Blue Jackets 2000 draft evaluation

By Phil Laugher

The 2000 NHL Entry Draft was the first in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets had 11 draft picks at their disposal, including the fourth overall selection. Five years removed from the draft, three of their selections have played games in the NHL (Rostislav Klesla, Petteri Nummelin, and Andrej Nedorost). However, two of those players spent not only last year’s lost season playing in Europe, but also the season prior, and their NHL aspirations may be waning. Beyond these three, there is little hope of more than one or two of their draft selections ever seeing the NHL, as a combination of injuries and failed expectations have kept several of the Blue Jackets’ draft selections languishing in the lower minor leagues, or out of hockey altogether.

The organization’s draft class played an average of 26.4 NHL games per pick, good compared to other teams, and thanks mostly to Klesla.

Rostislav Klesla, D – 1st round, 4th overall (OHL Brampton Battalion)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 202

Only a handful of 2000 draft selections have played more regular season games than Klesla has at 202 games. Klesla, a product of the Czech Republic by way of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, compiled strong offensive numbers from the blue line in his two seasons in the CHL. He was drafted based upon his mix of skill (he compiled 45 points as a rookie on a mediocre Battalion squad) and physicality (he also put up nearly 200 penalty minutes). After another strong season in Brampton, in which he also saw a cup of tea with the Blue Jackets, Klesla made the permanent jump to the big club in 2001-02, playing in 75 games and posting 16 points (his career high thus far). While his offensive numbers haven’t been consistent with his numbers in his junior days, thanks largely to being occasionally hampered by injury, Klesla is still very talented, playing a strong game at both ends of the rink, and is definitely someone for Columbus to continue building a defensive core around. He split last season between the Czech and Finnish Elite Leagues, combining for 27 points. He is poised for a breakout season upon the conclusion of the lockout, should he remain healthy for a full season.

Ben Knopp, F – 3rd round, 69th overall (WHL Moose Jaw Warriors)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Knopp was the organization’s second selection (taken in the third round, after Columbus moved their second round selection for Marc Denis). Knopp was deemed a strong two-way forward when selected from the Moose Jaw Warriors after his freshman season in the league, a season in which Knopp registered nearly a point a game and 30 goals (both figures stood up as his career highs while in junior). Knopp made the jump to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch after his overage season in the WHL, but struggled to adjust to the different atmosphere of the professional game. After 12 games with Syracuse, Knopp was relegated to the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers. Knopp was back with the Crunch in his sophomore season, but struggled for ice time, as his offensive production lagged behind. Knopp wasn’t able to crack Syracuse’s line-up this season, seeing only five games, splitting the rest of his time between Dayton and Pee Dee in the ECHL. Knopp has the talent, but will have to learn how to adjust to the rigors of the professional game if he is to make his way back up to higher levels.

Petteri Nummelin, D – 5th round, 133rd overall (Davos, Swiss Elite League)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 61

Columbus selected Nummelin as an overager with their third selection in the 2000 Draft. He had played the previous several years in the Finnish, Swedish, and Swiss Elite leagues. He was drafted from Davos as a 27-year-old after compiling 38 points in 40 games in 1999-00. He was drafted largely on the basis of his offensive skill (he had topped ten goals per season in six of his past seven seasons, including one 20-goal season in 1998-99) and it was hoped that he would be able to run the Columbus power play. He came over to the NHL immediately, but unfortunately for both parties, the experiment of Nummelin serving as the primary weapon on the point did not materialize, as he scored only four goals through bouts of inconsistent play in 61 games, before returning to Europe the following season. His rights traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in 2002, Nummelin has played the last four seasons with Lugano in the Swiss League, again producing dominating offensive seasons, but on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

Scott Heffernan, D – 5th round, 138th overall (OHL Sarnia Sting)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Heffernan was the Blue Jackets’ fourth choice, picked from the Sarnia Sting in the fifth round. At 6’5, Heffernan’s size was very appealing, and with that size came a rugged but responsible defensive game. Heffernan was never one to tear up the scoresheets, but was good at what he did. After three seasons in the OHL (the last being spent with the St. Michael’s Majors), Heffernan made the jump to the professional ranks with the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL. However, his stay with Dayton was limited to six games, as he suffered a serious concussion early in the season, the effects of which have kept him out of professional hockey ever since.

Tyler Kolarik, F – 5th round, 150th overall (Deerfield Academy)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Columbus made the slight Kolarik the first American-born player selected in franchise history with their fifth selection (and third in the fifth round). He was drafted after scoring at a two-points-per-game clip with Deerfield Academy prep school, before taking his game to Harvard after his draft year. Over his four-year career with the Ivy League school, Kolarik was regularly looked to for leadership and for scoring the key goal. He was a model of consistency offensively at Harvard, putting up nearly a point a game every season. He made the jump to the professional game last season, seeing only two games with Syracuse, and compiling a modest 32 points for Dayton in the ECHL. The next logical progression for Kolarik would be a full season at the AHL level.

Shane Bendera, G – 6th round, 169th overall (WHL Red Deer Rebels)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Bendera was selected by the Blue Jackets in the sixth round with their sixth selection, after having played all but 350 minutes in the 1999-00 season with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League. It was hoped that Bendera would be the goaltender of the future for Columbus, however, he had difficulty in adjusting to the professional game. His first season in professional hockey was with the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL, posting modest rookie numbers. However, any progression through the depth chart was delayed, with Marc Denis and Pascal Leclaire firmly entrenched ahead of him on the depth chart. He split the 2003-04 season between Bakersfield in the ECHL, and Elmira in the United League, before being suspended by Elmira for skipping scheduled team events. He has the talent, but he can’t seem to get his head around the requirements that come along with adapting to the professional game. He did not play in an upper tier professional league last season.

Janne Jokila, F – 7th round, 200th overall ()
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Jokila was selected in the seventh round from the Turku junior team in Finland after posting modest offensive numbers. Slick and shifty, Jokila is a good offensive player who occasionally brings deceiving physical play, in spite of his small demeanour, however his defensive game has been decidedly lacking. He made the jump to North America in 2002-03, playing in the USHL, picking up 38 points. He was given a try-out contract for the Syracuse Crunch the following season, playing the bulk of the season with Dayton in the ECHL. He returned to Dayton last season as well, notching 24 goals, as well as a couple of games with Syracuse. He has plenty of desirable tools, but has yet to make much of his opportunities in the AHL, requiring further two-way tooling.

Peter Zingoni, F – 8th round, 231st overall (Deerfield Academy)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Zingoni was a teammate of fellow Blue Jackets draftee Tyler Kolarik at Deerfield Academy. Zingoni signed on to play for Providence College in 2000-01, seeing action in 28 games. He played four seasons with the school, seeing his offensive numbers go up each year. At the end of his senior season, he signed a try-out contract with the Syracuse Crunch to finish the 2003-04 season, picking up four points in five games. Last season, he chose to play in Europe, seeing action with Essen in the German League, and Pelicans in the Finnish League. For Essen, Zingoni notched 20 goals and nine assists in 32 games, finishing second on his team in penalty minutes. He is probably talented enough to play in the AHL, depending on whether or not he returns to North America next season.

Martin Paroulek, F – 9th round, 278th overall (Vsetin HC, Czech League)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Paroulek was a late-round selection by the Blue Jackets, who took a flyer on him after he compiled a modest second season with Vsetin HC, picking up 25 points as a 21-year-old in the Czech league. Paroulek played one more season before coming across the Atlantic to play for the Syracuse Crunch. Appearing in 59 games in his first North American season, Paroulek adjusted solidly to the game, and chipped in regularly, equalling his offensive totals from his draft year. Paroulek’s second season began poorly, and he was in and out of the Crunch line-up. Before the halfway point, Paroulek packed up and returned to the Czech Republic, to play with Sparta Praha. He has remained in the Czech league since, now with Plzen HC, and it does not appear that he will return to North America any time soon.

Andrej Nedorost, F – 9th round, 286th overall (Plzen, Czech League)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 28

For a time, it appeared as if the flyer taken on Nedorost late in the ninth round of the 2000 draft would pay big dividends. Possessing decent size and great playmaking ability, Nedorost came to North America in 2001-02 after a solid season with Plzen the year before, and two modest, progressive seasons at Essen. In limited action, both with Syracuse and Columbus, Nedorost chipped in offensively, and adjusted well to the North American game. His sophomore season was even better, with Nedorost finishing fifth on Syracuse scoring with 33 points, and again seeing spot duty with Columbus. His third season, however, was more problematic. He got off to a slow start after making Columbus out of camp, and was quickly demoted to Syracuse against his desires. After failing to regain his scoring touch with the Crunch, nor securing his promotion back to the big club, Nedorost wanted a change, and was thus loaned to Magnitogorsk Metallurg in Russia for the duration of the season.

With the lockout in effect, Nedorost remained in Europe this season, splitting time between the Russian and Czech leagues. Nedorost’s future as an NHL regular or an NHL bust depends upon which path he chooses next season. Though he continues to skate in Europe, he has the talent to contribute regularly in the NHL. Whether or not that is with Columbus after past animosity between the two parties is uncertain at present.

Louis Mandeville, D – 9th round, 292nd overall (QMJHL Sherbrooke)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Mandeville was the last Blue Jackets player drafted in their first NHL Entry Draft, based upon a decent rookie season in the QMJHL. Mandeville possessed good size, some physicality, and good puck sense, which made him a valuable contributor in the QMJHL, first with Rouyn-Noranda, then Halifax, and finally Sherbrooke. After four seasons in junior, Mandeville compiled over 150 points from the blue line. Columbus did not offer Mandeville a contract, and he went on to university hockey, playing for University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres. He has compiled 30 points in 46 games over his first two seasons, as he pursues an Administration degree.

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