Last week, we took a look back at the NHL Entry Drafts of 2012, 2013, and 2014 and saw that the Columbus Blue Jackets had a smattering of good picks, but by and large underperformed.
Were the drafts of 2015, 2016, and 2017 any better? Today, we review the drafts of more recent years and see if the draft strategy by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen paid off.
The Blue Jackets had a pair of first round picks in the 2015 draft, and went defense on both of them. Zach Werenski went 8th overall and needless to say, has worked out well. To some extent, the jury is still out on the club's 29th pick, Gabriel Carlsson. He's played just 37 games with the Blue Jackets thus far, but is expected to get a chance at a full-time gig on the second or third defensive pairing in what appears to be a rebuilding year.
The middle of this draft had a few picks that never made it to the NHL, but a nod to Kevin Stenlund, who Kekalainen selected at 58th overall in the second round.
Columbus ended this draft in a positive fashion on the blue line, using their 6th and 7th round picks on Vladislav Gavrikov (159th overall) and Markus Nutivarra (189th). Gavrikov could compete for a spot alongside Werenski on the Blue Jackets top defensive line this season, and Nutivarra has proven himself as a serviceable third pairing defenseman. (Fun fact on Nutivarra: His 274 career games played is more than anyone drafted outside of the first round with the exception of Sebastian Aho and Brandon Carlo, both taken early in the second round. Aho went just six picks after Carlsson, and you have to assume he was at least under consideration from the Blue Jackets before deciding to go defense.)
DRAFT GRADE: B
2016: Laine, kind of.
Columbus didn't have much to work with in the 2016 NHL Draft. They did have the third overall pick - the selection was Pierre-Luc Dubois - but they had only four other selections in the entire draft, and only one of them - Andrew Peeke in round two - has more than five career games at the NHL level.
So let's talk about Dubois. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine went 1-2 in the draft, and Kekalainen surprised folks with Dubois over another forward, Jesse Puljujarvi. Puljujariv went right after Dubois to the Oilers at #4, but there's little question now that the Blue Jackets made the right call. Dubois had some solid years and growth in Columbus before asking out after signing an extension last fall, and the return was Laine, so in a weird way, the Blue Jackets ended up moving up a slot in this draft.
This was a top-heavy draft class, and the proof is in the numbers: Only two picks later than the second round have more than 40 points in the NHL: Defenseman Adam Fox, who went in the second round at #66 to the Calgary Flames, and winger Jesper Bratt, a sixth round selection by New Jersey.
So did the Blue Jackets miss with third round pick Vitaly Abramov, sixth round selection Peter Thome, and seventh round pick Calvin Thurkauf? Sure, but so did every other team, so it begs the question: Can you miss when there's not actually a target?
DRAFT GRADE: C+, but that's on a curve.
2017: "Well, We're Waiting!"
Alexandre Texier, Daniil Tarasov, and Emil Bemstrom. Without a first round pick in the 2017 draft, these were the first three selections by Kekalainen in the second, third, and fourth rounds of the draft. There's not much to look at beyond the Bemstrom pick, but Carson Meyer (6th round, 179th overall) can't be ruled completely out yet as a future NHL'er.
So, with Tarasov just making his way into the United States, and Texier and Bemstrom entering seasons that very well could define their NHL ceiling, this draft class gets an incomplete grade. If even two of the three work out, Kekalainen and crew could call this draft a success. Time will tell, and that time is coming near.
DRAFT GRADE: Incomplete