Blue Jackets 2004 draft review

By Aaron Vickers

2004 Draft Review

Following the path of their 2001 National Hockey League Entry Draft,
this year Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Doug MacLean, alongside Director of Amateur Scouting
Don Boyd, utilized his first round selection and optioned a player from
the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In 2001 goaltender Pascal
, was selected
eighth overall, and in 2004 in the same position the Blue
Jackets selected Lewiston MAINEiac Alexandre

The team did not start the day slotted in the eighth spot, however.
After seeing their speculated target Cameron
go to the Chicago Blackhawks, who had the third selection, Columbus
decided to trade down, adding a second round
selection belonging to the Carolina Hurricanes in the process.  They moved down four
spots and selecting eighth. Interestingly enough, the
Hurricanes used Columbus’ selection to take Calgary Hitmen forward Andrew
who it was rumored the Blue Jackets were going to select should Barker
not be on the board.

Picard, though,
is no consolation prize. In many hockey circles, he has been compared
to his Western Hockey League counterpart, Ladd, except with a higher
offensive ceiling. The knock, in comparison to Ladd, though, is
physical strength, something the now Hurricane prospect boasts
in excess. Ladd, ranked first among North American skaters by Central
Scouting, was passed on by the Blue Jackets, who instead chose Central
Scouting’s third ranked skater in Picard.

By all
accounts, Picard is a gutsy, give it all player who has some
impressive, all round skills. Hockey’s Future writer Sean Keogh, describes
Picard as a ‘hybrid’: half goalscorer and half spark plug. Picard, who
lead all CHL draft eligibles in goals scored with 39 last season,
plays a tough, gritty game, while not compromising  his offensive

Picard, much
like many of his colleagues selected around him, isn’t without flaws.
Picard has a tendency to neglect his defensive game, something that is
abundant in too many current Blue Jacket forwards. While his
defensive game is weak, improvement will come with maturity.
While many fans were disappointment in the supposed downgrade from
Andrew Ladd to Alexandre Picard, one has to remember that there is
another piece to the puzzle; the 59th overall selection.

Securing a second round selection later in the day was very important for Columbus Blue Jackets
General Manager Doug MacLean who had tried in vain to do this at the trade
deadline.  Picard was clearly the next option for the
Columbus Blue Jackets after Cameron Barker, and MacLean realized he
could turn his fourth overall selections into two assets; Picard, and
another draft pick, 59th overall.

Columbus made sure to select carefully with the 59th overall selection,
and addressed a glaring organizational requirement by selecting Ottawa 67’s defenseman Kyle Wharton. Wharton, the 13th
ranked North American Skater by Central Scouting, was recently invited to the Canadian
National Junior Summer Evaluation Camp in August, alongside the likes
of Calgary Flames prospect Dion Phaneuf
and now Chicago Blackhawks prospect Cameron Barker.

Wharton, 6’2, 185lbs, has been described as having the ability to
control the play in his own end, and was widely regarded as one of the
ten best at his position in the draft. Registering 22 points (7 goals, 15
in 82 games, Wharton’s offensive potential may be questioned, but there
is no denying that he has the ability to become a strong, solid
defenseman in the Columbus organization.

The upside on Wharton may coincide directly with his ability to round
out his offensive game. Wharton is described as having an excellent
stride for his given size. His long, powerful stride and strong lateral
movement make the potential of his transition game unlimited. His
passing is also strong, and is able to make long, crisp outlet passes
to his teammates.

The perceived downside on Wharton is his lack of physical edge. While
he is not afraid to be knocked around, Wharton plays a game without any
significant grit or edge.

“He plays well positionally to box you out, (but) he’s not going to
physically make you not want to stand there,” described one NHL scout to
Hockey’s Future before the draft.
“He’s not going to chop you down.”

Although he does not possess a true physical edge, Wharton’s
willingness to put his own body on the line is encouraging, and
Columbus brass may be hoping to find a way to light a fire under
Wharton. Certainly if they are able to do so, Wharton could become a
valuable, well rounded defender, joining a potential defensive core
boasting the likes of Rostislav Klesla, Aaron Johnson, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and Dimitri Kosmachev.

The selection of Wharton would not be Columbus’ next selection in the
draft, though. Despite beginning the day with their first round
selection and four thirds, the Blue Jackets swung another
deal, landing themselves not only the 59th overall selection, but the
46th as well, at the expense of their 70th and 98th overall selections.
In what was an important move for Columbus, they made sure not to
disappoint in selecting from Boston College, Adam Pineault.

For the second draft in a row, Columbus may have made out like bandits
in the second round, first with the selection of Danny Fritsche, who in
the 2003 NHL Entry Draft was projected as a top 15 selection, and
secondly with Pineault, who was projected to be a top ten selection in
the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. After a tough first season with Boston
College, that saw him as a healthy scratch in the playoffs, stock on
Pineault plummeted. By all accounts, though, despite the tough season
for Pineault, the potential of the Holyoke, Mass. native is not in
question, and scouts agree, Pineault’s upside is massive.

is a excellent skater who possesses all
of the tools to be a power forward at the highest level,” said an
unidentified scout to Hockey’s Future before the draft. “More of a goal scorer
than playmaker, (Pineault has) a rocket for a shot, quick release, and
the size/strength to
carry the play in the corners. When he plays aggressive, Pineault is
able to
create room for himself and his linemates, as he fearlessly drives into
traffic areas and is more than willing to take a hit to make the play.”

This particular scout is not alone in his opinions, either. Pineault is
widely regarded as a project, but with high risk comes high reward in
this case. Pineault, who is planning on leaving Boston College for
Moncton of the QMJHL, even sees potential in himself.

“I try to be a big power forward, use my body, shot, size and drive to
the net like a Keith Primeau type player,” proclaimed Pineault in a
phone conversation with Guy Flaming of Hockey’s Future. “Overall, I just try to be a big power
forward and work defensively and offensively.”

After securing two quality offensive forwards with their first two
selections in Pineault and Picard, and strengthening their defensive
core with the addition of Kyle Wharton, the Columbus organization
needed to address another need, and did so with Owen Sound goaltender Daniel Lacosta. Lacosta, the sixth ranked
North American goaltender, was originally selected fourth overall by
Owen Sound in the OHL draft in 2002. Since then, he has competed
nationally, dressing for Team Newfoundland & Labrador at the 2003
Canada Winter Games.

Lacosta’s style, described by Central Scouting as a ‘controlled
butterfly technique’, allows him to maintain excellent rebound control,
due in part to his strong lateral movement. Lacosta, who registered a
2.72 goals against average and a .909 save percentage while primarily
splitting time between the pipes with teammate Robert Gherson, has excellent skating
ability, in terms of strong balance and athleticism. His greatest
strength, though, may come in his ability to handle offensive pressure
bearing down on him. Whether it be a crease scramble or seeing the
action through a lot of traffic, Lacosta is excellent at cutting off
the lower portion of the net, and getting his paddle down along the ice
on wraparound and scramble situations.

As predictable as Columbus’ draft day may have been up until this
point, the Blue Jackets went off the board with their last pick on Day 1. With their final third round selection, 96th overall,
they went to Nizhnekamsk, Russia to select defenseman Andrei
. After playing on the international scene in an
Eight Nations
tournament in Czehnia, Plehanov has disappeared off many scouts’ radar
since then. This could be due to a number of factors, with the main one
being the sheer geography of where Plehanov was playing. Nizhnekamsk,
home to one of the largest oil deposits in Russia, is just 237km’s east
of Kazan, which in turn is another 450km’s east of Moscow. Another
factor contributing to Plehanov’s drop in rankings was due to an
undisclosed injury he suffered in the summer of 2003.

There is an interesting twist in the Plehanov story, though. In the
CHL’s Import Draft, Plehanov was selected in the first round by the
Sarnia Sting, the same junior club that holds the rights to 2003 Blue Jacket second rounder Danny Fritsche. With Plehanov
being selected by the Sarnia Sting, it gives him the option to come
across the pond to North America and play in the Ontario Hockey League,
or continue skating in Russia. The decision for Plehanov may be easier
then one may think, though. Rumored to be as big as 6’3, Plehanov may
be satisfied to stay under the tutelage of his head coach, Vladimir Krikunov,
but with Krikunov leaving Nizhnekamsk for a job with Dynamo – Moscow.
With Krikunov, who has molded Plehanov’s play the last few seasons,
leaving Nizhnekamsk, Plehanov may have an easier time justifying
leaving Russia for Sarnia.

Day 2 began with the Blue Jackets lacking a fourth round
selection. Content with this, the team waited another round to make
their next selection. Over 100 selections after picking Russian Alexei
Plehanov, the Blue Jackets announced from their table the selection of Peter Pohl, teammate of fellow
Columbus prospect Phillipe Dupuis. Pohl, who
skated for the Gatineau Olympiques, managed to record 27 assists and 50
points in 70 games, five points fewer the Dupuis, who recorded 55
points (18-37-55) in 60 games. Pohl’s totals, including 23 goals,
ranked him sixth among QMJHL rookie goal scoring, and seventh in terms
of total points.

Although he has tipped the scales at 185lbs, both the weight and height
(5’11) of Pohl have come into question. Simply put, Pohl is a small
player, who plays small. He has been described as “anything but strong
on the puck” by Sean Keogh of Hockey’s Future, although Central
Scouting goes as far as saying he’ll bounce right back up after being
knocked down. If Pohl is able to establish himself as a player that can
handle physical play, then the rest of his skills, which are plentiful,
will overshadow his lack of physical presence.

Pohl was ranked 58th among North American skaters by Central Scouting
heading into the draft, a ranking not truly indicative of his offensive
skills. Positioned lower then he probably should’ve been due to his
size and inability to handle physical pressure, Pohl has first class
offensive capabilities. His hands are as soft as silk, and his patience
around the net is second to none. Although he doesn’t possess
blistering speed, Pohl is a very good skater with an effortless stride. Portrayed as a
competent stickhandler, Pohl’s forte really comes with his ability to
release his wicked shot. Not only can Pohl release his snapper with
great force, but he can release it from just about anywhere, in any

Although Pohl possesses all the offensive tools in the world; good
hands, strong skating ability, and a lethal shot, he still finds
himself struggling at times. After spending the season with Gatineau
after being the fourth overall selection in the 2003 CHL Import Draft,
Pohl found himself playing behind arguably the top forward core in the
entire CHL. Behind the likes of Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Maxime Talbot, overager Jean-Michel Daoust, Guillaume Fournier, acquired
midseason from Victoriaville, and a handful of others that include Dupuis, Pohl struggled greatly at
getting quality minutes, affecting his confidence. With a lack of ice time, Pohl began questioning his skills, which in turn lead to a
much more fragile player.

Pohl will receive plenty of opportunity with Gatineau next season,
however. With Talbot, Daoust, Fournier and others leaving the
Olympiques after their championship season, Pohl will be relied on to
eat up top minutes on the first line, showcasing the skills that
Columbus brass saw him him enough to make him a future member of the

If there was one trait the Blue Jackets were trying to acquire
in each of their draft selections, it was that they were gunning for
players with strong skating ability. This trend held true with the
selection of Blake High School defenseman Rob Page. With the ability to
create a breakout out of the defensive zone on his own, Page’s skating
ability is smooth, and he is able to change directions quickly. His
ability to be able to carry the puck end-to-end is accredited to both
his skating ability, and smooth hands. With the potential to be a
strong two-way defenseman, Page was utilized in all situations for his

Page, also the captain of his club, has an excellent shot from the
point, but needs to understand better how to effectively use it. He also needs to be more physical with opposing forwards. While he
angles off his opposition well, Page will need to learn how to
efficiently use his body and punish opposing forwards coming through.
Standing at over 6’1 and weighing in at 188lbs, this 1985 born player
has the stature to be a punishing defenseman.

A complete athlete, Page isn’t just a hockey player. His accolades
also include being an all-conference soccer player and golfer at Blake
School. Soccer and golf will now become a recreational sport for Page,
who will set his sights on playing for Yale University this fall when
he attends college.

When Hockey’s Future caught up with General Manager Doug MacLean in
March, he downplayed the issue of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s transfer
agreement expiring, and the struggle to get Russian-born
players over to North America.

“No, I don’t have any hesitation, or we don’t,” explained MacLean, “We
don’t expect any issues when it comes to getting the players out.”

Good thing because the Blue
Jackets selected 11 Europeans with their last 23 NHL
Entry Draft selections, dating back to the beginning of the 2002 NHL
Entry Draft. In the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Blue Jackets
selected only two European players out of a possible 12 selections;
Andrei Plehanov and their second sixth round pick, Finnish forward Lennart Petrell.

Petrell, a 6’3, 198lb center from Helsinki, may be most famous for
knocking out Michal Barinka in the World
Junior Championships in what was considered a questionable hit. That is
just a typical play for ‘Lennu’. His physical, in-your-face play will
earn him a reputation much like fellow fin Ville Niemenen. His physical play
isn’t his only upside, however.

Lennu’s offensive ceiling is much higher then that of a Ville Niemenen.
Petrell has all the tools to become a very solid player, including
delicate hands and a soft touch. Whether or not Petrell will be able to
continue to develop his offensive skills will remain to be seen, but
developing his defensive game is a must. Petrell has been known to be
reckless in his defensive end, often taking the high risk route, as
opposed to making the simple play. Not only is this a result of his
inadequate defensive game, but his lack of hockey sense as well.

Both offensively and defensively, Petrell has questionable hockey
sense. Making the simple play is something that Lennu struggles with,
and something that he’ll have to overcome in order to make a
significant impact at any level hockey. Certainly given his physical
stature and nasty attitude, though, he’ll peak a lot of interest from
not only the Columbus Blue Jackets, but other teams in the league as
well, that will be forced to take notice of Petrell.

Much like last season’s Entry Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets used a
late round selection to draft, from the Shawinigan Cataractes, Justin Vienneau. Vienneau,
teammate to the Blue Jackets eighth round selection from 2002 Mathieu Gravel, stands at an
intimidating 6’4, 205lbs. Vienneau, one of the largest players
available in the draft, was ranked 139th among North American Skaters
by Central Scouting. Interestingly enough, Vienneau was ranked 10th
among QMJHL skaters by Central Scouting’s Preliminary Rankings in
November. This ranking could have been influenced by Vienneau’s
participation in the 2003 Canada Winter Games where, like Lacosta, he
represented his native province of New Brunswick.

Registering seven assists over the course of 53 games this season with
Shawinigan, Vienneau boasted an incredible 129 minutes in penalties.
The season before, Vienneau registered eight assists and 150 penalty
minutes. The interesting thing about Vienneau’s junior career is that,
through 115 games, he has yet to record a goal. This speaks volumes
about the offensive potential of the youngster. While he’ll never be
confused with anyone remotely offensive, it is Vienneau’s strong
defensive game that has kept him in the league.

Looking over the 2004 NHL Entry Draft for the Columbus Blue Jackets,
one aspect stands out, and that was General Manager Doug MacLean’s
willingness to go after American High School players. The first of
which to be selected was Rob Page, who has aspirations of suiting up
for Yale this fall. After Page, the Blue Jackets managed to select
another pair of High Schoolers with consecutive picks, both eighth

With their first of two eighth rounders, Columbus quickly selected 5’11, 191lb winger Brian McGuirk. McGuirk, a native
of Danvers, Mass attended Governor Dummer last season, and will be
attending Boston University in the fall.

A reoccurring trend in the majority of prospects taken in this year’s
NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, McGuirk possesses speed,
and a lot of it. His speed and acceleration are the two main assets
that McGuirk has. His ability to hit top stride from a complete stop is
spectacular, often needing only two steps to do so. With the ability to
generate so much speed in such little time, McGuirk has no problem
catching defensemen flat-footed. As well, the pressure he is able to
put on defensemen while they are handling the puck is great, as he is
able to get right on the opposition and force them into mistakes with
the puck.

No stranger to international competition, McGuirk may be identified
best not with his prep school, but as a member of several additions of
Team USA. On two separate occasions, McGuirk has represented America on
the international stage; first in the U-17 World Championships in 2001
and with Team USA in the World U-18 Championships in 2002.

While his offensive skills are adequate, they are far from top-notch.
Most of the offensive chances created by McGuirk come as a result of
hard work, which is great in terms of work ethic, but disappointing in
terms of natural scoring ability. The 110th ranked North American
forward, McGuirk definitely has the potential to be a spark plug, but
lacks true offensive instinct and flair to develop into a solid
offensive threat to be counted on in the future.

The second of two eighth rounders and the third of three high school
players selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets was Matt Greer, another left winger
from America’s hockey hotbed, Minnesota. Greer, who was unranked by
Central Scouting, suited up for White Bear Lake High School. Also the
captain of his high school golf team, Greer recorded 44 points
(25-19-44) in 27 games in 2003-04.

Unlike his fellow high school draftees, Greer has not opted to continue
his craft at the collegiate level. Instead, Greer has committed to
continue his hockey career in the United States Hockey League, with Des Moines. Greer, selected in the eighth round, 76th overall in the 2004-05
USHL Entry Draft, will join the company of Dwight LaBrosse
Penguins, 9th Round – 2002) and Michael Erickson
(Minnesota Wild,
2nd Round – 2001) as the only players ever to dress for Des Moines that
have been drafted by an NHL franchise. This isn’t the only interesting
company Greer has found himself in, though. In March, Greer was named
to Minnesota’s 2003-04 All-State High School Boys Hockey Team, along
with fellow Columbus Blue Jacket draftee Rob Page, and 5th overall
selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Blake Wheeler, now Phoenix
Coyotes property.

Gloucestor, Ontario native Grant Clitsome was the lone
player selected in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft for
Columbus, and after his name was announced, the work of General Manager
Doug MacLean and the Blue Jackets scouting staff was complete.
Clitsome, a defenseman who went unranked by Central Scouting, has
committed to Clarkson University in Ontario, after leading the Nepean
Raiders to the CJHL Championship and being runner up to the league’s
Defensive-Defenseman award. Not to pigeonhole him as strictly a
defensive defenseman, Clitsome tied for first among defensive scoring
in the postseason as well.

As quarterback of the Raiders’ power play, Clitsome has put up some
impressive offensive numbers to compliment his steady defensive play.
With 13 goals and 39 points (13-26-39) in 55 games played, Clitsome is
effective at both ends of the ice. His hockey sense is above average as
well, which makes him a very interesting selection for the
organizations last pick, which has included in the past, the likes of Trevor Hendrikx in 2003, Sergei Mozyakin in 2002, Andrew Murray in 2001, and Louis Mandeville in 2000.

in all, Columbus made 12 selections in the 2004 edition of the NHL
Entry Draft, two more then they had the previous draft, and one less
then 2002, which highlighted the selection of Rocket Richard Award
winner Rick Nash with the first overall

The Blue Jackets had several plot lines develop
over the course of the two-day draft, including:

-Selecting only two European
players out of a possible 12 selections, after selecting 11 in
their last 23.
-Selecting three American high
school students, out of a possible 12 selections.
-Selective five defensemen out
of a possible 12 selections, the most since their inaugural draft
in 2000.
No selection of a player
listed as a center by Central Scouting.
two players unranked by Central
-Selecting two teammates of
current Columbus Blue Jacket prospects (Gravel-Vienneau/Dupuis-Pohl)

The 2004 NHL Entry Draft may be the most memorable in terms of stories unraveling at the draft table. While no one will
forget the organization’s first overall selection in Rostislav Klesla, the trade and
selection for Rick Nash first overall in 2002, nor the selection of
controversial Russian Nikolai Zherdev in 2003, never
has Columbus been involved in such a draft which displayed several
different plot lines. 

Listed below are the 12 selections of the
Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2004 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

2003-04 Club
Alexandre Picard
Adam Pineault
Boston College
Kyle Wharton
Daniel Lacosta
Owen Sound
Andrei Plehanov
Peter Pohl
Rob Page
Lennart Petrell
Justin Vienneau
Brian McGuirk
Governor Dummer
Matt Greer
White Bear Lake
Grant Clitsome

Guy Flaming, D.J. Powers, and Sean Keogh
contributed to this report.
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