Blue Jackets 2008 draft preview

By Ryan Madden

For the ninth consecutive season, the Blue Jackets will be picking in the top ten of the NHL entry draft.  Last year, the Jackets hosted the draft and were able to select a very talented Czech forward in Jakub Voracek

In 2007, the Blue Jackets picked seven times, and that draft class is looking very solid up until now, with Voracek among the leaders in the QMJHL scoring race, Stefan Legein, the club’s second pick, helping Team Canada to a World Junior Championship gold medal, Jake Hansen, the club’s fourth selection, among the league leaders in the USHL in goals and points, and goaltender Allen York, the club’s sixth selection, leading his team to the RBC Cup final, for the Canadian Junior-A championship. 

The Blue Jackets currently have nine picks for the 2008 draft this weekend.  They have all their own picks, and have added Colorado’s first-round pick, which they received as part of the Adam Foote trade.  They also received Carolina’s fifth-round pick in the Anson Carter trade. 

Perhaps more than any other team heading into the draft, the Blue Jackets are looking to improve the quality of players in the organization, whether through trade, draft, or free agency, or through any combination of the three.  The Blue Jackets, alone among NHL teams, have never played a post-season game, and there is a sense that the patience of the city is running out.  Their close rivals the Michigan-based Detroit Red Wings have won their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years, and the Blue Jackets are feeling the pressure as an organization to step up to the plate and do the things they’ve got to do to improve this team.  General Manager Scott Howson has made it clear that Columbus is willing to part with what they need to part with to improve the club and get them heading to the post-season. 

What this ultimately means is that this should be an exciting couple of weeks for the Jackets.  Both their first-round picks could be in play during the weekend, most probably either to acquire a highly skilled player, or to move down and pick up one or two players who might be of benefit right now, in addition to increasing their prospect depth. 

Team Needs

Howson has gone on record saying that the Blue Jackets need to improve their defense, and to find a first-line center.  Certainly, looking over the moves that have been made over the past season, it seems pretty obvious that one consistent thread has been improving the depth on defense in the organization, and finding good puckmoving defensemen. 

The Blue Jackets have not drafted a defenseman in the first round since their inaugural NHL entry draft with Rostislav Klesla in 2000. Certainly one has to think this trend has to change, and this being the year of the defenseman, it’s a good bet this will be the year.

Organizational Strengths

The Jackets have quite good depth with scoring wingers. Waiting in the wings is Jakub Voracek, who tore the QMJHL apart this past year.  Joakim Lindstrom also had a good season in the AHL and is probably ready to play full-time with the Jackets.  Jake Hansen, a third-round pick from last year’s entry draft, is another player who might surprise with his offense after a few seasons in the NCAA.

The Jackets also are strong in young gritty forwards, capable of playing third- and fourth-line roles, but also capable of chipping in offensively.  Dan Fritsche, Jared Boll, Stefan Legein, Tom Sestito, Derek Dorsett are all prime examples. 

Goaltending is another strength, with Steve Mason set to turn pro next season, the Jackets are strong in nets.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Jackets really have too few high-caliber defense prospects.  Apart from Kris Russell, who is already playing with Columbus, the Jackets don’t really have any defensemen in the organization who project to be more than third-pairing or depth defensemen in the NHL. 

Apart from Derick Brassard, the Jackets are also missing any top-notch center prospects.  

Draft Tendencies

Director of Hockey Operations and Player Personnel for the Jackets, Don Boyd, is committed to selecting the best player available.  However, from the Jackets draft history, a few trends have emerged.  The Blue Jackets like physical players, in the mold of Rick Nash, Alexandre Picard, Gilbert Brule, Stefan Legein, the list goes on.  Strong, aggressive, hard hitting players, like Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, are prized by the Columbus Blue Jackets

Beyond the tough-as-nails, hard-hitting types, the Blue Jackets have also been mesmerized by pure skill.  Not moderate, lukewarm skill, but real puck wizardry.  This accounts for selections like Nikolai Zherdev, who absolutely oozes skill, Derick Brassard, and Jakub Voracek.  It was this focus on pure skill that led the Jackets to pick the diminutive Kris Russell, when many others shied away, and also accounts for their interest in Joakim Lindstrom. 

The Blue Jackets have a general bias towards good sized players, especially when selecting goalies.  Most teams are biased towards bigger players, but the Blue Jackets perhaps a little more than most.  There are some obvious exceptions, Kris Russell being the most notable, but in general, the Blue Jackets pick big bodied players.  The skills must be exceptional to merit overlooking the lack of size.  This explains Columbus’ selections of Will Weber, a 6’4 skilled defenseman, and Allen York, the 6’4 Camrose goalie, in last year’s draft, and also for such selections as Steve Mason, Maxime Frechette, Matt Marquardt, Adam McQuaid, and Dimitri
Kosmachev in previous drafts. 

They select primarily from North America, but not exclusively, and have stayed committed to drafting talented Europeans.  In particular worth noting, the Jackets have continued to select Russians, despite several bad experiences.  They work hard in unearthing talent from any number of leagues and countries, and are not afraid to step up and take the next player on their list, no matter where he may have played.  This shows a confidence in their scouting staff which is key for an organization to succeed.

Finally, while they do look and draft from all leagues, the Jackets have shown a particular confidence in the QMJHL, and have routinely chosen players from that league.  Also, four of their eight defensemen selected in the last three seasons have come from the WHL

The Picks

Round 1, No. 6 overall
Round 1, No. 19 overall (from Colorado)
Round 2, No. 37
Round 3, No. 67
Round 4, No. 97
Round 5, No.127
Round 5, No. 135 (from Carolina)
Round 6, No. 157
Round 7, No. 187

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No. 6 Luke Schenn, D and No. 19 Luca Sbisa, D

Although it is anything but guaranteed that the Blue Jackets will hold onto these two selections, in the scenario where they do keep the picks, Luke Schenn is a defensive defenseman from the WHL, an absolutely rock of a player who fits extremely well with the type of team and type of culture they are trying to set up in Columbus.  He is physically strong, defensively sound, makes a good first pass, thinks the game very well, plays tough, hard to beat one-on-one, and has plenty of leadership capability.  Some feel he might also have some untapped offensive upside.  The one knock on Schenn is his skating and foot speed, but he is a very safe pick and generally admired. 

Luca Sbisa, while sharing a similar first name, is a different type of defender.  Highly regarded by some, even to the point where he might possibly be taken in the top ten, Sbisa is a smooth skating, puckmoving defenseman, who also played last year in the WHL, his first year in North America.  Sbisa adjusted very well to the North American game, and was one of the standout performers in Lethbridge’s run to WHL finals.