History Of Four: What The Blue Jackets (And Others) Have Done With The 4th Selection In The NHL Draft

By Ed Francis on May 8, 2024 at 1:45 pm
The Columbus Blue Jackets will pick 4th in June's NHL Draft. What is the historical context of the fourth overall selection?

The results are in, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are owners of the fourth overall selection in June's NHL Draft.

It's a spot that is both familiar and unfamiliar for the organization. Familiar because they've made the fourth overall selection three other times in franchise history — unfamiliar, because they haven't done so in over a decade.

Here's a look at the history of the fourth overall selection in the draft over the last quarter century:

The Blue Jackets

  • Columbus' most recent fourth pick gave them Ryan Johansen, but it was all the way back in 2010. The player with the most goals from that draft class is Jeff Skinner, who has scored 357 times in the NHL and was taken seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. He's third in points from the class of 2004, behind the top two overall picks from that year — Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. For the Blue Jackets, the 2010 draft class was one of their weakest ever; Johansen has 202 of the 209 goals scored from picks that year. Dalton Prout, taken in the sixth round, has the other seven. 
  • Before that, the Blue Jackets also selected fourth in 2003. The pick was Nikolai Zherdev. The first played nicknamed "Z" in franchise history (but not the best) was mostly a bust, though did have a handful of crafty, fun-to-watch goals during his four seasons in Columbus. This is certainly a "what could've been" type first round for the franchise, with defensemen Ryan Suter and Dion Phaneuf going 6th and 9th, respectively, and three 400+ NHL goal scorers going after Zherdev but before the end of the first round. 
  • You can never forget your first, though, as the old saying goes. The Blue Jackets took Rusty Klesla fourth overall in 2000, with the very first pick in Blue Jackets history. Klesla was a serviceable defenseman in his ten-year tenure (heh) with the club before being moved to the Arizona Coyotes at the 2010-11 season trade deadline. Ironically, Klesla was surrounded by folks who would later play for the Blue Jackets: Marian Gaborik was the third overall selection that year (34 games with the Blue Jackets), Raffi Torres was fifth (111 games with the Blue Jackets), and Scott Hartnell was the sixth pick in 2000 (234 games with the Blue Jackets).

The Good

  • The jury is still out on picks from the last few years, but for players who have had time to establish themselves — it's good news for the Blue Jackets. In three of four years between 2015 and 2018, the fourth overall selections were: Mitch Marner (2015), Cale Makar (2017), and Brady Tkachuk (2018). Makar is probably the best of the bunch and already has been the centerpiece of a team that lifted Lord Stanley's Cup, but Marner and Tkachuk are game-changing players. 
  • Two years before Marner, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft was future (and now former) Blue Jacket Seth Jones. One of the first moves former head coach John Tortorella signed off on was the acquisition of Jones from the Nashville Predators in exchange for the aforementioned Johansen. Jones was traded at his request to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021 and it's fair to say that his stint in the Windy City has been a bit underwhelming, but make no mistake about it: the Blue Jackets best days were with Jones logging big minutes on the top pair of Columbus' defense.
  • A few other good picks from #4 since the year 2000: Nicklas Backstrom (2006), Alex Pietrangelo (2008), and Evander Kane (2009). Of that bunch, give me Backstrom. Pietrangelo's defense is valuable, but it's right up the middle where the Blue Jackets have struggled with for the entirety of their franchise. Backstrom is a likely Hall of Fame center who could've changed the Blue Jackets trajectory for years to come. Unfortunately, Columbus never had the chance to take him. They picked sixth that year, taking another center — Derick Brassard. Good guy, not Backstrom.

The Bad

  • Remember that Marner—Makar—Tkachuk trio from the three years between 2015 and 2018? The odd man out there was 2016 fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi. He has 51 career goals and has been all over the world (literally) trying to jumpstart his career. The now 26-year-old played in 22 games this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored three goals. Ironically, former Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was questioned for taking Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall as opposed to Puljujarvi. Dubois had sustained success in Columbus before requesting to be dealt, and as time goes by, it turns out that the argument between 3-4 (behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine) should have started and ended a kid who ended up being the sixth overall pick: Matthew Tkachuk.
  • Thomas Hickey was the fourth overall pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007. His career wasn't a total bust, but he's probably the second-worst 4th overall pick since the year 2000. Hickey had 22 goals and 95 assists over 456 games as a defenseman. Not terrible numbers, but his defense never did live up to what it should for a top-five pick. 
  • ...but the tongue-in-cheek "winner" for the worst fourth pick in the 21st century? The guy who has many goals as I do in my NHL career: zero. Griffin Reinhart, fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft by the New York Islanders. To be fair, he was a defenseman, but Reinhart's NHL career saw him play just 37 games and total two assists. He bounced around several teams and most recently played with the Belfast Giants in the British Elite League in 2021. Woof.


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