With three first round draft picks at their disposal, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a plethora of options approaching Sunday’s NHL Draft at New Jersey’s Prudential Center.
Columbus holds the 14th, 19th and 27th picks in the first round of a draft that experts believe is one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. So what will the Blue Jackets do on Sunday?
Before we discuss what they will do, let us talk about what they will not do. They will not trade into the top four of this draft. The price is simply too high, especially in a draft that everyone considers deep.
It is pretty clear that Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov will be going in the top four. The draft begins to open up after Barkov at four. This is where things could start to get interesting.
Columbus needs more offense. The real question will be whether that offense will come through this draft, free agency or trades. If Columbus were to decide to trade some draft picks to move up in the draft, I believe five is as high as they could go. Even moving up to five or six would be difficult.
But let us say for the sake of argument Columbus could trade a player and the 14th pick to move up to five or six. If they can move up to five or six, I think Columbus would draft Elias Lindholm, a Swedish-born center.
Ranked 5 in Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings for TSN, Lindholm is a complete player. He scored 11 goals and had 30 points for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League this season.
Here is the problem with that strategy: To move to five or six, the player teams would want would be Ryan Johansen.
To that I say: Thanks, but no thanks.
I am not ready to give up on Johansen, and I do not think the Jackets are either. I know he had his issues in Springfield at the end of their playoff run, but to me it is all part of the growing process.
I think Johansen will grow and learn from the experience and we will start to see signs of his dominance this year. No chance I am moving him on draft day.
If Columbus’ picks are not enough to move up to take Lindholm, their next target really depends on whether they think they can succeed in acquiring scoring outside of the draft.
I think Filppula is an intriguing possibility. I checked some of the Detroit Red Wings sites, and it seems that some Red Wing fans do not seem to care if Filppula leaves in free agency.
I would like to see Columbus take a chance on Filppula. I am not sure how much I like him at $5 million a year, which was one number I saw floated around. I would be much more interested in Mark Huss’ proposal in his draft preview of trying to get Thomas Vanek from Buffalo.
If the Jackets can acquire offensive talent outside of the draft, Columbus’ next target in the draft may be Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. A two-way player who brings scoring and a physical style of play, Ristolainen would fit in nicely with fellow young defenseman Ryan Murray.
I know fans will be upset if Columbus does not take an offensive player at 14, but when drafting teenagers you must take the best player available. If Ristolainen is available at 14, Columbus needs to take him.
McKenzie has Ristolainen eighth in his final rankings, so it will be interesting to see whether Columbus could get him at 14 or whether they would move up.
If offense is the way to go at 14, some options may include Alexander Wennberg, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk and Anthony Mantha, ranked 12-15 in McKeznie’s final rankings.
If Ristolainen is gone at 14 and all of those guys are available at 14, I would like to take a chance on Mantha. I know there are some questions about his competitive nature, but he scored 50 goals and 89 points with Val d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He has the scoring touch, and that is what Columbus needs.
If we are assuming that Columbus decided to keep all three picks, they would pick again at 19 and 27. A couple of names I like are Curtis Lazar and Ryan Hartman. Lazar, a center/right winger, had 38 goals and 61 points in 72 games with Edmonton of the WHL last season. Lazar can score and he can be physical, which is something that fits right in with what Columbus should be looking for.
Hartman, a center, had 27 goals and 64 points with Plymouth of the OHL. Hartman also plays with an edge, willing to drop the gloves and play the physical game. He sounds like a guy who will be a pest to opponents and can put the puck in the net. I would take a whole team of guys like that.
In the end, I would be surprised if Kekalainen keeps all three draft picks. I think he should try to trade one of those picks for scoring help now, and use the other two picks on the best players available.
If for some reason they keep all three picks, give me Ristolainen, Lazar and Hartman and I would be pleased.