And in the third year, let there be goals. So went the logic entering the 2002 NHL Entry Draft for the Columbus Blue Jacket front office, after spending their first-ever No. 1 pick in 2000 on defenseman Rostislav Klesla and their 2001 first round pick on netminder Pascal Leclaire. With an eye towards rounding out an initial triumvirate of franchise cornerstones, the Jackets traded into the top spot in the 2002 draft and tabbed Canadian forward Rick Nash as the face of the franchise on the forward line.
As expected, five years further down the road and the primary story of the 2002 draft for the Blue Jackets remains the development of Nash into a premier power forward. Weighed down by the expectations of an expansion franchise looking for a standard-bearer, Nash has been arguably the best entry draft selection in the short history of the organization, and is still considered at his age (23 this month) to be one of the best young players in the world, as evidenced by his continued selection to represent Canada on the world stage. In 283 NHL appearances with the Jackets, Nash has tallied 116 goals and 91 assists, including a dominating pre-lockout 2003-04 campaign that saw him account for 41 goals on the season.
Still a relative youngster in the NHL, Nash is still squarely in the middle of his development curve as a power forward. There is no denying his obvious talent, and his impressive 41-goal effort as a teenager in 2003-04 may have artificially inflated the expectations placed on Nash, especially in the “new” high-scoring NHL environment. Coming off of a somewhat-disappointing 27-goal effort in 2006-07, there is obvious room for improvement under a new regime for Nash. Make no mistake, however, the best is yet to come from Nash.
Were Nash to represent the only long-term gains made by the organization from the 2002 draft, the Jackets would still receive a passing grade for successfully grabbing a franchise-caliber player. It may have taken a full five years to pass, but the organization is finally netting tangible returns from the effort expended on scouting past the first round of the 2002 draft class. Looking overseas with their next two picks, the Jackets landed Swedish forward Joakim Lindstrom (41st overall) and Norwegian defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (65th overall), a pair of European players who are just now carving out spots with the big club.
Of the two, it is defenseman Tollefsen who made the biggest mark in 2006-07 with Columbus. Coming off of a two-year internship in the minors (primarily with Syracuse of the AHL), Tollefsen was afforded the chance to earn ice time on the third defensive pairing with the Jackets and exceeded expectations. In a 70-game rookie campaign with Columbus, Tollefsen developed into a strong physical presence on the blue line and was something of a fan favorite for his willingness to sacrifice his own body in defense of the net. Now just 23, the Norwegian should again be in line for regular ice time in 2007-08 with the Jackets.
As for the Jackets second-round selection in the 2002 draft, Swede Joakim Lindstrom, his 12-game audition with Columbus over the past two seasons has not provided enough information from which to discern where his career is actually headed. The leading scorer in 2006-07 for the Syracuse Crunch, Lindstrom tallied 22 goals and 26 assists in 50 games. While not earth-shaking totals, maintaining just shy of a point-per-game pace for the underwhelming 2006-07 Crunch is an accomplishment in and of itself, and an indication that Lindstrom may yet develop an NHL-caliber scoring touch. Lindstrom will need to step up soon if he hopes to earn the critical ice time at the NHL level necessary to further advance his career, as the talent pool up front will continue to deepen around him.
Given the obvious returns netted from Rick Nash’s development into a premier NHL talent and the potential exhibited by Tollefsen and Lindstrom, expecting more out of the 2002 draft class for the Jackets might be something of a reach. Three additional 2002 alumni, however, spent the majority of the 2006-07 season in the Columbus system: defenseman Jekabs Redlihs and forwards Steve Goertzen and Tim Konsodrada. All three prospects called Syracuse home at some point in the 2006-07 campaign, with Goertzen leading the pack in points at the AHL level with 9 goals and 7 assists in 60 games. While all three have developed into reliable options in the minors, it would be a significant surprise for any of the three to establish an NHL-caliber game and earn dedicated ice time with the Jackets. Given the new emphasis on hard work and hustle throughout the organization, however, both Goertzen and Konsodrada may grind their way into extended auditions at Nationwide.
Beyond the seven players discussed above, Columbus selected another six skaters who have not yet made a significant impact in the system, including third-rounder Jeff Genovy (who spent all of 2006-07 with Laredo of the CHL) and fourth-rounder Ivan Tkachenko, the latter of whom never made the jump across the pond from Russia. Tkachenko joins with 2002 entry draft alums Sergei Mozyakin, Jaroslav Kracik and Lasse Pirjeta in spending all of the 2006-07 season playing in Europe (Czech forward Jaroslav Balastik jumped back to Europe during the season after a short, disappointing campaign with both Columbus and Syracuse). At this point in each of their careers, it appears that the odds on an extended stay in North America are extremely slim.
2002 Entry Draft picks — 2006-07 statistics
1. Rick Nash (1st Round, 1st Overall) – Columbus (NHL) – 27 goals -30 assists – 57 points in 75 games
2. Joakim Lindstrom (2nd Round, 41st Overall) – Syracuse (AHL) – 48 pts in 50 games
3. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (3rd Round, 65th Overall) – Columbus (NHL) – 5 pts in 70 games
4. Jeff Genovy (3rd Round, 96th Overall) – Laredo (CHL) – 18 pts in 29 games
5. Ivan Tkachenko (4th Round, 98th Overall) – Yaroslavl (RUS) – 34 pts in 52 games
6. Jekabs Redlihs (4th Round, 119th Overall) – Syracuse (AHL) – 12 pts in 46 games
7. Lasse Pirjeta – (5th Round, 133rd Overall) – Malmo IF (SEL) – 16 pts in 54 games
8. Tim Konsorada – (6th Round, 168th Overall) – Dayton (ECHL) – 38 pts in 63 games
9. Jaroslav Balastik – (6th Round, 184th Overall) – HV71 Jonkoping (SEL) – 13 pts in 25 games
10. Greg Mauldin – (7th Round, 199th Overall) – Oskarshamn IK (SWE) – 13 pts in 26 games
11. Steve Goertzen – (7th Round, 225th Overall) – Syracuse (AHL) – 16 pts in 60 games
12. Jaroslav Kracik – (8th Round, 231st Overall) – Plzen HC (CZE) – 32 pts in 47 games
13. Sergei Mozyakin – (9th Round, 263rd Overall) – Mytishi (RUS) – 60 pts in 60 games
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.