Columbus Blue Jackets 2014 NHL Draft preview

By Richard Greco

Kerby Rychel - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Forward Kerby Rychel was one of three forwards the Columbus Blue Jackets selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of CHL Images)

For the first time since 2009 the Columbus Blue Jackets had a berth in the NHL playoffs. Their time, however, was short lived, as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

While the Blue Jackets more established players, like Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky, were front and center for much of the postseason, plenty of Columbus' homegrown talent, such as Ryan Murray, Ryan Johansen, and Boone Jenner gained valuable playoff experience.

The upswing for the Blue Jackets has finally arrived. With most of its highly-touted prospects graduating to the NHL and a slew of European and Canadian forwards nearing their arrival to the professional game, a Blue Jackets squad that was ranked 13th in the league in scoring should continue its climb over the next few years.

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Alexander Wennberg, C
2. Oscar Dansk, G
3. Kerby Rychel, LW
4. Marko Dano, C
5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW
6. Tim Erixon, D
7. Dillon Heatherington, D
8. Anton Forsberg, G
9. Mike Reilly, D
10. Michael Chaput, C

Team Needs

It is time for the Blue Jackets to start rebuilding and that starts from the back-end. GM Jarmo Kekalainen took care of bringing in offensive reinforcements when he selected Alex Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, and Marko Dano in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. This year the club is going to need to focus on bringing in defensive help.

That does not necessarily mean that the Blue Jackets are lacking in either of those areas, especially at the professional level. At the NHL level, homegrown players such as Murray, David Savard, and Dalton Prout have become regular contributors to the blue line. There is also defensive depth at the AHL level, but the talent level drops off pretty quickly.

Columbus is set between the pipes for the next few season with Sergei Bobrovsky handling the duties. His successor, however, remains a mystery at this point.

Prior to the postseason it looked as though Oscar Dansk was going to be the guy. He was the focal point of the Erie Otters resurgence, but an injury forced him to split time with Devin Williams and Dansk entered the postseason on the bench.

Anton Forsberg fell into a similar fate for Modo and took a backseat to Linus Ullmark (BUF) in the SHL playoffs.

Joonas Korpisalo spent the past season being passed around four different teams. All three of Columbus' top goaltending prospects have shown glimpses of their talent, but it has not been consistent.

Organizational Strengths

The Blue Jackets have a ton of high-end talent on the offensive side of things. Oliver Bjorkstrand highlights the group at right wing. He may not be too physical, but he knows how to finish around the net, and completed the 2013-14 WHL regular season with 109 points. Sitting behind Bjorkstrand at right wing is Daniel Zaar, a talented Swede who is gradually developing into a reliable playmaker with a wicked wrist shot.

Heading the list of left wingers is Rychel, who may be the most NHL ready forward in the Blue Jackets system, despite never skating in a game with Springfield. He plays a power game, will get in the dirty areas, and knows when to make a statement hit. While his scoring was as good as ever, Rychel developed a level of maturity to his game en route to leading the Guelph Storm to the Memorial Cup final.

Wennberg and Dano are the pack leaders down the middle. Columbus is deepest at center and after its two standouts, there are quality players that could become bottom six forwards. T.J. Tynan and Sean Collins play with grit and could excel on a checking line, and Michael Chaput showed his offensive upside with the Falcons this postseason.

Organizational Weaknesses

As mentioned before, Columbus needs consistency among its young goaltenders. Any one of Dansk, Korpisalo, or Forsberg can be the guy after Bobrovsky, but none have played steady enough in the cage. They will have ample time to fine tune their game before Bobrovsky is done, but Columbus could look to address the issue during this year's draft.

With most of their top defensive prospects already playing in the NHL, The Blue Jackets could also add some puck-moving defenders to their depth chart.

Draft Tendencies

It is hard to say what Kekalainen's draft tendencies are because he had three first round picks in his first NHL Draft last year.

The Blue Jackets will have six picks after the Marian Gaborik trade forced Los Angeles to give up a second round and conditional pick for the 2014 or 2015 draft. Since the Kings made The Stanley Cup finals the conditional pick became a second round pick, which forces the Kings' to surrender this year and next year's second rounds. The Blue Jackets will have picks at 16, 47, 60, 77, 107, and 197.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:

16. Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)

Fabbri may be years away from reaching his potential due to his small frame, but Columbus' depth down the middle allows him plenty of time to develop. Fabbri has the ability to slip through defensive coverage and find open ice in prime scoring position. He is a balanced offensive player and had 45 goals and 42 assists during the regular season. He added 28 points in the 16 postseason contests as Guelph battled its way to the Memorial Cup final.