It typically takes at least five years before you can realistically look back upon a draft and know how a team performed. For the purposes of an honest review, I like to go back six. By the time they turn 23-24, you can somewhat safely label players as an NHL player, prospect, or bust. So today we’ll take a look at the 2016 draft for the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team who was trying to transition from bottom feeder, to playoff contender.
After a dismal 2015-16 NHL season, the Blue Jackets entered the NHL draft holding the third overall selection in the first round, after winning the third lottery pick. While their top pick would cause the entire audience to gasp in surprise, it was without question a wise decision. They would also make four additional picks throughout the day, in a draft that helped shape their current roster in a couple of big ways. Let’s take a look at each pick.
1st round (#3 overall): Pierre-Luc Dubois
When head scout Ville Siren announced the selection of Dubois, many in the hockey world were surprised. After the first two selections went as planned (Auston Matthews, #1, TOR; Patrik Laine, #2, WPG); the clear number three player in the draft was expected to be winger Jesse Puljujarvi. But the Blue Jackets saw things differently and selected the player they believed to be their future #1 center. Six years on, that selection looks to have been the indisputable correct pick.
After spending three full seasons in Columbus where he scored 65 goals and 158 points in 234 games, the Blue Jackets and their fans thought they had uncovered a cornerstone type player. Dubois was a monster on the ice, and looked to have a big breakout party in the 2020 playoff bubble, where his hat trick seemed to propel him into franchise player status with the club.
But things weren’t meant to be, as Dubois asked to be traded at some point in the offseason, for reasons never publicly mentioned. He began the 2020-21 season with the Blue Jackets, but ultimately was dealt along with a third round pick (2022) to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Laine and Central Ohio born Jack Roslovic. Two seasons later, the trade looks like an easy win for the Jackets, as they landed one of the top goal scorers in the world (Laine), as well as a productive middle-six center (Roslovic), both of whom have mentioned their desire to stick around long-term. Meanwhile, rumors are swirling that Dubois will test unrestricted free agency as soon as he can, leaving Winnipeg at an interesting cross-roads just two years after acquiring the young power forward.
While things may not have panned out for the Blue Jackets and Dubois, GM Jarmo Kekalainen took a rising asset and flipped him for the player selected one spot ahead of him, and got another quality player in the deal. For these reasons, the third overall selection in 2016 is a huge win, six years later giving the club two quality NHL players. I can’t imagine the outcome being the same, had they taken Puljujarvi.