Hello all! it’s the most wonderful time of the year (for me, at least) as the NHL Entry Draft is approaching.
For the first time since 2015, the Blue Jackets have more picks than rounds in the draft. They enter the 2021 NHL Draft with nine picks, including three first-round picks for the first time since GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s first draft back in 2013.
As for the Blue Jackets' needs, (yes, I know the NHL Draft isn't a “need now” kind of draft like others) but in my opinion, their prospect pool is baby-pool shallow. This is mostly due to only having 18 picks in the last three drafts, with only five of those 18 picks being in the top 100. The highest pick recently was 18th overall in 2018, when the Blue Jackets selected forward Liam Foudy. If there was a pressing need for their prospect group, it's goaltenders. Currently, the Blue Jacket’s goalie prospect list is...Daniil Tarasov. Now some of you may be saying, “What about Peter Thome?” Well, it appears that the Blue Jackets will lose Thome's rights after August 15th.
Now onto the picks...
1ST ROUND-5TH OVERALL
TEAM-Djurgadens IF (SHL)
RANKING-#1 European Skater
The Blue Jackets Jackets open the draft taking the top-rated European skater in Sweden’s William Eklund. They've drafted the top European skater in two other drafts but we’re not here to talk about Russian problem children. Eklund spent last year with Djurgardens of the SHL winning the SHL’s Rookie of the Year Award just two years after another high scoring DIF forward that also wore #72 (Emil Bemstrom) won the award. Eklund scored 11 goals, adding 12 assists in 40 games. Recrutes Head Scout Grant Mcagg said in his draft guide that he thought Eklund “played better than both Alex Holtz (7th NJ) and Lucas Raymond (4th DET) and they were top seven picks a year ago." He also added that “(Eklund's) motor, competitiveness, and edge work are all elite, and while he may not shoot the puck like those two, he’s also more inclined to go to the net and score the dirty goals.” Hockeyprospect.com scout Brad Allen also said that Eklund “made Holtz and Raymond look average in comparison to their first full seasons in the SHL. That’s not easy to do.” In the Recrutes draft guide, they took a poll of five veteran NHL scouts and Eklund ranked third in the poll for best playmaker and best stickhandler while also finishing second in best sense. The only other category Eklund placed in the top five was most competitive. One scout said Eklund is "probably more of a passer, creativity guy, scoring goals around the net.”
Eklund thrives playing his off wing and has an outstanding ability to read the play and move the puck with precision. His best asset is his hockey sense and is also good without the puck knowing how to pressure opponents into turnovers and he can correctly predict where the puck will go. He's is an intriguing playmaker, his puck control is advanced, and he's able to make plays at full speed. Eklund has a quick release and it’s surprisingly powerful, but he will remain around the net for rebound opportunities. One FCHockey scout said that Eklund is “one of the most interesting prospects this year.” The scout also said that Eklund “has so many different layers on the ice and can fit into many roles in a team. He can be the hard-working player and on the other side be creative and score goals and be a front player for his team.”
Eklund missed multiple chances to dress for the Tre Kronor last year, first due to COVID in December, which caused him to miss the WJC. He then missed time after his appendix was removed in January. To finish off the season, he was injured while competing for a chance to make Sweden’s World Championship team. A quote from an NHL scout in the Hockeyprospect.com black book says Eklund is a “puck magician who led his team through a disappointing season.” Other scout quotes include an NHL scout saying “He has it all. He can make plays...he hunts down pucks, creates turnovers, he can score but is also a high-end playmaker. He can probably be a good penalty killer down the road too. I think he’s a future star.” Eklund would be the highest-drafted Swedish player for the Jackets.
1ST ROUND-24TH OVERALL
TEAM-Winnipeg (WHL)/JYP (Finland)
RANKING-11th North American Skater
For the first time since 2015, I have the Jackets taking a defenseman in the first round in Winnipeg’s Carson Lambos. Lambos, like many projected first-round picks, took his talents to Europe when the Canadian Hockey League seasons were put on hold. He headed off to Finland, joining the JYP Jyväskylä organization where he got into games with the club’s J18, J20, and even two games with the main club where he just logged over seven minutes per game as the team’s seventh defenseman. With JYP, his best and longest stretch was with the J20 team where he played in 13 games, collecting 11 points (2-9-11) and was a plus- 9. In March, when the WHL got started, Carson rejoined the Ice and played in the team’s first two games before having his season end due to a leg injury that required a “medical procedure."
Lambos is a mix of old school and new school, exuding old school toughness with a strong defensive structure. He also has the ability to skate with the puck and make impactful plays. Lambos plays a heavy game and isn't dirty about it, along with not being very fun to deal with in front of the net. He's willing to block shots and has a mature demeanor in his defensive work. Hockeyprospect.com scout Michael Farkas said, “I like the way (Lambos) plays defense. He’s not just a defender, he’s an ender.” His point shot is quick and heavy, and he locates it properly. A scout in the Recrutes draft guide said that Lambos “is not an offensive guy but he is a good skater. He’s got good puck skills and he’s smart enough." It was only for the two games he played for the team, but Lambos was an alternate captain for the Ice.
1ST ROUND-31st OVERALL
TEAM-Kitchener (OHL)/HDD Jesenice (AlpsHL-Slovenia)
RANKING-15th North American Skater
Closing out the first round for the Jackets is Francesco Pinelli of the Kitchener Rangers. Like Carson Lambos Pinelli headed to Europe while the OHL decided what it was going to do but Francesco went a bit more obscure heading to Slovenia joining HDD Jesenice, Pinelli was effective for them putting up 11 points in 13 games (5-6-11) also adding a goal in two playoff games. Pinelli is described as a “power playmaker” by the Hockeyprospect.com black book, a current example of that is Jets forward Blake Wheeler but they wouldn’t label Pinelli as tenacious. Pinelli possesses a lightning-quick release on his snapshot also having some mind-boggling one-on-one skill. He has a physical edge and can throw a mean reverse hit to protect the puck. Due to his high IQ and skill level, he’s able to play both center and wing. Pinelli seems to show up in big events putting up 11 points (4-7-11) in seven games at the U18s and scored 14 points (7-7-14) in seven games at the 2019 OHL Cup.
He's a strong skater with a good top gear. He wins battles along the boards and drives to the net with authority. He has terrific decision making rarely forcing a play. Before the pandemic brought the OHL season to an end Pinelli was having an impressive rookie year in the OHL scoring 18 goals and adding 23 assists for 41 points which was fourth among OHL rookies at the time. The only minor things Pinelli needs to work on are his skating and stickhandling and they really only need some fine-tuning. Pinelli leads by example and will go to the dirty areas, fight for pucks, and plays with a physical edge. Francesco’s work ethic is off the charts, and he never takes a shift off.
3rd ROUND-68th OVERALL
RANKING-101ST North American Skater
After not having a second-round pick due to the Ryan Dzingel trade, the Blue Jackets open day two of the draft going back to the QMJHL for the first time since 2016. Olivier Nadeau is part of one of the QMJHL’s best lines, playing with Dallas first-rounder Mavrik Bourque and potential first-round pick Xavier Bourgault. They also play together on the power play. In 34 games, Nadeau collected 45 points, including 13 goals, which was good for eighth in the league. He also led the team in scoring. Nadeau’s level of understanding of the net-front role is very advanced. Not only does he screen goalies, but he’s able to do a lot of high-end playmaking from that position.
Now in all the other prospects I've at least mentioned their skating and it being a strength...yeah, I can't do that with Nadeau it's his biggest weakness but according to the Hockeyprospect.com black book who’s scouted him since his QMJHL draft year (2019 5th overall pick) that his speed has improved. Nadeau’s hockey IQ is excellent with or without the puck. A comparison mentioned multiple times in the black book is Corey Perry “in a sense that he can help you in whatever role you provide him on your team” with HP head scout Jerome Berube also adding “I just love to watch him play on the power play, I’m going to bet he watches a lot of Corey Perry videos.” An FC Hockey scout had this to say about Nadeau “He commands corners with and [sic] intimidating physical presence but most importantly, flashes an outstanding combination of vision and touch coming out of puck battle wins.”
4th ROUND-100th OVERALL
RANKING- 12th North American Goalie
For the first time since their inaugural draft, I have the Jackets taken a goalie from the Western Hockey League in Tri-City's Talyn (pronounced Talon #dubname) Boyko. Boyko’s main attribute is how well he moves around the net for a player his size. The hockeyprospect black book claims that he moves around the net and is more coordinated and agile than goalies four inches shorter than him. Boyko is so big that he has to accommodate his shoulder under that bar and stay in a hunched position and this allows him to seal off his post while standing. Most goalies that are Talyn’s size have trouble with their posture when transferring between movements but that’s not the case with Boyko he’s able to recover and make quick adjustments and his legs completely cover the bottom of the net. He thinks the game at a decent rate and can track pucks at an above-average rate. This might be my favorite quote I've read from the HP black book “Where did this kid come from? Did someone crack open a meteorite and he just poppedout[sic]? From HP scout Brad Allen. The black book points out that high-end goalies that are this big are rare with their last example being Flyers 2015 pick Ivan Fedotov who they believe Talyn is already ahead of in terms of technical and physical tools at the same age.
5th ROUND-131st OVERALL
RANKING-25th European Skater
Now is the time for the annual Blue Jackets overager pick. The 21-year-old defender serves as one of Biel’s alternate captains last season. The McKeens draft guide says that if he isn't drafted this year, some team will probably sign him within a year or two, which I could've sworn was partly why the Jackets drafted Veini Vehvilainen in 2018 I can't find it anywhere. Moser finished seventh in defensemen scoring in the NLA scoring 30 points in 48 games (9-21-30). Moser plays in all situations for EHC Biel, he plays aggressively and is seldom caught overcommitting to one side of the ice. Moser’s poise with the puck under pressure is remarkable at times. He may not be a dynamic passer, but the most important characteristic of his playmaking is his willingness to let options develop without forcing the play.
5th ROUND-132nd OVERALL
TEAM-Tri-City (USHL) Committed to Notre Dame
RANKING-55th North American Skater
“He’s a Nick Foligno type of player” - NHL Scout...OK onto the next pick, oh all right. Hunter spent two seasons as part of the US National Team Development Program but was used mostly as a checking forward but elected to spend a year in the USHL instead of entering college. The Tri-City Storm selected him second overall in the USHL’s Phase II draft and he got to show his offensive skills scoring 49 points in 51 games (20-29-49). He has a knack for making the right play at the right time to generate chances. Strand plays above his size by playing with a physical edge and is capable of being an effective agitator and is always in the opponent’s face. He’s confident on the PK and is efficient at applying pressure also willing to sacrifice his body to block shots. He possesses a competitive nature and a willingness to go to the hard areas.
6th ROUND-164th OVERALL
RANKING-86th North American Skater
Yes, another pick, another overager from Switzerland but this one is only 19. Simon Knak has spent the last two years playing for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. This year Knak led the team in goal scoring with 16 outscoring Carolina’s 2020 first-round pick Seth Jarvis. Knak does everything well but doesn’t excel at any one thing. Simon has been the captain of the Swiss National Team at multiple levels (U16, U18, and U20). Simon has worked on his speed which has helped him on the penalty kill where he’s able to jump on loose pucks quicker he also has great off the puck anticipation. His game is simple but winning puck battles is one of his strong suits and he also is very good as a net-front presence. He’s a shoot-first type of player who is also tough to handle one on one by slower defensemen. He plays most of his game between the dots and can use the whole offensive zone to work off his teammates and escape coverage. He’s aggressive with quick hands that help him disrupt plays.
7th ROUND-164th OVERALL
RANKING-Unranked by Central Scouting
I'm kind of going from one extreme to another between my two goalie picks as I take a “small” goalie. But here’s the thing about Guskov...he stops the puck, and he wins. Guskov played in 49 of Loko’s (Lokomotiv of the KHL’s MHL team) 64 games and won 39 of them...oh and 13 of those were shutouts. The reason some believe he wasn’t drafted last year other than the under-six foot thing is you didn’t get to see him play much playing in only 13 games, but he still won 10 of them. He has the agility and awareness of a jungle cat also having unbelievably quick reflexes. He plays deep in the net but not to make himself appear bigger he relies on his speed and reflexes. He plays conservative but it works to his advantage. Overall, in the MHL which I get is a junior league Guskov has played in 74 total games (regular season and playoffs) he’s won 55 of them, 18 by shutout with a 1.63GAA and a .941 save percentage he also has collected six assists.