Equally as important as fixing the situation on the blueline: the Jackets probably needed to come out of this summer with two centers if they wanted to contend. One of those was going to come from the draft, which definitely happened. The other? Well…
We may have soaked up all of our available luck at the NHL Draft this season. After the Chicago Blackhawks took the obvious player (Connor Bedard) with the first overall pick; the Anaheim Ducks went to the stage and took Swedish center Leo Carlsson second overall. Which meant that, after losing the draft lottery, coveted center Adam Fantilli was left available to them.
Jarmo wasted no time in making the pick, securing the most highly touted prospect in franchise history. It seemed to be a match made in heaven early on, as Fantilli made it clear that Columbus was his preferred destination at the draft. Excitement abounded with the player, the team, and the fanbase alike.
With an NHL ready frame, Fantilli brings size, speed, tremendous skill, and a world class work ethic to table for the Blue Jackets. If the preseason is any indication, he will be a huge difference maker for this team right away. He has been fantastic.
Jarmo’s grade for drafting Adam Fantilli: A+
There’s a lot of luck involved with a player like this falling into our laps, but they still had to make the pick. And, the rest of their draft earned rave reviews from scouts and analytics folks around hockey, so it’s hard to say anything negative about their process here.
As far as acquiring another center for the immediate future? That hasn’t really happened yet. The team did sign prospect Dmitri Voronkov, bringing him to North America for the first time this summer, and he looks like a future two-way pivot with some snarl. But he doesn’t look fully ready, and in my opinion, he’s probably most likely suited as a bottom-six guy.
The issue down the middle for the Jackets hasn’t so much been about the number of guys they have … the issue has been, they lack top-end guys. They acquired one for the future in Fantilli, who may or may not step right into that role. But otherwise, they run it back with some combination of Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, or converted winger Patrik Laine. So we enter the season again with big question marks down the middle.
Jarmo’s grade for acquiring a top-two center: C
Wait, he didn’t do anything here. Why does he get a “C” grade?
Well, because his options for acquiring a top-two center were probably not beneficial to this team, and not making any move was probably the correct decision. We’ve seen a TON of talk about acquiring Elias Lindholm from the Calgary Flames, but I’m always quick to point out that, aside from two outlying seasons, he produces at roughly the same pace as Jack Roslovic or Boone Jenner.
I get that he had great chemistry with Johnny Gaudreau, which is why he had a couple of strong seasons. I also get that he’s a strong two-way player. I agree that he’s probably exactly the kind of center we need for our team to take a step forward. But where I dig my feet into the dirt on this subject is with his age (28) and the fact that he’s going to want a massive 8-year contract, probably somewhere north of $8.5m AAV.
Not only does Elias Lindholm cost you a huge package, including first round picks, prospects, and probably an NHL player or two – he also costs you a future core piece that you won’t be able to afford to keep, once they are due for a new contract. And, most importantly, while he would be an upgrade; can you really view him as the piece that puts this team over the top as a Stanley Cup contender? I have a hard time believing it.
Jarmo’s overall grade for the summer: C-
Major upgrades to the roster and some draft luck bring up what would easily be an “F” grade for the Mike Babcock fiasco. That whole process was so embarrassing, that even a strong offseason otherwise, gives our management a low grade. Even though he made major improvements to the roster and had a great draft, the Jackets come into the season with question marks down the middle, in goal, and behind the bench. This feels like a make or break year for this management regime, and a lot has to go right for this team to go anywhere.