Columbus Blue Jackets 2015 Draft
Last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the kings of bad breaks. They led the NHL in man games lost after virtually everyone on their roster seemed to break something.
Still, armed with an extremely talented line up and a stocked prospect pipeline, the Blue Jackets are building a future powerhouse club. Their one glaring organizational need entering the 2015 draft was for a franchise defenseman. And, picking No. 8 overall due to a injury-marred 2014-15, they got one.
Zach Werenski hails from nearby Michigan, and has a mind-boggling two-way skill set and one of the hardest point shots to come along in years. The malady-plagued Columbus team needed more doctors than any other NHL squad last season, but “just what the doctor ordered” would be as apropos a description of Werenski as anyone could come up with.
The University of Michigan rearguard tops our latest Blue Jackets prospect rankings.
Columbus Blue Jackets Top-Five Prospects
Scale to 10: 10=Generational Talent, 9=Franchise Player, 8=NHL All-Star, 7=NHL Regular, 6=Fringe NHL-er
- LD Zach Werenski (8.5) Zach started last season for the Wolverines as the youngest player in the NCAA, often lining up against 22 and 23 year old men… and he absolutely dominated them. A superlative skater with a deadly shot and the strength to body off men half a decade older than he is like he is swatting mosquitos. Needs to improve a tendency to follow the puck too much in the defensive zone, but once he works out the easily correctible kinks he is absolutely a franchise defensive talent.
- LW/C Sonny Milano (8.0) There are not many prospects as fun to watch as Milano — the Massapequa, NY native combines blazing speed with creative on-ice vision and a magical set of hands — he can stickhandle a donut through an army ant hill. Make no mistake — this kid has top-line, point-per-game upside at the NHL level.
- C Alexander Wennberg (7.5) The young Swede does everything well — he plays a two-way game, displays a tremendous hockey IQ, and his passes are always on the tape. More of a playmaker than a scorer and more of an all-around player than a highlight reel talent, he will fill a valuable role on a secondary scoring line.
- LW Paul Bittner (7.5) Bittner’s stock dropped in the weeks immediately preceding the draft despite a strong finish to his WHL season for the Portland Winterhawks. The 6’5″ forward skates well for his size and has a pretty good set of hands, but questions were raised due to a lack of his initiating a physical game despite his immense size. He’s a very raw prospect who has equal chances of developing into a first-line power forward or a fourth line grinder. Time will tell.
- LW Kerby Rychel (7.5) Rychel has been rumored to be on the trading block due to the Jackets depth on LW, but he is a potential Lucic-type force on the wing. A big body who likes to throw his weight around, Rychel has some scoring pop and is not afraid to throw down the gloves. In fact, judging by the way he plays, he’s pretty much not afraid of anything.
As I was writing this, my phone blew up with the news that Columbus had just acquired Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks in a seven-player deal. How good is Saad? He’s as valuable as Dougie Hamilton, who was far and away the best player dealt this offseason leading up to the Saad deal. Better yet for Jackets fans — GM Jarmo Kekalainen gave up far less to get the Hawks high-flying winger than Calgary gave up for Hamilton.
After another terrific draft class was brought into the Columbus fold, the Saad acquisition absolutely makes the Blue Jackets one of the huge winners of the 2015 NHL offseason. This deal gives Columbus as much depth on the LW as any team in hockey with the trifecta of Saad/Foligno/Hartnell. It is safe to bet that Columbus will be looking to deal from their prospect depth to acquire a top-line right wing to join Ryan Johansen and Saad.
The biggest reason for all this prospect depth has been the excellent job Jarmo Kekalainen has done at the draft table in his reign as Columbus GM. 2015 was no different.
After getting a much-needed franchise d-man in Werenski, Kekalainen traded up again into the first round, acquiring the No. 29 pick from Toronto and getting a 6’4″ Swede in Gabriel Carlsson. A smooth skater who plays a responsible defensive game, Carlsson has tons of upside though he is several years away from the NHL.
After taking Bittner early in the second round, Kekalainen rocked it with his next two picks. At No. 58 overall, he nabbed Kevin Stenlund, an under-the-radar 6’3″ center with a strong two-way game who might have been more dominant in the face-off circle than any player available in the draft. In the third round, the Jackets nailed it again with intimidating Seattle Thunderbirds RW Keegan Kolesar, undoubtedly the best fighter in the WHL. Dominant along the boards and in the corners, Kolesar has a fairly decent scoring touch for a man of his pugilistic talents.
The Blue Jackets are poised at a run towards the top of the Metropolitan Division. They are loaded with talent, and have added to the mix a top-line game-breaker in Saad and the young franchise defenseman they desperately needed in Werenski. Perhaps all they need now is to figure out how to stay out of the training room and on the ice.