In what may very well be referred later as the opening salvo of the Scott Howson era, the Columbus Blue Jackets remained true to form in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. For the third straight season, the Jackets found themselves just outside of the top five selections, yet still had a player widely viewed as their primary target fall through to them. Following the precedent established by Gilbert Brule in 2005 and Derick Brassard in 2006, highly-acclaimed right wing Jakub Voracek slipped through the first six teams and became an instantly celebrity in Columbus, as he was introduced in front of the partisan Blue Jacket crowd as the team’s top selection in the draft.
The similarities with past Jacket drafts did not end with Voracek’s selection, as the front office followed their trend of mining overlooked talent in the middle rounds, trading up into the top of the fourth round to land Russian teen Maxim Mayorov. What was off-script this year was a focus on local talent, as for the first time the organization looked within the youth development system they had a hand in fostering in central Ohio, selecting local teenager Trent Vogelhuber with the final selection of the entire draft. In addition, the Jackets acknowledged the regional influence of burgeoning NCAA hockey powerhouse Miami University, as Vogelhuber will be joined on the 2008-09 RedHawk roster by second-round selection Will Weber of Michigan.
Jakub Voracek, RW
First Round, 7th Overall – Halifax (QMJHL)
6’1, 187 lbs. 8/15/1989
Perhaps the player most coveted by the organization in this year’s draft, Czech import Jakub Voracek is the next big thing for an organization with high-end offensive talent at every level of the system. For the sixth straight entry draft, the Jackets spent an early first-round selection on a top offensive talent, and the burgeoning power forward will be expected to eventually join former first-rounders Rick Nash, Brule, Brassard and Nikolai Zherdev as the core of the top two scoring lines as the Jackets attempt to turn the corner as a franchise.
An offensive dynamo that many projected as the top prospect available in the draft, Voracek’s lit the QMJHL on fire in his first year in North American hockey. The creative playmaker led the Q in scoring, posting an eye-opening 86 points in 59 regular-season games, en route to being named the top offensive rookie in the league. While his stock may have dropped after failing to make a significant impact on the international scene, his playoff performance with Halifax, in which he averaged over two points per game, is a good indication that his game translates well to high-leverage situations.
As with previous first-round forwards in the Columbus system, the temptation will be there for the front office to rush the development arc and let the teenager compete for a spot in the NHL immediately. That scenario, which has only become more attractive in the “new” NHL thanks to the sparkling under-20 debuts of players like Eric Staal, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin, is not lost on the developing Voracek.
“I’m excited about the summer, I’m going to work hard.” Voracek said in the media room after his selection. “We’ll see what happens this September, and I hope I’ll be ready,” he responded when asked about the possibility of competing for an NHL job in training camp. “If not, I’ll be back in Halifax and we’ll see what happens.”
In a system stocked with developing offensive talent, it seems likely that Voracek will see significant action with the big club in training camp, before heading back for one more year of development in the Q. With such an attractive combination of offensive talent, physicality, and vision, it will be as difficult to keep him out of the Nationwide picture as it recently was Brule and Brassard. For an organization and fan base hoping that the 2007-08 season will bring with it hockey in May, Voracek may very well be the last piece of the puzzle, and hopefully the final single-digit selection for the franchise for years to come.
Stefan Legein, RW
Second Round, 37th Overall, Mississauga (OHL)
5’9, 170 lbs. 11/24/1988
A burner on the wing with a sniper’s sense for the net, Ontario native Stefan Legein is cut from the same cloth as NHL legend Mike Gartner (who also interned with an amateur franchise in Niagara Falls, as Legein will do in 2007-08). The winner of the fastest skater competition at the 2007 CHL Top Prospects Game, Legein was a force along the wing for Mississauga in 2006-07. In 75 games as a full-timer for the IceDogs, Legein accounted for 43 goals and 32 assists in just 64 games, to go along with 115 penalty minutes that hint at a mean streak within the diminutive winger.
Noted for being a hard worker at both ends of the ice, Legein will need to continue his development in all aspects of his game as an established regular now in the OHL. Given his combination of speed and willingness to take the body, Legein should be able to create space at the amateur level and, as a result, will likely improve upon his gaudy 2006-07 numbers in the coming season. Relocating with the IceDogs to Niagara Falls for the 2007-08 season, the determined youngster already has the demeanor of a professional hockey player. If the skills continue to progress as they have to date, Legein will be given every opportunity to audition for a role with the Jackets in 2009.
Will Weber, D
Second Round, 53rd Overall – Gaylord High School (Michigan)
6’4, 205 lbs 10/28/1988
Representing the ubiquitous oversized defenseman the Blue Jackets annually target in the first several rounds of the draft is 6’4 Will Weber.
A virtual unknown entering his senior year at Gaylord High School in Traverse City, Michigan, Weber grew into his oversized frame in 2006-07 and attracted the attention of NHL scouts and a number of American colleges. Ironic, then, that in the span of a few months Weber opted to attend Miami University in Ohio and was selected by Columbus, which will bring the Michigan native into the spotlight in rival state Ohio. Not on many radars heading into 2006-07, Weber rose to prominence thanks to a strong defensive game packaged with an already impressive frame. It did not hurt that his hometown paper, the Traverse City Record-Eagle, named the teenager their Male Athlete of the Year.
The honors were not just local for Weber over the past few months, as the blueliner was the top selection in the USHL Entry Draft and is expected to skate with the Chciago Steel during the 2007-08 season. Starting in the autumn of 2008, Weber will be following his deceased father, Dick Weber (tragically lost in a plane crash in October of 2000) into the collegiate ranks. While his father made his mark in the late 1970’s as a gritty, dedicated player for Cornell University, son Will opted to stay closer to home with Miami. With the Jackets last selection of the draft, Vogelhuber, also signed on with the RedHawks for 2008, Jacket fans will have a new reason to make the easy two-hour commute to the emerging collegiate hockey powerhouse’s new $34 million Steve Cady Arena.
Jake Hansen, RW
Third Round, 68th Overall – Sioux Falls (USHL)
6’0, 168 lbs. 8/21/1989
Another big, physical forward to throw into a system laden with similar bangers, St. Paul, Minnesota native Jake Hansen was a strong presence on the wing this past season for both his high school team and Sioux Falls of the USHL.
After starting the 2006-07 hockey season with an impressive 26-goal, 40-assist campaign to close out his senior year at White Bear High School, Hansen made the quick jump to the USHL. Appearing in 15 games on the wing for the Stampede, Hansen accounted for 4 goals, 4 assists, and 14 penalty minutes, respectable totals for a player fresh out of high school.
The target of many accolades and post-season awards for his impressive senior season with White Bear, the teen will most likely return to the USHL for the 2007-08 season. While that additional year of competitive experience will most likely serve to further refine his vision and offensive game, the upcoming year will be a prelude to his expected NCAA debut in the autumn of 2008 with the University of Minnesota. Positioned at the entrance to the lengthy collegiate development arc, how Hansen fits into the Blue Jacket system will depend upon what role he carves out for himself on an always-competitive Golden Gopher roster.
Maxim Mayorov, LW
Fourth Round, 94th Overall, Leningorsk (RUS-2)
6’2, 187 lbs. 3/26/1989
For an organization known for tabbing what were considered “project picks” over the past few seasons (see third-rounders Kris Russell in 2005 and Steve Mason in 2006), Russian teen Maxim Mayorov is another player with more advanced billing than results. Projected by many experts to go as high as the late first round of the draft, Mayorov’s stock fell as the draft wore on. The Jackets front office, however, realized that the talent that made many foresee great things from the oversized teenager was still evident, and traded up into the top of the fourth round to grab him.
And what did the Jackets machinations bring in with the third pick of the fourth round? Viewed as possessing a complete package at the offensive end of the ice, Mayorov is a classic power forward with a heavy shot and great vision. What many have seen as his fatal flaw, and perhaps the cause of his dramatic fall out of the top rounds of the draft, has been a lack of consistency and drive, manifest to some by his inability to make a significant impact on the international stage for his country’s national teams.
The talent is obvious, and has been witnessed by many, which makes this selection of the Jackets especially intriguing. If the still-developing teen can mature both on and off the ice, the organization may have, once again, found a diamond in the middle of the draft.
Allen York, G
Sixth Round, 158th Overall – Camrose (AJHL)
6’4, 170 lbs. 6/17/1989
An oversized netminder still growing into his massive frame, Wetaskiwin, Alberta native Allen York impressed many professional scouts in a strong rookie year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. As he just celebrated his 17th birthday one week before the Jackets tabbed him with the 158th selection in the draft, York still has a long amateur career in front of him before Jacket fans should expect to see him factor into the salaried goaltending positions in the system.
A freshman backstop opened eyes as a 16-year-old rookie in 2006-07 with the Camrose Kodiaks, posting a whopping 23-4-0 record, thanks in large part to a 2.17 GAA and a .906 save percentage. York carried that performance level, and his Kodiak teammates, deep into the AJHL playoffs, winning 12 of 17 games and increasing his save percentage to .927.
As another young goaltender with real upside, York fits well right now into a system rapidly filling with tangible assets in net. As his amateur clock will not likely expire until the 2010-11 season, the organization has the time to wait and see if the strides made as a rookie in a local amateur league will transfer to bigger arenas.
Trent Vogelhuber, RW
Seventh Round, 211th Overall – St. Louis (NAHL)
6’2, 185 lbs, 7/13/1988
Capping off an impressive two-day run as host of the NHL world, the Blue Jackets closed out the 2007 Entry Draft in style, selecting Ohio native Trent Vogelhuber with the final pick of the 2007 Draft. In some respects, the selection of Vogelhuber brings the first decade of the franchise’s existence full-circle, as the 18-year-old becomes the first central Ohioan selected in the NHL draft. A product of the rapid growth in amateur hockey around the Columbus area of a decade ago, the selection of Vogelhuber is the first tangible on-ice benefit of the investment by the NHL and the Jacket organization into the hockey infrastructure of the region.
Of greater relevance to the organization, however, is the growth potential of the teen. Coming off a 2006-07 season with St. Louis of the NAHL cut short by a knee injury, Vogelhuber showed a scoring touch and much room for development as he adds additional on-ice sense to what is a ready frame.
Selected fifth overall in the USHL Entry Draft by Des Moines, Vogelhuber will have every opportunity for success before entering college in 2008 at Miami University of Ohio. The Jackets will have a sense of exactly what type of player they have on their hands at the end of his amateur career, as Miami has become a strong regional collegiate compliment to the Jackets. Should the kid from Cleveland (by way of Dublin, Ohio) beat the long odds and end up in a Jackets uniform come 2012, his story will be interwoven with the successful growth of the sport across the region. Mr. Irrelevant indeed.
Dustin Nielson and Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.