Paul Bittner, LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
2nd round, 38th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 203 lbs
There were quite a few scouting outlets that projected Paul Bittner as a first-round pick, so the Blue Jackets must have been thrilled to see him still on the board early in the second round. Perhaps familiar with him thanks to prized prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand, who often lined up with Bittner in Portland, he becomes one of the largest forward prospects in the system, and has the offensive pedigree to make an impact at the next level.
He became a positive influence on one of the top lines in the WHL, often opening up space by forechecking hard and creating opportunities for his teammates. He’s more than just the prototypical power-forward, as he brings an element of offensive tenacity and an NHL-ready shot. Beyond that, he does have some things to work on in order to prove that his production wasn’t just the result of playing with elite players.
Kevin Stenlund, C, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
2nd round, 58th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 205 lbs
As the captain of HV71’s junior team last year, Kevin Stenlund quietly had an excellent season. More noted as a two-way, defense-first center, Stenlund opened some eyes with his steady play, enough so to earn 17 games with the big club. Stenlund projects as a third line center, and doesn’t possess a tremendously high offensive upside, but is still an intriguing prospect due to his intelligence.
Stenlund missed time over the last two years with two knee injuries, which slowed down his development as a center. That said, he was still very difficult to play against and does a lot of little things well. Stenlund was regarded as a mature, physical pivot that can manage the game in many areas. His recovery from injury appears on track and he is slated to return to Sweden next year.
Keegan Kolesar, RW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
3rd round, 69th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 216 lbs
The next Blue Jackets draft pick was a bit of a surprising one, as the team opted for a bit of toughness and sandpaper with Seattle’s Keegan Kolesar. He was handed more responsibility this year, and really played to his strengths as a physical, tough to contain forward. Kolesar’s offensive game came along this year, but still remains limited at the next level. The Thunderbirds will graduate a few forwards next year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kolesar improve on his career-high of 38 points while still injecting his brand of hockey.
Sam Ruopp, D, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
5th round, 129th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 179 lbs
With two first round picks used on defensemen, Columbus opted to use their final four picks on the blueline, starting with the captain of the Prince George Cougars, Sam Ruopp. He has a tremendous work ethic and doesn’t cheat the game in any category, especially in his own zone as Ruopp willingly defends the puck and his teammates. With his older brother Harrison Ruopp in the Arizona Coyotes system, and oddly enough good friends with Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray, Sam will have plenty of experience to lean on as he advances.
Veeti Vainio, D, Blues U20 (Jr A. SM-Liiga)
5th round, 141st overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 181 lbs
The selection of Veeti Vainio marked the smallest draft pick the team selected in this draft, and he might be one of the slickest, too. Vainio offers an electric offensive game, often following up plays and jumping into the action with the puck. He is incredibly confident with the puck, and has the potential to become one of the team’s sleeper selections from this draft. He certainly has some shortcomings in the defensive zone, and will need to work on consistency before making the jump to North America, but that’s not unlike most late-round prospects.
Vladislav Gavrikov, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
6th round, 159th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 194 lbs
Widely considered as one of the best re-entry candidates among defensemen, Vladislav Gavrikov opened some eyes with his World Junior Championships performance this year. During that tournament, Gavrikov laid the body often and was a terror to play against, and despite being limited offensively, was named the tournament’s Best Defenseman.
At home in Lokomotiv, Gavrikov blended his size, skating ability, and physical acumen as the captain of their junior team, and even earned 16 games with the KHL squad. He is eligible to play in the AHL as early as next year, but is more likely to finish his contract up with Lokomotiv before making the jump.
Markus Nutivaara, D, Karpat (Liiga)
7th round, 189th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 lbs
As a 1994 birth-year, the selection of free-agent-to-be Markus Nutivaara was a little puzzling. He has slowly come up through Karpat’s junior system, and made 35 appearances with the senior team. He was a big contributor in the playoffs, adding one goal and six assists in 16 games, helping Karpat win the SM-liiga championship. He is still learning to play the position proficiently, but is a late bloomer that could add depth to the Blue Jackets system down the road.