When it comes to drafting, the phrase 'best player available' has been borderline satirized in recent years.
Yes, Mr. General Manager, we know you want to add the highest-ranked player on your list, and thank you for your coined answer.
But the point is that every organization has a unique ethos and is at a different stage in its lifecycle. More to the point, no teams will ever come up with the same draft list, and each will be created using data points that are relevant to its immediate organizational structure.
This is particularly true in the NFL, where teams will trade up or reach for the skies to take the fourth-best quarterback when an elite position player is available. Could that team use a defensive tackle? Absolutely, but the immediate need is at quarterback.
It's perhaps less true in the NHL, where, aside from maybe the first couple of selections, players are at least one year away (if not much more) from denting an NHL lineup.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, for better or worse, therefore have maximum flexibility at the number five overall pick, and their eight draft picks thereafter, too. For a team that is in the midst of a re-whatever, the organization has needs at virtually every position. Here are the reasons for and against the Blue Jackets prioritizing each position:
So much has changed in the past year, with Max Domi and Jack Roslovic entering the fold and Pierre-Luc Dubois exiting, to say nothing of depth centers like Nick Foligno and Riley Nash leaving at the trade deadline. As it stands today, the Blue Jackets can say that some combination of Jack Roslovic, Max Domi, and Alexandre Texier as their top three centers, but it doesn't inspire much confidence.
In The Pipeline
Liam Foudy is still a prospect in my book, and AHLers Joshua Dunne and Tyler Angle are players to keep an eye on, but the center cupboard is pretty barren. It would surprise nobody to see the Blue Jackets focus on adding to the center position this summer, both through the draft, via a trade, free agency, etc.
If the Blue Jackets have a strong position throughout the organization, it's on the wing. Patrik Laine, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Eric Robinson, Gus Nyquist, Boone Jenner, are all roster players, and newcomers like Yegor Chinakhov, Gregory Hofmann, and Justin Danforth will challenge for ice time. It will be interesting to see where a player like Emil Bemstrom fits into the puzzle.
In The Pipeline
The aforementioned Chinakhov is an exciting prospect to watch, and so too are Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov, though the latter two are signed in the KHL for the upcoming season(s). After that, and it's hard to say there's much by way of NHL talent, though Carson Meyer, Kole Sherwood, and Trey Fix-Wolansky may be worth monitoring.
Just a year ago, the Blue Jackets had Ryan Murray playing on a bottom-pair with Markus Nutivaara, David Savard solidifying a shut-down second-pair, and Seth Jones anchoring a top-pairing unit. Fast forward to today, and Murray, Nutivaara, and Savard are outside of the organization, and Jones may be on the way out, too. Zach Werenski and Vladislav Gavrikov are solid pieces to be excited about, and Andrew Peeke could be in line for a much more intensive role as the club's theoretical top right-handed defenseman. After that, there are a handful of more-or-less interchangeable third-pairing guys like Michael Del Zotto, Gabriel Carlsson, Mikko Lehtonen, Dean Kukan, and Scott Harrington.
In The Pipeline
Jacob Christiansen, Tim Berni, Samuel Knazko, Eric Hjorth, Ole Julian Bjørgvik Holm, and Samuel Johannesson are all 21 years old or younger, and it's possible one or several of them become NHLers. But, as The Athletic's Corey Pronman noted, "the last time the Blue Jackets used a top-two round pick on a defenseman was Andrew Peeke in 2016." With four defensemen projected to go in the top ten (Owen Power, Luke Hughes, Brandt Clarke, and Simon Edvinsson) of the upcoming draft, there's definitely a possibility that the club will emphasize this position early at the draft.
There's no easy way to say this; the tragic passing of Matiss Kivlenieks will have lasting ramifications in the organization. The Blue Jackets had previously (reportedly) planned to move on from one of Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo this offseason, and now it's unclear if that's still the best course of action. Either way, the club has comfort with their two currently-rostered goaltenders, and that flexibility can't be said for all other positions.
In The Pipeline
Kivlenieks was in line for a potentially bigger role as early as this season. Now, 22-year old Daniil Tarasov becomes arguably the organization's most important prospect. Without any goaltending prospects behind Tarasov, the franchise will likely use some draft capital to replenish what used to be the strongest component of their prospect pool.