Welcome to our next installment of 'Names To Know', a look-ahead at prospects who the Columbus Blue Jackets could select in the upcoming NHL Draft.
With two of the first dozen selections — picks #6 and #12 overall — the Blue Jackets have a chance to grab two players (for the second straight draft) that could become mainstays on the roster for years to come. There are plenty of names to be considered ahead of July's NHL Draft in a wide-open draft.
Ivan Miroshnichenko is a polarizing name in the draft, but not because of his on-ice play. In March, the 18-year-old was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. While it's believed he will make a full recovery, he missed the remainder of the 2021-22 season due to treatments, and it's likely he'll miss the entirety of the upcoming season, as well.
Obviously, the player's well-being takes precedence over his theoretical draft status, full stop. But for a team like the Blue Jackets, who are picking twice in the top half of the first round, maybe it makes sense to take a flier on a player with top-tier ability that may (read: almost will certainly) fall due to health concerns.
Miroshnichenko was trending towards being a top pick in the draft before his world was flipped on its side. At the mid-season mark, The Athletic's Corey Pronman had him ranked second overall, a "projected top of the lineup player", only behind Shane Wright. He performed exceptionally well in a number of high-profile international tournaments in 2021, first at the U18 World Championships as an underager (6-2-8 in seven games), then at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he captained Russia (4-5-9 in five games) to a gold medal.
"Miroshnichenko is a player with all the attributes you want in a top NHL winger", said Pronman. "He’s got good size and strength. He’s a strong skater. He’s highly skilled. He can make plays and he’s highly competitive. His shot is a bullet and can be a weapon from the flank on a pro power play. He can beat defenders with speed, he can put pucks through legs, he can create at evens and on the power play. He has a bulky frame and can play a powerful style of game. He projects as a top line winger."
Miroshnichenko's calling card is his shot. He can routinely beat goalies with his deceptive, hard, snapshot. He doesn't need much time and space to unleash it, and there's no reason to think that won't translate well to the NHL. He isn't a burner, and he's not a monster, but both his size and skating are typical of NHL wingers.
At one point, immediately after the diagnosis, there were questions as to whether he was even draftable. And while it's likely that he's on some NHL franchise's 'do-not-draft' lists, there seems to be growing momentum that he'll still be picked, though not as high as previously anticipated. Per Pronman, "Miroshnichenko was present at the U18s (World Championships in late April/early May) and met with several NHL teams. Following those meetings, several NHL clubs are feeling more optimistic about the prospect of drafting him compared to a month or two ago."
I'm not even sure I, personally, would take Miroshnichenko with the 12th overall pick. And I certainly don't know if the Blue Jackets him on their do-not-draft list. But GM Jarmo Kekalainen has been known to go off the board to take players earlier than the public mock drafts indicate, and this is the exact type of player Kekalainen falls in love with. With the 6th and 12th overall picks, it's not hard to imagine a scenario where the Blue Jackets get 'their guy' at six, then decide to take a flier on a player they perceive to have a ton of surplus value at 12.
But that surplus value is all hypothetical, and this is a complicated case, even aside from the obvious health concerns. In the 2020-21 season, he played just 27 games, per EliteProspects, due to COVID. That's a lot of development lost over the past two seasons, to say nothing of next season. Then there are the sociopolitical factors of selecting a Russian player given current world events. To say that there are question marks surrounding Miroshnichenko would be an understatement. Drafting him in the first round would be a high-risk proposition, but has the potential for high reward.
Recent mock draft results: