Draft philosophy is one of the most interesting things to me.
How teams attack the draft, the players they target and the depths they go to find players is fascinating. Under GM Jarmo Kekalainen, the Blue Jackets have made many picks that, at the time, made you scratch your head.
This goes all the way back to Kekalainen’s first draft when the Blue Jackets took Marko Dano 27th overall. Dano was rated by Central Scouting as the 12th international skater, and no major scouting service had him in their top 30. The Blue Jackets went ahead and picked their guy, and it ended up working out for them. These types of picks have continued, whether it players passed over in prior drafts like a Markus Nutivaara or Elvis Merzlikins, players who played in non-traditional markets like Alexandre Texier, or even just the small and skilled CHL player like Oliver Bjorkstrand or Vitali Abramov.
If the Blue Jackets continue with this trend here are couple “off the board” names to keep an eye on.
Going to the Non-Traditional Market: Liam Kirk
If there's one player that closely resembles the story of Alexandre Texier, it’s Liam Kirk. Kirk was born in Great Britain and plays in the British pro league, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). This is about as non-traditional as you can get; Kirk put up nine goals and seven assists in 52 games, the best production ever for a player of his age.
He’s a skilled forward who has good size at 6-foot-2. He’s a good stick handler and has confidence to carry the puck through the neutral zone against bigger and more experienced players. Playing against his peers at the World Juniors D2A tournament he lit it up, leading the tournament with 14 points in five games. He also played five games for Team Britain at the World Championship D1 tournament and while he was held without a point, Britain did win the tournament and advanced to the top group next season.
He’s not ranked high, as NHL Central Scouting has him as the 65th-best European Skater, but Kirk is someone worth taking later in the draft.
The Re-Entry Player: Adam Mascherin
What a weird situation this is. Mascherin was the 38th overall selection at the 2016 draft by the Florida Panthers. And for whatever reason, the Panthers had very little communication with Mascherin and that soured him on the organization. He opted not to sign with Florida and will re-enter the draft. It was an odd situation for a team to have that poor of communication with a high second-round pick, especially when Mascherin should have been one of their top prospects.
Mascherin followed up his draft season by scoring 100 points for the Kitchener Rangers. He was one of just three OHL players to hit the century mark that season. This past season his performance dipped a bit to 86 points, but he scored 40 goals and was still a top-10 player in the league. Mascherin is smaller, stocky player; he isn’t the most creative but he has a wicked shot. His skating is poor, which is why teams are pausing instead of jumping all other themselves to get him.
While scouting Kole Sherwood, the Blue Jackets would have seen a lot of Mascherin this season. If they think they can improve his skating, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Blue Jackets take a chance on Mascherin in 2018.
The Swedish Professional: Einar Emanuelsson
The Blue Jackets have spent their fair share of time scouting Sweden, picking six players from the Swedish system over the last five drafts. They picked Jonathan Davidsson last year, an older more experienced player, with a couple pro seasons already under his belt. If they go that direction again they could be looking at a player like Emil Emanuelsson. Emanuelsson can score, with 13 goals and 13 assists in 45 games this season. His 11 even strength goals put him 18th in the SHL. He’s someone like Davidsson, in that you could pick him late and could be ready for the AHL sooner rather than later.
The Veteran Goalie: Veini Vehvilainen
It’s a real surprise Vehvilainen hasn’t been drafted yet. He’s a 1997-born goalie and was passed over his first draft season despite a solid .917 save percentage in Finland’s second division, the Mestis. He was really good for Finland at the U18 tournament with a .949 save percentage in seven games.
Since that season he has continued to play well, winning gold at the World Juniors with Finland in 2016, and followed that up with the best save percentage in the tournament in 2017. This past season he lead Karpat to the Championship in the Liiga with a .925 save percentage in regular season and then an even better .933 in the playoffs. For his efforts he was named best goalie in the league.
The only flaw for Vehvilainen is that he’s undersized for a goalie, only listed at 6-feet. There is room in the NHL for a smaller goalie if they prove they can play. Juuse Saros of Nashville looks to be the next up-and-coming young goalie, and he’s listed at 5-foot-10.