guys?
DM: Our people knew him well. It’s the same thing. If you want someone, you step up and take him and obviously they liked him. I just saw him play recently and he played really well in the game I saw. He’s a big, raw, kid that’s got tremendous upside. He didn’t have the background maybe of some of the other kids, but the question is whose going to be better in two, three years time, that’s when it counts and he’s got tremendous upside.

HF: Are you planning on being at the World Junior Championships to watch Pineault play?
DM: Yeah. We got (Dan) Fritsche on the US team as well as Pineault so he’ll be there. We actually probably will have about five or six kids in that tournament. I’m excited about going. It’s going to be a great tournament for our franchise this year.

HF: Is Lennart Petrell going to be back with the Finnish team?
DM: (Arsi) Piispanen is going to make it again, he’s the big centerman. Actually he was the captain last year so he’ll be there, and I’m not sure if the other kid will be or not. I doubt it. I would say Piispanen will be the only one. Then we have (Andrei) Plekhanov with the Russians that has a very good chance with the Russian team, he’s with that touring team right now.

HF: Speaking of Danny Fritsche, are his shoulders a concern for the team?
DM: Well, it always is. The latest one is a bit of a fluke. Any time a kid has shoulder situations, it’s always a concern, but right now they tell me he’s going to be ready in a couple of weeks. We may just see where it goes here. He definitely is going to be ready to play so that’s a positive.

HF: Is there any concern that Nik Zherdev won’t report to the team whenever the lockout ends?
DM: No, no, that was totally done before he went there, totally agreed. That’s a non-issue.

HF: What are the team’s short and long-term plans for Jaroslav Balastik?
DM: Yeah, we were very close to signing him this year to be quite honest. We had a deal in principle done. And then because there was no IIHF agreement it fell through the cracks in that we couldn’t, you know, we were negotiating with the team and we just decided that because it looked like we might not start we would leave him. We certainly plan and hope to sign him. He’s a very good prospect, he’s one of the leading scorers of the Czech Elite League. We’re very high on him.

HF: Is Sergei Mozyakin ready and willing to come to play in the NHL?
DM: Very, very willing to come. He’s a special type of player. He’s actually not having as good of a year this year as last when he was one of the leading scorers in that league. He’s struggled a little at times but he’s still a good prospect of ours for a ninth round pick. He’s a bit of a special player in that he’s more of a power play, skill, type guy. We’ll just ponder on that as the season develops. We’re watching him on a regular basis and we’ll make that decision in the spring.

HF: Is there any plan in the short-term to bring Joakim Lindstrom to North America?
DM: Yeah, again we tried to sign him this year as well. There was a situation where he really felt comfortable playing there, we didn’t mind him playing there, and then all of a sudden Forsberg’s there, the Sedins are there, it’s dropped him down in the lineup. We really like him as a prospect, but he’s had his challenges getting quality ice time there. But he’s still a real good prospect of ours. I would hope he would be here next year, that’s certainly our plan.

HF: What sort of timeline is the team projecting for the development of Kyle Wharton?
DM: Well it’ll be interesting. We were just talking about him, Paul Caston and myself, my Director of Player Development. Him and Plekhanov are two real real solid defense prospects for us. We don’t have people who can skate like him. You never know with Kyle, he’s a big clean kid, raw. We like his upside, we’re really pleased. He’s a real good prospect for us. With that type of skating ability, if he matures, we think he has huge upside.

HF: What do you have to think about Picard and Pineault’s play this season?
DM: Well, Picard has had a bit of a rough start, he had an injury in training camp that sort of slowed him down a little bit. Got off to a slow start and then all of a sudden he’s a couple goals off the lead for the major junior scoring lead for goals in the country. I think he’s a tremendous fit for our group, with the (Rick) Nash’s, Zherdev’s, he’s the type of player we really need. I’m thrilled with him. I think he’s going to be a real good NHL player with his intensity, the way he drives the net, and battles, I’m pretty excited about him. Pineault has been a good player. We liked him a lot last year. We made a trade in the second round to get him. A kid like that slips to 46. I felt walking away from the draft we got two first round picks. And he certainly hasn’t disappointed, he’s been a real good player most of the year.

HF: Is it a concern that Pineault is being moved from center to right wing frequently?
DM: No, you know what, I don’t worry about that. We’ll decide. It doesn’t hurt kids to play both positions. Doug Gilmour played left wing the first couple of years with St. Louis and it didn’t hurt his career. I think it doesn’t hurt a kid at all. We probably like him as a winger in the future.

HF: What do you think is the biggest hole in the team’s prospect depth?
DM: Well (Pascal) Leclaire has really come on in goal, he’s been unbelievable this year in Syracuse. I feel good about him and Denis for the future. We could probably use another good goalie. We have (Dan) Lacosta down in Owen Sound who we’re not quite sure about. He’s a young kid. I’d love to get another big horse on the blueline to go with Aaron Johnson and (Rotislav) Klesla and Tollefson. I think that’s the next thing I’d like to get is another horse to complement that whole group. It’s just that right now we’ve got Klesla whose going to come in, he’s 22, I think he’s going to come into his own very shortly. Aaron Johnson’s been a good surprise, Tollefson been a good surprise. Plekhanov is a real good prospect for us, a right-handed defenseman. But I’d love to get another big workhorse back there. Wharton’s going to be a good prospect too. I think that defense is really the one spot I’d like to get a real top guy.

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