Rick Nash, 1st round (#1 overall), 2002 NHL Draft
Okay, okay, I get it. We started the article off talking about how depth picks are the key to building a successful franchise, and Rick Nash was a first overall pick. And no, the team didn’t exactly ignite the night very often when he was in Columbus (remember that hype line?). But, if we’re talking about the most successful draft picks in Blue Jackets history, the list has to begin and end with Rick Nash.
In his third draft as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Doug MacLean held the third overall pick in the first round. Worried that the then-Atlanta Thrashers might trade out of the #2 pick, MacLean swung a deal with Florida Panthers GM Rick Dudley, swapping his #3 overall pick for the #1 overall pick, and the teams threw mid-round picks to Atlanta to stay at #2. This guaranteed the selection of Rick Nash at first overall, the Panthers got their preferred target in Jay Bouwmeester, and everyone went home happy. All it cost the Blue Jackets? A swap of first round picks the following year – which never even took place because the Panthers wound up below the Jackets in the standings.
Nash was fresh off of back-to-back 30 goal campaigns in the OHL and hit the opening night roster for the Blue Jackets. He wasted no time in scoring his first NHL goal on opening night – with an assist from Mike Sillinger (more on him in a minute). It was the start of a storybook career for Nash in Columbus, where he would virtually write the team’s record book. Nash remains the all-time leader in goals scored (289), assists (258), points (547), and games played (674), as well as countless other categories.
But more so than his on-ice production, Nash became the figure at the center of hockey in Columbus. For a young franchise still gaining traction as an NHL team, he was an early superstar and a willing ambassador for the sport. He helped grow the sport and brought relevance to a team devoid of much other talent. The current roster of Blue Jackets sports four players from Central Ohio: Sean Kuraly, Jack Roslovic, Carson Meyer … and Mike Sillinger’s son, Cole. While it’s likely that Cole would have still found a path in hockey, it’s hard to imagine any of the other three players mentioned here, playing in the NHL, without Rick Nash.
For his contributions on and off the ice, Nash is hockey in Columbus. And for these reasons, he is the best, and most important draft pick, in the young franchise’s history.