On October 6th, 2019, the Columbus Blue Jackets were not playing hockey.
Not because they were eliminated from the on-going Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Instead, it was because they had an off day after opening the season with a pair of losses.
This October 6th, the Blue Jackets will be making their first selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, all in the midst of a wildly short (though we don't know how short) offseason.
Columbus, who did not have a first round pick last year and does not have another pick until the fourth round this time around, has the 21st selection. This is an extremely deep draft and the Blue Jackets should be able to snag a player that can become a difference maker.
Which way Columbus will go remains to be seen. Defense is the strength of the Blue Jackets as they are assembled today, but the organizational depth has more potential on the offensive side of the puck.
For a team that could select a player on either side of the puck, there are a lot of names to keep an eye on. We'll look at blue line prospects to keep an eye on in part two, but for now, let's look at three forwards that could hear their name at #21.
Connor Zary will be a first round pick, but depending on who you ask, he may go just outside of the top ten, or be one of the final picks of the round. The 6'0", 180lb center has three full CHL seasons under his belt, so there's plenty of film for Jarmo and company to dissect.
Zary has a well-above average intelligence of the game for an 18-year-old. He showed flashes of brilliance this season both in scoring (38 goals in just 57 games) and getting the puck to teammates (48 assists) while with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.
He's got some work to do on his skating, an ever-important piece of today's NHL game, but it's not a weakness. If he's still available at #21, look for him to be on the short list for Columbus.
He's got the coolest name in the draft, but there's more to Mavrik Bourque than his name. Bourque is a bit undersized, at 5'10" and 170, but he's able to use this to his advantage to create opportunities that other players may not be able to make; a la Cam Atkinson.
The 18-year-old center had 29 goals and 42 assists in 49 games for Shawinigan of the QMJHL. His passing skills are held in high regard, and he's got an advanced defensive IQ for his age and position.
He won't sniff an NHL roster this season, but has potential to grow into a solid NHL player. Play-making centers who can defend are hard to come by, so expect Columbus to consider him if available.
When discussing who has the best shot of this year's NHL draft, Noel Gunler's name is going to come up often. The big (6'2") Swede has a dynamite cannon and equally as impressive is his smart shot selection.
Gunler is great with the puck, but there's something to be desired about his play without it, and on both sides of the puck. Discipline and consistency will be key for Gunler, but he certainly has the potential to be a top six forward on any NHL roster with his pure scoring ability.
Of Zary, Bourque, and Gunler, Noel is the most likely to be available when Columbus makes their selection. If his name is called, Columbus will have a terrific sniper in their pipeline.