Blue Jackets: Draft Retrospective

By Jeff Parzych

This look back will start with the 2000 Entry Draft, held at the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, the first draft for the new franchise. For each year we will discuss the savvy selections made by the Jacket brain trust and also look back at some picks they would like to possibly have back. We will also highlight what we believe was the best transaction Columbus made in that year outside of the draft.

The 2000 NHL Entry Draft

Heading into their inaugural draft the Jackets held the fourth selection. You may think at that number, with only three players gone from every team’s draft board, that making a smart selection would be a no-brainer. The problem is that nothing is automatic which names like Jason Bonsignore, Chad Kilger, and Alexandre Volchkov, all number four selections overall in the last ten years that failed to live up to expectations, attest to.

After watching Rick Dipietro, Dany Heatley, and Marian Gaborik walk across the stage for their obligatory handshakes and smiles with the commissioner, the Jackets stepped up and selected Rostislav Klesla with their first-ever entry draft pick in the team’s history.

Since that time, Klesla has established himself as one of Columbus’s building blocks. He recorded eight goals, eight assists, along with 74 penalty minutes en route to All-Rookie honors in 2001-02. This past season, despite struggling for most of the first half, Klesla rebounded and finished the year with 16 points (2 goal, 14 assists) and 71 penalty minutes. He has clearly been a solid pick for the Jackets.

Late in the 2000 Entry Draft, the Jackets selected a little known Slovak named Andrej Nedorost with the 286th pick overall. Since that time he has skyrocketed up the Jacket depth chart and has been on the verge of cracking the Columbus lineup in each of the last two seasons.

The only thing that may be keeping Nedorost off the Blue Jacket roster is the fact that his game does not lend itself to a checking line position. He has top-six forward talent, but has had difficulty finding a spot on Columbus’s top two lines. When he finally arrives, Nedorost could easily end up being a 30-40 point per season player. Honorable mention for a good pick goes to Nederost.

Selected in the third round, 69th overall in 2000, Ben Knopp has struggled with the adjustment to the professional game. After some stellar years in junior, Knopp was assigned to Dayton of the ECHL for his rookie season. In 53 games with the Bombers, Knopp recorded 7 goals, 13 assists and did little to distinguish himself. He also was less than outstanding in 12 games with Syracuse of the AHL, registering only two points (1goal,1 assist). Knopp is the problem pick of the 2000 draft.

On June 7, 2000, the Jackets sent a second round selection to the Colorado Avalanche for Marc Denis. Right away, despite his limited resume, Columbus tabbed him as their goaltender of the future.

This past season Denis lived up to those expectations as he carried the Jackets on most nights. He appeared in a mind-boggling 77 games and posted a more than respectable 22-41-8 record with a .903 save percentage and a goals against average just above three. Getting Denis was the Jackets best transaction of 2000.

The 2001 Entry Draft

Most Columbus fans have either soured on top 2001 pickPascal Leclaire already or are just not sure what to think of the 20-year old Quebec native. He has struggled at times, especially with the adjustment to the pro game, but what top-notch tender hasn’t? There is no doubt he has the skills and it may be just a matter of time before he puts it all together and becomes the backstop Columbus thought he could be when they grabbed him with the eighth overall selection in 2001.

It actually looked like Leclaire had turned the corner late last season with the Crunch. At the suggestion of Goaltending Coach Rick Wamsley, Leclaire switched to a bigger set of leg pads to cover more net and give him a little different flex and he promptly ripped off three straight wins. A knee injury unfortunately ended that streak, but that glimpse had to make the Jacket brass smile.

The other thing that impresses about Leclaire is his mental state and how even keeled he is. Wins and loses, and on either occasion you could never tell from him if he played well or not by his tone or demeanor. He has that ability to put things into perspective and that will serve him well down the line. He was the best pick of the 2001 draft for the Jackets.

Selected in the third round, 85th overall, defenseman Aaron Johnson has improved in every season over his four years in the QMJHL where he registered 40 goals, 155 assists along with 409 penalty minutes in 252 games. He was also invited to the Canadian National Junior Team Selection Camp the past two seasons.

Another positive on Johnson, is the fact that he is signed by Columbus. He just put his signature on a multi-year contract with the Jackets and should play next year in Syracuse with the Crunch. That was a critical sign for Columbus given the state of defensemen in the Columbus system. He gets honorable mention for being a good pick.

As for problem picks in 2001, take your pick of the three selections from that draft that Columbus failed or neglected to sign: Kiel McLeod (2nd round), Cole Jarrett (5th round) and Ryan Bowness (9th round).

There was finally closure on the McLeod situation June 10th when he signed with the Coyotes. Doug MacLean and company did everything they could to sign this kid, short of giving him the key to the city, but the fact is they still didn’t sign him, and for a fourth year franchise, that hurts.

Jarrett, being a fifth rounder, was more surprising in not being signed than Bowness, but by forgoing both, it still is somewhat of a failure by the Columbus scouting department. When you are a young franchise like Columbus, every pick is critical.

At the time it may have been a meaningless blurb in the transactions page. Columbus signed Duvie Westcott to a free-agent contract it read and fans looked at his bio and saw a 5’11” defenseman and said “I hope he likes it in Syracuse.” Well he did, but he liked it in Columbus even better and just to make sure he stays there, the Jackets re-signed him this past spring to another two-year deal.

Westcott definitely has found a home on the Columbus blue line has a skilled puck moving defenseman who actually, despite his size, or lack thereof , has developed quite an edge. It also doesn’t hurt that Doug MacLean firmly believes the Jackets are a better team with Westcott in the lineup and their .500 record when Duvie dresses will attest to that.

The 2002 Entry Draft

Choosing Rick Nash as the best pick of 2002 would be too easy. Taken in the third round, 96th overall, Jeff Genovy has good size (6’3”, 205); hands and a great feel for the game. He came in as Clarkson’s top recruit last fall and played in 34 games for the Golden Knights where he participated in all situations on the ice. He finished the season with 5 goals and 13 assists to go along with 45 penalty minutes. Granted, those are not overly impressive numbers, but it could be just a sign of things to come.

If he can continue to develop at the same pace, expect this Michigan native to play at least one, maybe two more seasons in the ECAC before venturing into the professional ranks with Syracuse. Columbus is weak at center so he might get a chance.

Penciling in winger Tim Konsorada under honorable mention may be doing him an injustice. Drafted in the sixth round, 168th overall, Konsorada has made amazing strides over the last couple of years.

Only eighteen years old, the 6’1”, 215 pound Konsorada racked up 22 goals and 69 points in 72 games with Brandon of the WHL. He also topped off his impressive season by being invited to attend this summer’s Canadian National Team Development Camp.

At this juncture it is really difficult to notate anyone from the 2002 draft as a problem pick because the jury is still out on all of these players. Joakim Lindstrom from MoDo in Sweden is a potential concern. He is extremely talented and if he can continue to develop he should be exactly what the Jackets are looking for, some one who can generate offense. But he may be behind schedule a little bit.

Lindstrom has struggled in the Elite League in Sweden and was even tabbed by as one of the top ten prospects that had tough seasons. He did, however, play well at the WJC for Sweden, 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in six games and remains a very solid option for Columbus a few years down the road.

Doug MacLean actually made a couple of nice moves at the trading deadline in 2002, but the best one had to be prying Jaroslav Spacek away from the Chicago Blackhawks along with a second round selection in 2003 Entry Draft for Lyle Odelein. Where would the Jackets be without Spacek? He appeared in 81 games for Columbus, registering 9 goals and 36 assists and is a legitimate top-four defenseman for the Blue Jackets.

What makes this deal even more special is the draft pick. Looking back, the Columbus brass likely would have been pleased if they only received Spacek in the deal. To add the number two is almost stealing.

The next step? The 2003 Entry Draft, where the next crop of picks can be picked and then dissected.