Armed with the 5th pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, the Blue Jackets aren't trying to fill a positional need with it.
If they did, they'd be taking a huge leap by making one of two assumptions. The first is that the player is NHL-ready or will be NHL-ready very shortly. The second is that the Blue Jackets' positional need will still be the same in four or five years when the player is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
With that in mind, Jarmo Kekalainen told Bob McElligott that the club's strategy will be to take the overall best player available, due to the factors mentioned above.
"We'll put our order together here in the upcoming meetings, and I think we'll have a pretty good idea that it's gonna be one of these two or three players that's gonna slip to five...whoever the best one and the highest one left available for us at five, we'll pick," said Kekalainen. "We always talk about it. We take the best player available in our minds. We're not doing it on need or position. I think it's dangerous to do that because the needs can change so quickly, and once these players are ready, it could be four or five years and the needs could be completely different than they are right now. Best player available, that's the strategy, and that still holds."
Sure, the Blue Jackets have holes at center, and defensively they're a little thin. But assuming that will be the case in four to five years, and drafting accordingly with that, would not be the organization's best course. There are excellent options in this draft at both forward and defense, so no matter what route they go, they should be able to find someone who will make an impact down the road.
However, it's been tough for the Blue Jackets, and every other team, to scout players overseas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's just the amount of video that we have to do and lack of live viewing," said Kekalainen. "Ontario Hockey League didn't play at all, all year, so we're based on the underage reports from the years before...it will be a challenge, there's no question about it. We don't get to do in-person interviews, where we get a little bit of a feel, put a face to the name, and get to know the person a little bit. We're doing it by Zoom, like everybody else. It's very different. It's challenging, but it's doable. We've been at it all year. We've been watching a lot of video, a lot of repetition, we got it all. We have all of the footage on each of the players that we're considering. Putting them in the right order is a challenge as it is when times are normal. It's even more of a challenge now."
Normally, the Blue Jackets can send scouts to evaluate prospects in-person, but they're having to rely on video as they make their draft rankings, as is every other NHL team. This could make for a very even draft throughout, as there may be more late-round surprises than in other years, due to the difficulty of scouting during a pandemic.
The Blue Jackets will pick fifth this year, but they also have two other first-round picks acquired from the Maple Leafs and Lightning. They dealt their 2021 second-rounder to the Senators in the Ryan Dzingel deal. They'll pick once in the third, once in the fourth, twice in the fifth after acquiring a fifth-rounder in exchange for Ryan Murray, once in the sixth, and once in the seventh.