The Columbus Blue Jackets should be able to extract a quality player when they select fifth overall at the 2021 NHL Draft.
But that word, 'quality', is ambiguous. Historically speaking, how valuable is a fifth overall pick? And more to the point, what can the Blue Jackets realistically expect from their selection?
In 2021, it's safe to assume that every NHL team has some version of a value chart, which allows them to quickly and decisively move up and down the draft. The Blue Jackets are no different, as Assistant GM Josh Flynn created one nearly a decade ago. While that chart is obviously not publicly available, we can use The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn's chart from 2020 as a general guide. Here, he tracks Game Score Value Added, or GSVA. Roughly speaking, a GSVA of 1.0 signifies that a player's contributions would have added one win over seven seasons.
The fifth overall pick has a historical GSVA of 8.2, which means that, by Luszczyszyn's calculations, the player contributes just over one win per season through their RFA years. On the one hand, that's significant. By that measure, the fifth overall pick is 'worth' as many wins over the long run as the 19th and 20th picks combined (which really puts a damper on the Blue Jackets' other two first-round draft picks, no?). On the other hand, it's worth roughly half of what a typical first-overall pick contributes over the same time horizon.
That's why picking high in the draft is so appealing. The Athletic's Jonathan Willis wrote about this subject a year ago, and summarizes the value of the fifth overall pick nicely here:
Broadly speaking, NHL scouts do a great job of identifying teenagers with major-league talent. It’s easy to pick on the handful of high-profile disasters at the top end of the draft, but there’s a remarkable statistic that shows this truth: five.
Five here means fifth overall. That’s the median draft position of the 31 most-used forwards in the NHL in 2019-20. This elite group of forwards, all of whom play 20-odd minutes per game, were picked out early by the league’s bird dogs. Two-thirds were top-10 picks. Twenty-six were first-rounders.
Even so, expectations should be tempered. Should the Blue Jackets expect to find a great player at 5? Maybe. Of the past 10 fifth overall picks, there is, loosely speaking, one high-end, MVP candidate type of player in Elias Pettersson, two (arguably) first-line caliber forwards in Elias Lindholm and Ryan Strome (though the jury is still out on Barrett Hayton, who could become a very productive NHLer), and two first-pair defensemen in Noah Hanifin and Morgan Reilly. The two most recent fifth overall picks, Jake Sanderson and Alex Turcotte, have yet to play a game in the NHL, and it's too early to say with confidence what type of players they will be at the NHL level. Others, like Olli Juolevi, and Micahel Dal Colle, may never pan out.
|2014||Michael Dal Colle||Forward||111||21|
Looking deeper in the archives can provide more room for optimism. Jaromir Jagr and Scott Stevens were selected fifth. So, too, were Phil Kessel, Brayden Schenn, Nino Niederreiter, and Blake Wheeler.
The fifth overall pick consistently provides NHL teams with an impact player. With such a high draft pick, the stakes are equally high to add a quality player that can really improve the roster. In a year where scouting staffs have been challenged by the constraints of a global pandemic, the pressure is on to hit on this pick. The Blue Jackets should be confident that they'll be able to find a strong player to their prospect pool, and in short order, their NHL roster. But, given what history has shown us, it's unlikely this player is a franchise-altering player.