Blue Jackets 2005 draft review

By Phil Laugher

The Columbus Blue Jackets entered their sixth NHL Entry Draft in franchise history, and the first in the post-lockout era in the NHL, with seven draft selections (bolstered to eight after making a trade later in the day). They received the sixth overall selection in the draft via the draft lottery, and thus were assured the shot at drafting an impact player in a draft that was deemed by many to be top-heavy in talent.

With Anaheim and Montreal making somewhat surprising selections by drafting Bobby Ryan and Carey Price in the picks preceding Columbus’s selection, General Manager Doug MacLean was presented with an intriguing option for filling one of his team’s most gaping holes in their depth chart – adding a No. 1 centerman, and having choice in doing so. The two top centermen in the draft after Sidney Crosby were still available, in Vancouver Giants forward Gilbert Brule and Slovenian-born Sodertalje forward Anze Kopitar. In the end, MacLean chose the former.

Gilbert Brule, C
1st round (6th overall), 5’10, 175 lbs., Vancouver Giants (WHL)

In selecting Brule with the sixth overall selection, Doug MacLean has now chosen forwards with his first selection in the past four years, but for the first time, opted for a center. The fact that Brule was still available when Columbus came to the podium was surprising, as Brule was generally predicted to have been gone by then.

In Brule, Columbus gets a hard-nosed, immensely talented centerman who should challenge for the role as top-line centerman somewhere down the line for Columbus. Brule finished third in WHL scoring this past season, picking up 87 points in 70 games, though at times he was a bit streaky, proving dominant one game (such as the CHL Top Prospects game, in which Brule was named the game’s MVP), but being invisible the next. Brule also plays with a physical edge, which is deceiving for someone as slight as he is, putting up nearly 170 penalty minutes, and finishing third on the Giants in that regard.

There are a few knocks against Brule’s game. He is deemed to be a bit of an individualist on the ice, often choosing to do everything himself rather than utilizing his teammates. Entering an offensive fold that includes finishers such as Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev, Brule will have to learn to how to utilize his teammates far better, especially if he has any aspirations to play on the Blue Jackets’ top line in the future. There is also the question as to whether or not Brule can improve his on-ice discipline. Though he is a physical player, and a willing combatant, he has also been known to take selfish penalties at inopportune times. Brule will have to work on his focus and maturity in order to make the next step. Scouts also have concern as to whether Brule can translate his physicality from the CHL to the NHL, as the players are much bigger and stronger than those that Brule had been facing with Vancouver this past season.

Adam McQuaid, D
2nd round, 55th overall, 6’3, 197 lbs., Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

Fans may be disappointed that Tom Fritsche, brother of Dan, did not fall to the Columbus’s second pick with the 55th selection, but they need not worry, for Doug MacLean was still able to select a very solid stay-at-home defenseman in Adam McQuaid to bolster the blue line for the future with that pick. McQuaid, in being selected 55th overall, became the second-highest defenseman ever selected in franchise history behind Klesla in 2000.

McQuaid was largely overlooked throughout the course of the season thanks to playing with the more heralded Benoit Pouliot and Marc Staal with Sudbury, but the native of Cornwall, Prince Edward Island quietly went about his business, posting a team-high +31 rating, whilst adding 19 points. He boasts near-NHL size with great mobility, a solid work ethic, and great versatility, in being able to play in any situation. Also, with that great size comes increased strength and physical play, with McQuaid regularly using his size to his advantage to punish opponents along the boards and in front of the net. Though he is not a great offensive talent, McQuaid shows great patience with the puck, coupled with sound decision-making.

Playing a no-nonsense game, in the mold of recent Columbus acquisition Adam Foote, McQuaid is a very safe pick that not only strengthens Columbus’s defensive depth, but also provides the Blue Jackets with a potential key, if likely unheralded, contributor down the line.

Kris Russell, D
3rd round, 67th overall, 5’9, 160 lbs., Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

Doug MacLean chose another defenseman with Columbus’s third selection, making a calculated risk in drafting pint-sized offensive defenseman Kris Russell from Medicine Hat in the Western Hockey League. Standing only 5’9, he was by far the smallest player selected by the Blue Jackets in this year’s draft.

In spite of his small stature, Russell is an incredibly hard-working, driven hockey player with great offensive and leadership instincts, who has the ability to carry his team on his shoulders. As a 17-year-old, Russell put up 26 goals from the blue line, and added 35 assists, to finish third on team scoring, and third among defensemen in the WHL. The power play specialist also notched 19 goals with the man advantage. He also plays a physical game above and beyond his diminutive nature, showing fearlessness in battling his opponents.

Though the Blue Jackets already have a few decent offensive defensemen in their system, the addition of Russell’s offensive presence helps provide a bona fide power play quarterback to the Blue Jackets blue line corp. Yet, notwithstanding all of his positive attributes, there are still questions regarding whether the diminutive defender will be able to translate his dominant game to the professional game. However, if someone that size will be able to take his game to the NHL, many believe it will be Russell, for he appears to have the skill, will and desire to make it.

Jared Boll, RW
4th round, 101st overall, 6’1, 190 lbs., Lincoln Stars (USHL)

After having moved their original fourth round pick to Phoenix for defenseman Radoslav Suchy, Columbus acquired another fourth-round pick from Carolina in exchange for defenseman Derrick Walser and a fourth rounder in the 2006 draft, and promptly selected Jared Boll from the USHL. The rugged American-born winger brings a mix of offensive skill and physical drive to the table, adding yet another talented physical winger to a stable that already includes Rick Nash and Alexandre Picard.

Boll compiled modest offensive numbers, putting up 23 goals and 24 assists in 59 regular season games, while leading the league in penalty minutes with 294. Boasting a great shot and good offensive instincts, Boll has an eye for the net, and drives it regularly. Loaded with heart, Boll is not afraid to mix it up, and plays every shift with drive and determination.

Boll will make the jump to the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers next season, deciding to pass up NCAA and heading to the CHL, where he feels his style of play will translate better.

Tomas Popperle, G
5th round, 131st overall, 6’1, 187 lbs., Sparta Praha (Czech Republic)

In helping to solidify Columbus’s future goaltending situation, Doug MacLean nabbed a solid net minder with his fifth-round pick in drafting the 20-year-old Tomas Popperle. A native of the Czech Republic, Popperle played much of last season with Czech ExtraLeague powerhouse Sparta Praha (also seeing time in the First Division), beginning the season as the team’s backup goaltender. After injury befell their starter midway through the season, Popperle seized the starting job and dazzled, compiling an impressive record of 15 wins, nine losses, and 1 tie, while posting a sparkling goals against average of 1.58 and a save percentage of 94.9 (both figures led the league), helping to lead his team to second in league standings.

Popperle improved vastly as the season went along, gaining more poise between the pipes and increasing his decision-making abilities immensely, cutting back on bad goals and staying in position. Positionally strong with quick lateral movement, Popperle adds another steady hand to the Columbus goaltending corp.

Derek Reinhart, D
6th round, 177th overall, 6’3, 205 lbs., Regina Pats (WHL)

This pick was acquired as a part of last year’s trade with Phoenix for Suchy, and with it, Doug MacLean selected another big, mean, physical blueliner in Regina’s Derek Reinhart.

Reinhart is a decent stay-at-home defenseman, but is still quite the project. He will not fill the net regularly (he picked up 11 points in his sophomore season, three in his rookie year), but he can play a competent defensive game. It is his physical play that got Reinhart drafted, though, as he is a regular combatant who rarely shies away from anyone, thus he led his team in penalty minutes last season (with 198). He will have to work on his strength and his all-around game if he hopes to get into contention for a contract before 2007.

Kirill Starkov, C
6th round, 189th overall, 6’0, 188 lbs., Frölunda Jrs. (Sweden)

With their original sixth round pick, Columbus selected slick and shifty Russian-born forward Kirill Starkov, who played in Swedish junior league for Frölunda last season. In 34 games with the club, Starkov compiled an impressive 18 goals and 12 assists.

A quick skater with great offensive instincts, Starkov is a smooth centerman who has a nose for the net. He sees the ice well and has great stickhandling ability and a keen hockey sense. Though Starkov is a hard worker in the trenches of the offensive zone, he is rarely seen in the defensive zone, and thus will have to improve that aspect of the game greatly. He could also stand to improve his physical play. Though his offensive game is strong, there are definitely holes that he will need to work on repairing, if he is to make the jump to the Swedish Elite League and potentially the Columbus roster. He is a definite project at this stage.

Trevor Hendrikx, D
7th round, 201st overall, 6’1, 205 lbs., Peterborough Petes (OHL)

With their last selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Columbus selected someone whom they were quite familiar with, choosing former Jackets draft pick Trevor Hendrikx for the second time.

Previously selected by Columbus in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, Hendrikx was unable to come to terms with the Jackets, and thus re-entered the draft. When he was still available at the 201st spot, Columbus selected him once again, hoping this time to be able to come to terms with the physical Peterborough blueliner.

In the two years since Columbus selected Hendrikx, he has vastly improved his all-around game. He is no longer relying strictly on his physical game, though that aspect of his game is still present and regularly apparent though his fighting numbers decreased last season, and he has turned into a good two-way defender. In an increased role with the Petes last season, Hendrikx compiled 15 goals and 33 assists, leading his team and finishing tied for sixth among defensemen in the OHL in scoring. If he continues with his progression, there is little reason to doubt that he may play for Syracuse in the next couple seasons at the very least.

Summary

Doug MacLean entered his sixth draft as General Manger of the Columbus Blue Jackets with many holes to fill. As per usual, MacLean filled those holes quickly with sound options. His search for a future No. 1 centerman may be over thanks to Gilbert Brule falling further than was expected to the sixth position. He added a plethora of strong defensive-minded prospects with size in McQuaid and Reinhart (and retaining one in Hendrikx), provided his defensive corp with a prospective top-flight power-play quarterback, and added a potential game-breaking goaltender in Popperle.

As a result of this year’s draft, Columbus’s system has quickly gotten a whole lot tougher, and much more defensively responsible and aware.

On the surface, the 2005 NHL Entry Draft appears to be an overwhelming success. Only time will tell as to whether initial prognostications will prove to be correct.

DJ Powers and Zoran Manojlovic contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.