The Columbus Blue Jackets were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season when the Detroit Red Wings picked up their 24th victory to bring its point total to 56. Despite coming up a point short from its second trip to the playoffs, the new look Blue Jackets exceeded expectations after adding depth forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov from New York. A mid-season trade brought Marian Gaborik over from the Rangers and the star winger finished with 27 points after posting 19 with New York.
Columbus has complete faith in newly hired general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. The former Ottawa Senator is regarded as one of the most vigilant scouts and has a knack for finding talent that pans out. The Blue Jackets hope that Kekalainen can find some gems with any of Columbus’ three first round picks in this draft.
Top 10 Prospects:
Losing a game-changing power forward in Rick Nash hurt Columbus’ offense significantly. It may have brought the Blue Jackets dept down the middle, but shipping out Nash left 59 points that Columbus needed to make up for. A player like Seth Ambroz could step into that role in the future, but after spending his sophomore year on the University of Minnesota’s checking line, Columbus may need to look elsewhere for a standout big man.
Kekalainen admitted that the Blue Jackets are looking for quick players that can play in a fast paced offense and with three first round picks, the Finnish general manger will have no excuses for not bringing in at least one productive forward. The talent level along the wing is deep in this year’s draft with a slew of talented wingers coming from the CHL. Kekalainen’s knowledge of Europe will most likely leave center Alexander Wennberg and defender Rasmus Ristolainen high on the Blue Jackets’ watch list.
Columbus has a significant amount of depth along its blue line. It used ten different defenders last season, four of which were prospects, and spent last year’s first round pick on top prospect Ryan Murray. Tim Erixon, Cody Goloubef, and David Savard all saw time in the NHL, while Mike Reilly posted an impressive freshman campaign with the Golden Gophers. Acquiring Jack Johnson immediately improved the blue line, but there will still be opportunities for the prospects.
The 2012 NHL Draft did not only give Columbus depth on defense but between the pipes as well. The Blue Jackets selected both Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo with its second and third round picks last year, which takes away the need to select a netminder early in this year’s draft. Dansk played for a dreadful Erie Otters squad that lived in the OHL’s cellar, yet still stood on his head to try to let his team compete. Korpisalo achieved a significant amount of success in Finland. If he can continue posting sub-three goals against averages, he could be Dansk’s biggest competitor to take over for Sergei Bobrovsky when the Vezina Trophy winner eventually steps down from his place between the pipes.
The Blue Jackets are extremely quick on offense, but you cannot win on speed alone. Columbus needs to look to bolster its top-six with forwards with size that have the ability to get in the dirty areas of the game. Drafting gritty wingers that can create second chances off of rebounds is crucial for the Blue Jackets’ success. With one of its three first round picks, Columbus should draft a power forward with a strong shot.
There is no doubt that Marian Gaborik has the potential to be a prolific scorer, but the Slovakian winger cannot do it alone. Columbus’ leading scorer was Vinny Prospal with 30 points, while Mark Letestu led the team with 13 goalies. A team with Letestu and Prospal as its leading scorers is not one that is going to make a splash, yet the Blue Jackets almost squeaked their way into the playoffs. Its lack of scoring needs to be addressed in this year’s draft.
Columbus has not had many draft tendencies in the past. The organization likes to take players from the CHL in the early rounds (Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen) and become a melting pot for prospects throughout the world from the middle rounds down. Columbus has addressed needs with its picks, whether that be a shutdown defender or a prolific scorer. It just needs to continue filling holes in its organizational depth chart and this year that hole is at the wing. With a European general manager this trend can change, but the Blue Jackets have not drafted a European player in the first round since the disaster that was Nikita Filatov.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
Zykov is a burly winger who revels in the battle in front of the net. He has great puck control, quick hands in close, and finishing ability. He will give Columbus another talented winger to complement its gritty centers. Zykov's acceleration is one area in need of improvement.
There is a chance that Columbus could grab a skilled defender like Ryan Pulock, but with last year's pick going to Ryan Murray and the team's significant depth on the blue line, grabbing a forward is the better option.
If Curtis Lazar is not taken by the 19th overall pick, it would be irresponsible for Columbus not to pick him up. He is a finesse forward who plays a quick game, which is exactly what new Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he would be looking for at this year's draft. A high-end talent, Lazar is a safe pick in the sense that he can play multiple roles and will do anything asked of him. He projects as a top-nine player with the versatility to skate in a variety of roles. Columbus has some depth with centers in their system such as Boone Jenner and Michael Chaput, but with T.J. Tynan coming off a poor year at Notre Dame, the selection of Lazar would bring some stability to the center position.
27. Robert Hagg, D, Modo (SEL)
It may have taken a little bit but Jarmo Kekalainen finally dips into Europe with the 27th overall pick. Hagg is an intelligent two-way defender that impressed scouts while winning a silver medal at the 2013 U20 WJC. Hagg has a forceful shot from the point and can make an impact in the physical aspect of the game. He may not be the flashiest defenseman available in the draft, but the Jackets could strengthen their already deep group of defensive prospects with a smart hockey player that can be tough to play against.