Comparing How The Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs Built Their Rosters Ahead Of Stanley Cup Qualifier Matchup

By Colin Hass-Hill on July 31, 2020 at 9:05 am
Zach Werenski

In less than a week, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs will clash.

They'll meet on Sunday to kick off a five-game series with a berth in the playoffs on the line.

In order to learn a little bit more about how they compare, we put together a look at how the two teams were built. A few similarities exist, including the importance of hitting on first-round draft picks and both teams filling out their rosters with two-way contracts and entry-level deals. However, Columbus will rely much more heavily on mid-round and late-round draft picks, while Toronto needs players landed in trades to come through for them on the ice.

Let's take a look at how the Blue Jackets' 31-players postseason roster and the Maple Leafs' 30-player postseason roster compare.

NHL Entry Draft: First-round picks

Blue Jackets (6)

  • Ryan Murray: Drafted No. 2 overall in 2012
  • Pierre-Luc Dubois: Drafted No. 3 overall in 2016
  • Zach Werenski: Drafted No. 8 overall in 2015
  • Alexander Wennberg: Drafted No. 14 overall in 2013
  • Liam Foudy: Drafted No. 18 overall in 2018
  • Gabriel Carlsson: Drafted No. 29 overall in 2015

Maple Leafs (7)

  • Auston Matthews: Drafted No. 1 overall in 2016
  • Mitch Marner: Drafted No. 4 overall in 2015
  • Morgan Rielly: Drafted No. 5 overall in 2012
  • William Nylander: Drafted No. 8 overall in 2014
  • Timothy Liljegren: Drafted No. 17 overall in 2017
  • Frederik Gauthier: Drafted No. 21 overall in 2013
  • Rasmus Sandin: Drafted No. 29 overall in 2018

Some of the best players on both teams in this five-game series were selected in the first round, with seven of them having gone among the top-10 selections in their respective drafts.

Shocking? Not exactly, considering how many high first-round draft picks each team made in the 2010s.

Six players Columbus picked in the first round over the last eight years will suit up in blue, red and silver this postseason. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Zach Werenski will take charge of both the team's forwards and defensemen, respectively. Dubois led the Blue Jackets with 49 points in the regular season, and Werenski's 20 goals were the most among defensemen in the NHL. Wennberg, Murray and Foudy could each be part of the lineup, too.

A number of Toronto's best players were former first-rounders, too. Auston Matthews, the only top overall pick on either roster, leads the way with 80 points – including 47 goals and 33 assists – this season. Mitch Marner was voted to the NHL All-Star game this year, and Nyland managed 59 points in the regular season. 

NHL Entry Draft: Mid-round picks

Blue Jackets (8)

  • Andrew Peeke: Drafted in the second round (No. 34) in 2016
  • Boone Jenner: Drafted in the second round (No. 37) in 2011
  • Alexandre Texier: Drafted in the second round (No. 45) in 2017
  • Scott Harrington: Drafted in the second round (No. 54) in 2011
  • Kevin Stenlund: Drafted in the second round (No. 58) in 2015
  • Joonas Korpisalo: Drafted in the third round (No. 62) in 2012
  • Elvis Merzlikins: Drafted in the third round (No. 76) in 2014
  • Oliver Bjorkstrand: Drafted in the third round (No. 89) in 2013

Maple Leafs (3)

  • Travis Dermott: Drafted in the second round (No. 34) in 2015
  • Nick Robertson: Drafted in the second round (No. 53) in 2019
  • Joseph Woll: Drafted in the third round (No. 62) in 2016

The discrepancies in how the two teams are constructed begin when highlighting the second and third rounds in the NHL draft.

Only three players the Maple Leafs picked in the second and third rounds join them in the bubble, while eight one-time second- or third-round Columbus selections will represent the Blue Jackets.

Both of Columbus' possible starting goalies – Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins – were picked in the middle rounds. Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored a team-leading 21 goals in the regular season, was picked near the end of the third round seven years ago. Booner Jenner and Alexandre Texier will aid the offensive attack, too.

Toronto could use Nick Robertson and Travis Dermott, but neither are game-changers.

NHL Entry Draft: Late-round picks

Blue Jackets (6)

  • David Savard: Drafted in the fourth round (No. 94) in 2009
  • Josh Anderson: Drafted in the fourth round (No. 95) in 2012
  • Emil Bemstrom: Drafted in the fourth round (No. 117) in 2017
  • Cam Atkinson: Drafted in the sixth round (No. 157) in 2008
  • Vladislav Gavrikov: Drafted in the sixth round (No. 159) in 2015
  • Markus Nutivaara: Drafted in the seventh round (No. 189) in 2015

Maple Leafs (2)

  • Pierre Engvall: Drafted in the seventh round (No. 188) in 2014
  • Andreas Johnsson: Drafted in the seventh round (No. 202) in 2013

The gap is even starker when looking at the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.

Multiple one-time late-rounders could swing the series, including Cam Atkinson, who is being counted on to step up as a scorer after a somewhat disappointing regular season in terms of his efficiency. David Savard – who was drafted over a decade ago – and Vladislav Gavrikov will be counted on to slow down Toronto's high-powered offense. 

Only two Toronto players picked in the final four rounds of the NHL draft will join the team, and both were selected in the final round. Pierre Engvall, who had 15 points in the regular season, could have a role in the Maple Leafs' plans, but it'll be minimal.

Free Agency

Blue Jackets (2)

  • Riley Nash: Signed a three-year, $8.25 million deal in 2018
  • Gus Nyquist: Signed a four-year, $22 million deal in 2019

Maple Leafs (2)

  • John Tavares: Signed a seven-year, $77 million deal in 2018
  • Jason Spezza: Signed a one-year, $700,000 deal in 2019

Of the 61 players across both teams, only four were acquired as free agents.

Among the quartet, Tavares and his $77-million contract stand out. A former No. 1 overall draft pick, he left the New York Islanders two years ago in a publicized split to join the Maple Leafs. The six-time NHL All-Star and 2015 Hart Trophy finalist has continued his stellar play in Toronto. He had 26 goals and 34 assists in the regular season.

Nyquist will be an important piece of the Blue Jackets' offensive attack after finishing second on the team during the 2019-20 season with 42 points. He had 27 assists.

Two-Way Contract/Entry-Level Contract/AHL Contract

Blue Jackets (6)

  • Dean Kukan: Signed a two-year, entry-level contract in 2015
  • Matiss Kivlenieks: Signed a three-year, entry-level contract in 2017
  • Nathan Gerbe: Signed a one-year, two-way contract in 2018
  • Eric Robinson: Signed a two-year, entry-level contract in 2018
  • Adam Clendening: Signed a one-year, two-way contract in 2018
  • Stefan Matteau: Signed a one-year AHL contract in 2019

Maple Leafs (4)

  • Justin Holl: Signed an entry-level contract in 2016
  • Kasimir Kaskisuo: Signed a two-year, two-way contract in 2016
  • Calle Rosén: Signed a two-year, entry-level contract in 2017
  • Ilya Mikheyev: Signed a one-year, entry-level contract in 2019

Including two-way contracts, entry-level contracts and AHL contracts together for the sake of brevity, the Blue Jackets edge the Maple Leafs with six players acquired by those means representing them in the bubble.

A sizable portion of these 10 players won't have much of an impact on the five-game series.

None of the six Blue Jackets will likely play major roles in the postseason. Nathan Gerbe, Eric Robinson and Dean Kukan all could get on the ice, though, for yet-to-be-determined amounts of time. Kivlenieks will serve as the third-string goaltender.

For Toronto, Justin Holl is the player to watch among its group of four. He 18:30 minutes per game in the regular season as a defenseman.


Blue Jackets (3)

  • Nick Foligno: Acquired via trade from the Ottawa Senators in 2012
  • Seth Jones: Acquired via trade from the Nashville Predators in 2016
  • Devin Shore: Acquired via trade from the Anaheim Ducks in 2020

Maple Leafs (12)

  • Zach Hyman: Acquired his rights via trade from the Florida Panthers in 2015
  • Martin Marincin: Acquired via trade from the Edmonton Oilers in 2015
  • Kasperi Kapanen: Acquired via trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015
  • Frederik Andersen: Acquired via trade from the Anaheim Ducks in 2016
  • Alexander Kerfoot: Acquired via trade from the Colorado Avalanche in 2019
  • Nic Petan: Acquired via trade from the Winnipeg Jets in 2019
  • Tyson Barrie: Acquired via trade from the Colorado Avalanche in 2019
  • Cody Ceci: Acquired via trade from the Ottawa Senators in 2019
  • Jake Muzzin: Acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Kings in 2019
  • Jack Campbell: Acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Kings in 2020
  • Kyle Clifford: Acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Kings in 2020
  • Denis Malgin: Acquired via trade from the Florida Panthers in 2020

This is perhaps the most significant discrepancy in how the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs built their respective rosters.

To say Columbus hasn't used trades to get where they are right now wouldn't be accurate. Nick Foligno has now spent eight seasons with the Blue Jackets is the team's captain, and Seth Jones has become one of the NHL's best defensemen. It would be a completely different team without them. But they're two of just three players who were brought to Columbus in trades, and both were reeled in four and eight years ago. 

While the Blue Jackets have brought in one players via trade in each of the last three presidential election cycles, more than 1/3 of Toronto's postseason roster is made up of players acquired in trades.

And they aren't all bottom-rung players. Several key Maple Leafs were pulled in with trades over the last six years.

Frederik Andersen has a 29-13-7 record this season as a starting goaltender for Toronto. Zach Hyman, whose rights were acquired from Florida in 2015, skates on the first line, managing 37 points in the regular season. Cody Ceci and Jake Muzzin will be on the top defensive pairings. Kasperi Kapanen and Kasperi Kapanen each accumulated more than 25 points in the regular season.