Navigating The Blue Jackets Options In The First Round Of The NHL Draft

By Dan Dukart on October 4, 2020 at 6:00 am
Jarmo Kekalainen speaks to the media

The Columbus Blue Jackets are set to pick 21st overall in the first round of the NHL Draft on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

This year's draft will be a memorable one. With so many leagues underway in the new season, scouts will have extra tape to influence their current draft boards, as newly available footage becomes available. Will recency bias play an impact?  

GM Jarmo Kekalainen has already acknowledged that the draft, along with free-agency, will look different this year due to the economic implications from Covid-19 that resulted in a flat salary cap of $81.5M. Will that change the organization's plans? We've already discussed potential players the Blue Jackets could select, both among forwards and defensemen. Instead of further speculating on who they might pick, let's discuss the options surrounding how the club may proceed with the pick.

Best Player Available?

General Managers often talk about how their franchise will take the best player available, the same way that players talk about getting pucks in deep. It's a cop-out answer, and we've learned to accept it at face value. We know that you want to take the best player available... as long as it suits the organizational depth chart.

The Blue Jackets' prospect pool is in an unusual state, having graduated so many players in the past few seasons. It's been five years since the Blue Jackets have taken a defenseman in the first round. In 2015, they took Zach Werenski (8th) and Gabriel Carlsson (26th), and have taken just four defensemen in the past four combined drafts.  A player taken 21st overall is unlikely to play in the NHL this or next season, meaning the Blue Jackets are looking towards the future. Even with a young - and impressive - defense corps at the NHL level, the club isn't looking for immediate help. Said Kekalainen: 

“By the time (the drafted player) is ready, which could be two to five years from now, we may have totally different needs.”

The Athletic's Corey Pronman recently released his final mock draft. In it, only seven defensemen were selected in the first round (for what it's worth, Pronman mocked German LW Lukas Reichel to the Blue Jackets). In a forward-heavy first round, the Blue Jackets should avoid the temptation of taking a defenseman over the best player available.

 To Take Or To Trade

As aforementioned, the 21st overall pick is typically a player who makes an impact down the road (if at all). Even Pierre-Luc Dubois (#3) and Werenski (#8) played in the QMJHL/NCAA for a season after their draft year. Simply, the player who is selected 21st won't be a financial strain for the organization for at least a year, if not longer. 

In normal times, this is generally a moot point. But with the economic implications of Covid-19, cash-strapped organizations may prefer the 21st overall pick, for example, over a current asset with an expensive price tag. Could the Blue Jackets profit from some such situation?  

In a vacuum, teams like Columbus typically keep the 21st overall pick. But realistically, that player is far from a guaranteed success (Riley Nash is the active points-leader among 21st picks). And a team like the Blue Jackets, who are on the playoff bubble may be better off getting a player who can help the lineup immediately.  

With plenty of players on the move this off-season, Columbus may be well-positioned to take advantage of this unique market inefficiency. 

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