Columbus Blue Jackets 2024 draft pick Evan Gardner has big time steal potential

The Blue Jackets snagged an extra second round pick at the draft over the weekend, trading up to select goaltender Evan Gardner
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - First Round
2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft - First Round / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

When the Blue Jackets traded up to nab an extra second round pick on Saturday, they did so to address what is arguably the weakest part of their impressive prospect pool. They drafted goaltender Evan Gardner from the Saskatoon Blades (WHL).

Sure, the Jackets have some nice prospects coming along at the position. Jet Greaves has been an eye opening addition. Sergei Ivanov will take the long (Russian) route, but he looks promising. Last year, they took a late round flyer on Swedish goaltender Melvin Strahl.

The issue here is, all of these guys come with drawbacks. Greaves and Ivanov are both just 6'0". Strahl seems like quite the long-term project, to put it simply. By trading up to draft Evan Gardner, they just may have a new top prospect in goal.

Wading into the WHL slowly this past season, Gardner began his year as the backup goalie for the Blades. By the end of the season, he'd stolen the starting job decisively - which he held into the team's playoff run.

He posted a solid 21-5-0 record in the regular season, behind a sparkling .927% save percentage and a stingy 1.91 goals against average. In the playoffs, he was more than serviceable with a .910% save percentage and 2.33 goals against average.

The Blades were eventually eliminated by Jacket prospects Martin Rysavy and Denton Mateychuk's Moose Jaw Warriors. But, the team had a solid enough run for some NHL teams to really take notice of Gardner. I'm sure the Jackets watched that Moose Jaw vs Saskatoon series closely, having two players involved.

By the time it was all said and done, the Columbus scouts were impressed enough that the team felt like they couldn't let him slip by. So, they made sure to snag him at the draft last weekend, before anyone else could. I'm glad they did.

At 6'2" and 175 pounds, Gardner doesn't have the size that seems to be most important with NHL teams right now. But, he isn't small, either. In fact, he's about the same size as Sergei Bobrovsky, who has made a fine NHL career for himself.

Gardner takes up a lot of the net when he's in the butterfly, and plays the game pretty sound positionally. He has good athleticism and can make those kind of saves; but he's at his best when he makes the game look boring. Which is exactly what you want in a future #1 goaltender.

There are definitely some areas to improve upon here, such as rebound control and his tendency to play too deep in the net. But, these are certainly things that can be ironed out as he develops. Goaltenders often take a little more time to get to the NHL, so he should be able to work out the kinks in his game here.

If the early start to his junior career is any indication, the Jackets may have found money here. I really liked this pick the moment they made the selection, and I think Gardner could become one of the biggest steals from this year's draft.