Columbus Blue Jackets 2013 draft review

By Richard Greco

Alexander Wennberg - Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo: Swedish center Alexander Wennberg was the first of three picks in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets and new GM Jarmo Kekalainen (courtesy of Rich Graessle/Icon SMI)

The 2013 NHL Draft is one that will shape the future of first year general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. The NHL’s first Finnish General Manager had the luxury of picking three times in the first round (14th, 19th and 27th overall) and eight times total in the draft.

Kekalainen is a household name in Europe after serving as the general manger for IFK Helsinki  from 1995-1999 and returned to Finland in the summer of 2010 to manage Jokerit after being passed up for the St. Louis Blues’ GM position for Doug Armstrong.

His extensive knowledge of European prospects was put on display in this year’s draft. At 14th overall he surprised nobody by drafting Swedish prospect Alexander Wennberg, who was the top center still on the board. After picking up left winger Kerby Rychel of the Windsor Spitfires at 19, Kekalainen made a move that no one predicted. At 27th overall, the Jackets selected Marko Dano of the KHL. Put a star next to Dano’s name because he is the player that Kekalainen hand selected for this team. Dano was ranked 12th best on NHL Central Scouting’s European Skaters list and on draft day was projected to be taken in the late 40's or early 50's. If Dano did enough to stand out to the esteemed GM, all critics can do is wait to see if he pans out or if Kekalainen jumped the gun.

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished off their draft addressing needs. After selecting two goaltenders in the second and third round (Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo) last year and already developing an extremely deep defensive corps, the Jackets used four of its remaining five picks on forwards. When it was all said and done, Kekalainen had a great offense-heavy first draft for a squad that ranked 25th in the NHL in goals scored last season.

Alexander Wennberg, C, Djurgarden (Allsvenskan)
1st round, 14th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 183

If you were hoping for a flashy player with the Blue Jackets first pick of the 2013 draft, you will be disappointed by Alexander Wennberg. Although he may not score many highlight reel goals, Wennberg is a strong two-way player that prides himself on making the right plays, even if that means passing up a shot.

“I’m a smart player on the ice,” he said. “I have a good hockey sense. I think that’s my greatest skill and something I want to always lean back on because I always try to be in the right position and read the game before it happens.”

Wennberg entered the draft ranked fifth by Central Skating among European skaters. The 18-year-old has made a living off his passing for Djurgarden, where he tallied 32 points (14 goals and 18 assists) in 46 games playing against men much older than him in the Allsvenskan league.

“I think that helped me a lot because it is different hockey between there and junior in Sweden,” he said. “It’s a big step and I think that really helped me develop my game and I think I improved my skill because it was a different kind of hockey. I think this year was a great year for me and I’m looking forward to maybe taking more steps next year.”

If last year was any indication, Wennberg is on the right track to become a well equipped player for the North American game. He played in the WJC for a young Swedish squad that took home the silver medal, posting two goals and an assist through six games.

Along with Djurgarden teammate and 2012 Oilers draft pick Erik Gustafsson, Wennberg will spend next season fine tuning his game for Frolunda of the SHL. The Nacka product will look to increase his size and strength with Frolunda before reevaluating his chances at playing professionally in North America prior to the 2014-15 season.

Hockey's Future shot video of Wennberg at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view his extended remarks in this HF video.

Kerby Rychel, LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
1st round, 19th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 205

There was no doubt that Kerby Rychel was regarded highly by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 18-year-old has ties to organization playing for former Blue Jackets assistant coach Bob Boughner, who is part owner of the Windsor Spitfires, and is the son of former NHL player Warren Rychel.

Taking a page out of his father’s book, Rychel has a bit of a mean streak and dropped the gloves just under 10 times while racking up 94 penalty minutes with Windsor last season.

When Rychel plays with grit, he plays his best hockey and has a knack for getting under his opponents’ skin. Although his physicality enhances his ability, Rychel is a gifted power forward that is not afraid to play in the crease. His quick hands and steady balance allows him to score goals in tight and clean up rebounds. The agitator has led the Spitfires in scoring for the past two seasons and tallied a career-high 87 points (40 goals and 47 assists) last year. Enabling his individual success on a Windsor team that finished last in the OHL’s West Division was linemate Joshua Ho-Sang. The duo made some extremely pretty backdoor passing plays that often left goaltenders on an island with nothing to do but flail for the puck.

Rychel has shown some versatility in juniors and improved his two-way game. At times he worked the blue line on the power play and even found himself taking shots from the point during even strength hockey.

Since Rychel is a power forward, he will need more time to physically mature. The Los Angeles-born Canadian should develop into a second or third line forward. As a top nine winger, Rychel will never be the top player on his line. That being said he has all the tools to play a successful game as a complement to a playmaking center, which makes him a great pick after Columbus selected Wennberg at 14.

Marko Dano, C, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL)
1st round, 27th overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 214

Marko Dano’s coming out party was this year’s World Junior Championships. He was the only player on a weak Slovakian team to crack the tournament’s top 10 in scoring, where he tied with John Gaudreau (CGY), Jacob Trouba (WPG), and J.T. Miller (NYR) of the USA and Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) of Canada with nine points.

Despite drawing looks at the WJC, Dano’s strength was still a huge question mark in the eyes of scouts. That changed at the NHL Combine. The Austrian-born forward finished third in the Upper Body Power 4KG Ball toss after sending the medicine ball 232 inches. Dano also finished in the top ten for both the right and left hand grips as well as the pull strength test. Although his combine outcomes made scouts turn their heads, they came as no surprise to Dano, who just finished his rookie season with Bratislava of the KHL.

“I play against men (in the KHL), so I must be strong,” said Dano, who finished last year with seven points in 37 games.

The explosive center has great hockey instincts and uses quick hands to create offensive chances along the goal line. During the WJC, Dano proved he can battle down low, while playing a responsible two-way game.

Dano’s agility on the rush gives him the potential to develop into a top-six forward because of his awareness. He is a player that is always buzzing around the net, which makes him a prime candidate to clean up rebounds. Although he is not projected to make his NHL debut for a few seasons, Dano expects his impact to be immediate.

“I think now,” Dano said of when he expects to debut for Columbus. “I play in the KHL, I played for the championship, so I think it’s close to being in the NHL.”

Dano had a specific appeal to the Blue Jackets. Not only does he play the hard working, aggressive game on the forecheck that Columbus prides in its forwards, he has ties to the club’s first line winger Marian Gaborik. The two are from Trencin, Slovakia and often skated at the same rink last summer.

Developmental camp could play a huge turn in Dano’s career plan. The Blue Jackets have a lot of options with the versatile forward. With his CHL rights owned by the Prince George Cougars of the WHL they could make a push to bring him overseas to develop his game among the top junior players. If he really turns heads at camp, Columbus could give him a start in Springfield and possibly call him up to the NHL midseason. The last option the Jackets have with Dano is to leave him with Bratislava where he should see a significant increase in playing time.

Hockey's Future shot video of Dano media scrum at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view his extended remarks in this HF video.

Dillon Heatherington, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
2nd round, 50th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 196

Columbus likes to use its internal connections to its advantage and selecting Dillon Heatherington at 50th overall was no exception. Former Swift Current assistant coach Andy Schneider, who coached Heatherington, is the head scout of hockey west for Columbus which made the defensive-defenseman a primary option when the Blue Jackets traded their 44th overall pick to Pittsburgh for 50th and 89th overall.

Injuries allowed Heatherington to break out for a Broncos squad that allowed the fewest goals in the WHL. The Calgary native finished with 27 points (23 assists) in 71 games, which was 17 points higher than the previous season. The assist column stands out the most for the 196-pound defender because of his consistent ability to make the first pass out of the defensive zone. Alongside Devils’ 2011 draft pick Reece Scarlett, Heatherington posted a plus-25 rating.

Heatherington made his international debut with Canada’s U18 team. Through seven international games, Central Scouting's 31st ranked North American skater found the back of the net once and racked up four penalty minutes. During international and junior play, Heatherington’s ability to neutralize opponents with his body made him stand out. At 6’3 when he throws his body he makes an impact, but the biggest thing Heatherington needs to fine tune is his ability to recognize when to step up and make a big hit.

At 18 years old, Heatherington is still a long way from the NHL, but the Blue Jackets' organizational depth on defense will allow him time to develop.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 163

The Winterhawks had a stacked team this season that fell one game short of bringing Portland a Memorial Cup as it fell to the Halifax Mooseheads 6-4 in the tournament’s finale. It is easy to overlook a player like Oliver Bjorkstrand on a roster that was headed by highly-touted prospects Ty Rattie (STL), Nicolas Petan (WPG), and Derrick Pouliot (PIT), but the Denmark native put together a solid rookie season in the WHL, sharing the team's Rookie of the Year Award with Seth Jones (NAS). Bjorkstrand finished with a balanced 63 points (31 goals and 32 assists) in 65 games and added 19 more points in 21 playoff games.

The playmaker could turn out to be a steal in third round as long as he continues to develop in a tremendous Winterhawks program. He has a gifted, rising shot that can turn him into a pure goal scorer, but his awareness allows him to pass up a shot through traffic to make a pass. Although he is considered undersized, Bjorkstrand has done a solid job maintaining possession of the puck.

The biggest area that the winger needs to improve is his skating ability. Although he uses his strong legs to maintain the puck, Bjorkstrand has not shown the consistent speed that scouts expect from an offensive threat. He has the toughness and agility to fight down low, but he needs to improve his stride if he wants to continue developing.

Nick Moutrey, C/LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 208

In the fourth round the Blue Jackets returned to the OHL to select Nick Moutrey of the Saginaw Spirit. The 1995-born forward became the second Spirit selected in the draft after Jimmy Lodge was picked by Winnipeg and the third former-Spirit to be part of the Jackets organization with Dalton Prout and Brandon Archibald, both drafted in 2010, having also played in Saginaw.

Moutrey entered the draft as the 58th North American skater by Central Scouting and should develop into a bottom six, utility player. At 6’3, Moutrey will serve the role of a power forward, and he put his strength on display during the combine. The Ontario product finished first in the upper body power toss and in the top 10 for the bench press and left-hand grip.

After a sluggish start to his sophomore year, Moutrey found his game and managed to finish with 43 points in 65 games. His production was a huge improvement from his rookie season that saw him only posting nine points in 66 games on the Spirit’s fourth line.

Moutrey’s willingness to battle along the boards and in the corners has shown how he uses his size and determination to his advantage, but the power forward needs to improve his start up speed. In an attempt to address that, he has been working on strength and conditioning with former NHL player Aaron Downey.

Markus Soberg, RW, Frolunda J20 (Swedish SuperElit)
Drafted 6th round, 165th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 174

In the sixth round, Columbus selected Norway’s golden child. From nearly the day he began skating Markus Soberg was destined for greatness in his country. He has speed, a quick accurate shot, and the desire to work relentlessly.

In a draft where he was the only Norwegian selected, the Soberg family made history. After brother Steffen was selected by the Capitals in the 2011 draft, the Sobergs became the first Norwegian brothers to be drafted into the NHL.

Soberg was always a household name in Norway, but made a name for himself on the international level when he played on Norway U18’s top line as a 15 year old. Following his break onto the worldwide scene, the finesse winger moved to Sweden to play for Frolunda’s junior squad.

This past year he saw limited time on Frolunda’s J18 club and skated in 36 games with Frolunda J20. His production was on point as he finished with 10 goals and 16 assists. He dominated his final U18 WJC (D1A) and led the tournament with  eight goals and 13 points in five games. For the second consecutive year, Soberg played on Norway’s U20 team, and this time Norway earned a promotion to next year’s WJC where it will play in a group with Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Switzerland. Soberg finished the U20 WJC (D1A) with six points in five games.

Although his speed and quick release are uncanny, Soberg needs to bulk up if he wants to make an impact in the NHL. At 18 years old, he has yet to play in a top league, which could change wherever Columbus believes will be best for his development.

Peter Quenneville, C, Quinnipiac Bobcats (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 183

The Columbus Blue Jackets made Peter Quenneville the second incoming freshman at Quinnipiac to be selected in this year’s draft after Connor Clifton was picked up in the fifth round by Phoenix. Quenneville and Clifton will join an impressive Quinnipiac program that reached the National Championship game for the first time in program history last year.

Quenneville tore up the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and was named to the All-USHL Second Team. He finished fifth in the league with 33 goals and tallied 70 points, which ranked eighth. His creativity with the puck allows him to score highlight reel goals and the Edmonton product made headlines after scoring a nifty toe drag goal against the Green Bay Gamblers.

As a final round selection the odds are against the 19-year-old center, but Quenneville has NHL blood in his veins as he is the second cousin of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.