Should The Columbus Blue Jackets, Who Are Without A Second And Third Round Pick In The Upcoming NHL Draft, Look To Trade Up?

By Dan Dukart on October 1, 2020 at 8:05 am

As it stands today, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have a long break in between their first and second selections at the 2020 NHL Draft, which takes place Oct 6-7.

The NHL released the official draft order on Tuesday, where the Blue Jackets have five picks. In terms of overall selections, the Blue Jackets will pick 21st, 114th, 145th, 176th, and 207th.   

As we've previously argued, having no second or third-round pick will put a huge amount of pressure on the Blue Jackets scouts to hit on - and for the development staff to develop - a quality player with the 21st overall pick. That alone is a tall enough ask. But not having any more darts to throw until pick #114 is an issue in itself. 

Will GM Jarmo Kekalainen look to move up in the draft? Certainly. Can he? That's another question. 

We've seen Kekalainen move up in the past, most recently/notably in 2017, where he sent prospect Keegan Kolesar to the Vegas Golden Knights for the 45th pick, which he ultimately used to select Alexandre Texier. Then in 2019, Kekalainen went down the draft board, parlaying the 81st overall pick to Florida in exchange for picks 104 (Eric Hjorth) and 114 (Dmitri Voronkov). It's early, yes, but Kekalainen has shown a shrewdness at the NHL Draft that has kept his prospect pool in relatively decent shape given how few picks the organization has kept (or, at least, gone into the draft with) in recent years.  

In a recent interview with The Hockey Writer's Mark Scheig, Kekalainen admitted that he's interested in regaining a second or third-round pick. From Scheig's interview:

“We’re always looking for ways to have the most effective draft. Sometimes you use those picks for a player that you like or a prospect. Sometimes you feel like you need to make the pick. But I think the more picks you have, the better opportunity you’ll have to get more prospects out of it. That’s just a statistical fact. If we could recoup a second or third in the leading days here before the draft, that would be great. We have a lot of faith in our scouting staff and they’ve done a great job for us. So I’d like to be able to provide as much ammunition for them to show what they can do.”

Kekalainen, who comes from a scouting background, will surely desire to restock the proverbial prospect cupboard, especially just one year after the club took just three players in the 2019 NHL Draft. And while they've found other means to add players to the organization (NCAA free agents, CHL over-agers, etc.), the draft remains the best bet to consistently add talent to an organization.  

Aside from trading the 21st overall pick for two, say, third-round picks (similar to the club's 2019 third-round pick trade), one strategy to acquire a second or third-round pick would be to trade a roster player(s). But in a flat cap environment, even that becomes difficult as teams may require a money-in, money-out trade. Still, it's worth wondering, with a surplus of (middle/bottom-six) forwards, perhaps that's the only play to add draft picks. Which players could be on the move?

Eric Robinson

Robinson showed well in his first full season at the NHL level. In 50 games, primarily in a fourth-line capacity, he posted 7-5-12. He also played in 10 postseason games, scoring once. He certainly wouldn't fetch a second-round pick, but he's also become a bit redundant with the addition of Liam Foudy to the lineup.    

Kevin Stenlund

You have to give to get, and Stenlund is not someone the Blue Jackets would deal haphazardly. The big, right-handed Swede checks a lot of boxes and is on a trajectory where he could be a regular contributor this season. Still, the 24-year old is far from untradable, and if the price is right, it could make sense to move him.

Markus Nutivaara

Nutivaara had a tough season and got lost in the shuffle on a deep blue line. There has been plenty of speculation that the time to move a defenseman is now. His trade value is complicated, as his $2.7M cap hit for the next two seasons is quite affordable. He's also shown flashes where he looks like a top-four defenseman. On the other hand, after a down year, his stock price is probably lower than the Blue Jackets care to admit.

There are other, more high-profile players who could also fit the billing. A Ryan Murray or David Savard trade would surprise nobody. And if a Josh Anderson trade is deemed inevitable, perhaps Kekalainen looks at the draft as an option, though missing out on the ability to acquire a roster player in return would likely be a failing on his end.

At the end of the day, it will come down to fit. If Kekalainen is able to add draft picks to his stable, he'll surely do so. But in a tightened financial climate, that challenge is likely to be more difficult than in years past.