The Columbus Blue Jackets had a number of holes to fill in the organization heading into this past weekend’s draft. With eight selections in total, including four in the top 65, the club was in a great position to begin restocking the cupboard, one that was void of both goaltending and forward depth, along with a lack of forward prospects with much offensive potential outside of recently-graduated Ryan Johansen.
General Manager Scott Howson, just hours prior to the draft, did his part to help plug one of the holes, picking up Philadelphia Flyers backup goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky; however, the problem with that plug is that it appears to be more of a stop gap. Bobrovsky’s numbers last season — 3.02 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage — were below average, and is far from an upgrade over Steve Mason. The two netminders will likely battle back and forth for the starter’s position next year. The price for Bobrovsky hurts even more; in giving up the 45th and 117th picks overall, the Blue Jackets gave up a chance to further add to their prospect depth. They also shipped off a pick in next year’s draft.
As with any draft, it will take quite some time to evaluate the selections made by Howson, and right now, there appears to be a mixed bag of results. They did manage to take perhaps the most NHL-ready player in Ryan Murray, and Oscar Dansk has a high ceiling, but they left without adding any forward prospect of relevance.
Ryan Murray, D – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
First round, second overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 lbs.
Many suggested that Howson was glad the Oilers won the lottery, giving them the first overall pick. While perhaps in jest, there is some truth to it; after getting burned by a pair of Russian forwards in Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov, the Blue Jackets had to be at least a bit hesitant about selecting another highly-touted Russian forward. And while their biggest need wasn’t on the blueline, they had no problem taking the best player available – Ryan Murray.
While Murray will likely never lead the league in scoring by a defenseman, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he rounds into one of the most complete defenders to come out of the past few drafts. The Saskatchewan native has the ability to slow the game down, controlling it at his own pace. He plays tremendous man-to-man coverage for an 18-year-old, and his skating is already above average by NHL standards. And while his offensive abilities aren’t world-class, he did post 104 points in 168 games as a member of the Everett Silvertips.
He was brought overseas in May to represent Canada at the World Championships, and it was there that he really proved he belonged, playing against a higher level of competition. Murray is also a natural-born leader. He’s captained almost every team he’s played for, most recently being named captain of the Silvertips as an 18-year-old. It would not be a surprise if he dons the ‘C’ for the Blue Jackets before his career is finished.
Despite being ready for the NHL, it won’t be an easy task for Murray to crack the Blue Jackets lineup next season unless the club moves a defenseman or two, which might be the case. As it stands right now, without Murray, the top six will likely include Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Marc Methot, John Moore, Nikita Nikitin, and Fedor Tyutin. There’s also David Savard, Cody Goloubef, and Will Weber, who should all be battling for a spot throughout training camp.
Oscar Dansk, G – Brynäs J-20 (SEL)
Second round, 32nd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 187 lbs.
Even with the addition of Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets needed to stock up on goaltending, particularly after choosing not to sign Mathieu Corbeil. Dansk was considered the third best goaltender in the draft, and while it would have been a steal to land Malcolm Subban or Andrei Vasilevski at 32, the Jackets picked up a very talented netminder in Dansk. At 6’2 and growing he already possesses quite a large frame, and is agile and quick enough to stop shots when he finds himself out of position.
He spent the 2011-12 season playing primarily for the Brynäs under-20 team, posting a 2.82 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. It was during the under-18 championships in which his draft stock rose considerably, however, posting a 1.98 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
Perhaps helping his stock rise were the rumours that he is looking to play in the CHL next year, rumours that have proven to be true with his selection by the OHL's Erie Otters. The Blue Jackets would have to be thrilled about the prospect of Dansk playing in North America, getting the opportunity to see him play live a lot more frequently than would otherwise be the case.
Joonas Korpisalo, G – Jokerit U-20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Third round, 62nd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 168 lbs.
After taking the second-ranked European goaltender in Oscar Dansk, the Blue Jackets proceeded to select the goaltender ranked just below him – Joonas Korpisalo. Like Dansk, Korpisalo is a tall goaltender, coming in at 6’2, but he needs to fill out a bit before reaching his ceiling. Although, at just 168 pounds, his Ryan Miller-like build allows him to utilize his speed and athleticism between the pipes, which are some of his main strengths.
In Finland’s under-20 league last season, Korpisalo was fantastic, posting a 2.04 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He wasn’t as impressive in the world under-18’s, but in drafting Korpisalo and Dansk, the Blue Jackets have stocked their prospect pool with two of the top 18-year-old goaltenders in the world. He’s likely at least three or four years away from the NHL, but with the right coaching and seasoning, he could prove to be a steal once he gets there.
Korpisalo also had his name called at the CHL Import Draft, being chosen fifth overall by the WHL's Prince George Cougars.
Josh Anderson, LW – London Knights (OHL)
Fourth round, 95th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 183 lbs.
Josh Anderson has come a long way to hear his name called in the fourth round of this year’s NHL draft. The Burlington, Ontario product went undrafted in the OHL Priority Selection before being signed by the London Knights at the start of the 2011-12 season. While his numbers aren’t the most staggering (he scored 12 goals and added 10 assists in 64 games), he plays a well-rounded, physical game. There’s also the fact that, playing on one of the deeper teams in the entire CHL, Anderson’s ice time was limited. Despite that, he grew into one of the team’s most dependable players throughout the course of the season, finishing +17.
He’s a great skater and possesses above-average speed, but is still more of a project pick, given the fact he’s only played one year in the OHL. He’ll get a chance to develop his offensive skills next season as the Knights have a number of players either ineligible or unlikely to return – Greg McKegg, Vladislav Namestnikov, Austin Watson, and Jared Knight.
Daniel Zaar, LW – Rogle U-20 (SEL)
Sixth round, 152nd overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 167 lbs.
Ranked 114th amongst European skaters by CSS, it might be a bit of a surprise that Zaar was selected in the draft. But he has a fairly decent resume early on in his career, posting 38 points in 44 games for the Rogle under-20 hockey club. In seven playoff games with the club, he scored eight points, perhaps elevating his draft status.
His shot is his most impressive asset; he can elevate the puck as hard and accurate as the best in his age group, but he needs to work on his all-around game, including his skating. Like Anderson before him, Zaar is a project pick, and if he is to ever reach the NHL it won’t be for at least three or four years; until then, he’ll likely continue to develop in Sweden.
Gianluca Curcuruto, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Seventh round, 182nd overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 187 lbs.
Once ranked in the top-30 by ISS, Gianluca Curcuruto experienced quite a fall by the time the NHL Draft rolled around, though he probably wouldn’t look at it as such. In 2010-11 and early into the 2011-12 campaign, he tried to do too much while on the ice, playing outside of his range. As the year wore on, he began following head coach Mike Stapleton’s advice – keep it simple – and he became a better defender for it. At 6’1 and 187 pounds, he has the size to become an effective NHL player, and if he continues to stay within his limits as he develops, he could very well do so.
While his game is more defense-oriented, he does possess a little bit of offensive potential; last year, in 63 games he scored three goals and picked up 13 assists. He has the chance to be a consistent top-four, or even top pairing defenseman next year in the OHL if he continues to keep it simple. He has a long way to go before even being considered a legitimate prospect, however, and the odds aren’t in his favor – the Blue Jackets have not had a seventh round pick play in an NHL game since Greg Mauldin in 2002.