This is part one of a two-part offseason series on the Blue Jackets draft and impending free agency period.
Before I do any recapping of any kind, the hockey world lost three key contributors recently and I would like to preface my draft piece with my condolences to the family, friends and teammates of Luc Bourdon and Mickey Renaud. Bourdon died tragically in a motorcycle accident near his home on May 29, 2008 at the age of 21. Renaud collapsed and died at his Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada home on February 18 at the age of 19.
Also, condolences go out to the entire Blue Jackets family and the family of late owner John H. McConnell. McConnell brought the Blue Jackets expansion franchise to Columbus in 2000 and once called the team his “gift to the city”. McConnell turned a $600 loan into a multi-billion dollar steel industry, known as Worthington Industries. Mr. Mac, as he was lovingly referred to, succumbed to cancer on April 25, 2008.
As I sat and watched the first round of the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft on Friday night, I imagined the possibilities. If only I had pushed myself harder, or my parents had pushed me, to play hockey when I was taking learn-to-skate classes at the Brooklyn Recreation Center at the ripe, young age of 3, I thought. Unfortunately, after reaching Level 3 with that endeavor, I did not skate again until the age of 14. I have no recollection as to why, but it is one of my only life regrets thus far.
Then, Steven Stamkos went #1 overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Clearly the happiest day of his life to date, I stared dumbfounded at the TV. Steven Stamkos’s position, height, weight, and previous team were on the screen. As was one other tidbit of information. Steven Stamkos was born February 2, 1990.
Steven Stamkos and 22 other first round draft picks are four years younger than me. It’s hard to make a 21-year-old feel old. The NHL Entry Draft will do that. Players need only be 17 years old to be eligible to be selected in the seven-round event that takes place every June. The other seven players selected as first rounders were born in ’89.
Building Through The Draft
The Columbus Blue Jackets are the only franchise in the National Hockey League to have never made the playoffs. Some relocated teams have not made it since they changed addresses, but did make it in their previous cities. The Blue Jackets have picked in the top ten of every Entry Draft since their inception in 2000.
Previous first round selections are (year, # selection): Rostislav Klesla (2000, #4); Pascal Leclaire (2001, #8); Rick Nash (2002, #1); Nikolai Zherdev (2003, #4); Alexandre Picard (2004, #8); Gilbert Brule (2005, #6); Derick Brassard (2006, #6); Jakub Voracek (2007, #7). Other notable selections include: Ole-Kristian Tollefson (2002, #65); Dan Fritsche (2003, #46); Kris Russell (2005, #67); Jared Boll (2005, #101) Steve Mason (2006, #69)
The Blue Jackets did well from 2000-2004 with first round picks, but very few of their later round selections played significant time. Their best draft has been 2005 in terms of NHLers from the draft, but Gilbert Brule has never materialized into the player that the organization, and specifically, coach Ken Hitchcock has wanted him to become. Stefan Legein, 37th overall in 2007, appears to be a contributor in the near future, along with Brassard and Voracek. The website Hockey’s Future, specializing in both drafted and draft-eligible prospects, lists Voracek as the #6 prospect in their top 50. Brassard is #14 on that same list. Mason is #47 on the list, and was the starting goaltender for the 2008 Team Canada World Junior Championship team.
The 2008 Draft Selections
The top five came and went before the Blue Jackets made their first selection. Tampa Bay took unanimous #1 overall pick Steven Stamkos. Drew Doughty went #2 to the Los Angeles Kings. Zac Bogosian went #3 to the Atlanta Thrashers. At #4, the St. Louis Blues took Alex Pietrangelo. The Islanders traded the #5 pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs who took Luke Schenn.
With the top four defensemen off the board in four picks, the Columbus Blue Jackets were in a position to take the best player available.
# 6 - Nikita Filatov – Ht: 6’/Wt: 172/Pos: LW/Prev. Team: Moscow CSKA-2 RSL
Nikita Filatov was the #3 ranked prospect in the International Scouting Service final top 30 just before the draft. That would make him the second best offensive prospect in the draft. One of the knocks on Filatov is that he has not played against seasoned veteran competition, playing very little in the Russian Super League, mostly succeeding in international competition against players his own age.
The following is one scout’s take (from russianprospects.com):
A talented scoring forward who is capable of creating offensive chances for himself and his linemates. Possesses excellent skating ability and a very quick top gear. An above average puckhandler, but is not as effective in traffic and this is something that he has been working and improving over the past season. Hasn’t yet filled in his 6’0 frame, though has gained about 7-10 pounds of bulk over the past season. Does not have a strong physical presence and will likely continue developing and becoming more capable of handling physical pressure, but will not likely ever be able to dish it out at the same level due to his size limitations. Has a very dangerous wrist shot and very soft hands – capable of making very precise passes. Defensively tries to help, but is marginal in his own zone, preferring to break out into an offensive rush. Overall a very talented forward who continues to improve every year and doesn’t hesitate to take on challenges.
At this point, it is necessary to explain one of the intricacies that used to exist in the NHL Entry Draft. Many general managers were wary to draft Russian players because the NHL organizations had to pay the Russian team to get the player to come to the United States. Some Russian players come to the United States and long for their homeland and decide to go back. It is difficult for them to assimilate to the North American game, a much more physical game with smaller rink dimensions. Not to mention learning to speak English.
Perhaps one of the best changes to the draft occurred when former Soviet Red Army goaltender Vladislav Tretiak took over the Russian hockey program. He understands the importance to these kids of coming over to North America and playing at the most elite level in the world. He ended these restrictions between the IIHF and the NHL, opening the door for GMs to be less concerned when drafting Soviet players.
In an interview done with Dean Millard and Guy Flaming from The Pipeline Show, Filatov commented on his desire to come to North America. “I’ll stay there if I’m playing in North America. I’m not renewing my contract in Russia.” That issue was probably the first question asked by scouts and GMs when interviewing Filatov. Filatov has been taught English since the age of 4 by his mother, an English teacher in Russia. It’s a huge hurdle that the Columbus Blue Jackets do not have to worry about.
Projection: Personally, I think that Filatov will top out in the NHL as a 70-80 point a season player. Hopefully, he comes over to North America and decides to enter himself in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft which takes place in a couple of weeks. If he can assimilate himself into the North American game and put on 15-20 pounds, he could be a Blue Jacket by 2010. The fact that he already speaks good English and knows what he needs to work on is huge going forward. He also possesses good leadership skills and he is certainly a pick to try and appease Nik Zherdev and get him to stay and develop as a Blue Jacket.
#34 Cody Goloubef – Ht: 6’/Wt: 195/Pos: D/Prev. Team: U of Wisconsin (WCHA)
Cody Goloubef was the 34th ranked player by ISS in the 2008 Entry Draft. He was the youngest player in the NCAA this past season, playing 36 games for the Badgers. He will stay at Wisconsin at least through his junior year, and probably not be rushed whatsoever by the Blue Jackets.
Here is NHL Central Scouting Jack Barzee’s take:
When I first saw Cody I really liked his game. He is compact and he's strong with a wide stance. He's a good, powerful skater. He thinks the game well, has a really good shot and makes that first pass consistently. He is a solid two-way player that is going to play on your power-play. He played for a defensive style team at Wisconsin. His conservative play meant that I don't think a lot of scouts have seen the offensive side of him enough, but he's a potential top-four defensemen in the National Hockey League, maybe top-three. He's playing against guys who are at least three years older than him - if he was playing in the USHL he might have the puck all the time and be dominating, but he handled it well -- he's a solid kid.
He fits ideally into the Blue Jackets’ plans for the future if he continues to develop. The Blue Jackets are in desperate need of a player who can consistently make the first pass to get out of the zone and be a solid defenseman in both ends of the rink. Reports say that he is a terrific skater with very advanced poise and awareness for his age.
As a 2nd rounder, putting his ceiling at a top three defenseman might be a little generous, but even a solid top six defenseman is a great pick. The Blue Jackets need help on defense, there’s no question about that. Goloubef will not be the earth-shattering defenseman that they lack by any means, but he should be a sound NHL defenseman.
Projection: Certainly, Goloubef has a lot of growing and maturing to do before he’s going to become a viable option for the Blue Jackets. With plenty of time to develop him and the ability to keep a very close eye on him, he should become a top four defenseman by 2011-2012. He projects to be a very sound defenseman with a reputation for being able to exit the zone, either by pass or with his legs, and help create sustained offense in the attack zone. This is my favorite pick of the draft for Columbus.
#107 Steven Delisle – Ht: 6’5”/Wt: 209/Pos: D/Prev. Team: Quebec (QMJHL)
Delisle’s a project pick, having the size that cannot be taught, but lacking the aggression that can be developed. He’s positionally strong, but never going to be much of an offensive threat. Once again, though, being a 4th round pick, if he even makes it as a regular, it’s a tremendous pick for Columbus.
Projection: At best, a bottom pairing defenseman or a first alternate capable of playing 12-13 minutes a night against the other team’s bottom two lines.
#118 Drew Olson – Ht: 5’11”/Wt: 215/Pos: D/Prev. Team: Brainerd HS (MN)
Drew Olson has committed to further his hockey career and education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, after being a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey for the best all-around high school hockey player.
Projection: Like Delisle, Olson will probably top out as a bottom pairing guy, though the time at UMD can do nothing but help. He’s got the size to compete at that level and hopefully one of him or Delisle will make it to help provide depth.
#127 Matthew Calvert – Ht: 5’9”/Wt: 164/Pos: LW/Prev. Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Calvert was nearly a point-per-game player during the 2007-2008 season and that led to his 24th ranking for North American born players. Curtis Hunt, a head coach in the WHL said about Calvert, “He's just a real good, skilled player who plays hard and competes.”
Projection: He could be a third line forward, but will need to bulk up and prove that he can handle bigger, stronger, faster competition. He’ll continue his career in the WHL next year.
#135 Tomas Kubalik – Ht: 6’2”/Wt: 189/Pos: RW/Prev. Team: Plzen (Czech Elite League)
Kubalik was ranked #21 for European skaters, so he may be a bit of a steal where he was taken. With his size, he could become a poor man’s David Vyborny (also from the Czech Republic).
Projection: Like any other forward taken this late, his ceiling is that of a third line forward. With his ability and the reputation of Czechs for being good two-way forwards, he could provide good depth in the future.
#137 Brent Regner – Ht: 5’10”/Wt: 170/Pos: D/Prev. Team: Vancouver (WHL)
Regner only managed six points over 64 games for Vancouver during the 06-07 season. He was a +24, however, a testament to his stay-at-home style and strong positional play.
Projection: He could be a solid shutdown third pairing guy, similar to a Jan Hejda caliber defenseman if he matures and overachieves a bit.
#157 Cameron Atkinson – Ht: 5’9”/Wt: 165/Pos: RW/Prev. Team: Avon Old Farms (HS)
Atkinson has committed to Boston College, so he will be a long way away as well, if he even makes it to the NHL. He will be playing against some tremendous talent in Hockey East and it will be interesting to see how much ice time he sees in his first two years. The most notable graduate from Avon HS is Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch.
Projection: With some time to grow into his small body, he’ll learn what the Beanpot is all about in the Northeast. As stated above about Kubalik, the best you can hope for here is a third line forward.
#187 Sean Collins – Ht: 6’3”/Wt: 185/Pos: C/Prev. Team: Waywayseecappo (MJHL)
Collins is committed to the Cornell Big Red for the upcoming year after playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. In 60 games, he was second in scoring with 115 points. A notable player from the MJHL is Colorado forward Tyler Arnason.
Projection: Obviously, as above, the best you can hope for is a 12th or 13th forward from a 7th round draft selection. Collins is probably a heady player, being that he is headed to Cornell University. Plenty of time to wait on him as well and the Jackets took low risk, high upside picks late in the draft.
Overall draft grade: B-. While I understand that it is very early to try and gauge the success of a draft, I can base my grade on what teams around them did. The inability to get Olli Jokinen leaves the same glaring hole that the Jackets had before the day began. Luke Schenn would have been a better fit than Filatov, but, the Jackets had their hand forced into taking the best player, and it was impossible to pass on the 2nd-ranked forward talent. I love the Goloubef pick. However, St. Louis and Phoenix both greatly improved, and the Jackets did little on draft day to make their push toward the playoffs.
Buckeye Comes Home
The trade talks were not all quiet for the Blue Jackets. They moved their #19 draft pick (Luca Sbisa) to the Flyers in exchange for former Ohio State Buckeye R.J. Umberger. Umberger gives them another good option to be a 2nd line center. He’s not the puck distributor that they so badly need for Rick Nash, but he can play well on special teams and help to ease the lack of secondary scoring.
Other Notable Draft Selections
Three players with Ohio ties were drafted, though no one born in Ohio was taken. Defenseman Greg Pateryn, originally from Sterling Hts., MI, was taken in the 5th round 128th overall from the Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another Jr. Blue Jackets defenseman, Luke Witkowski, originally from Holland, MI, was taken in the 6th round 160th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Later in the 6th round, at 177th overall, C Tommy Wingels out of the U of Miami OH was taken by the San Jose Sharks.
Perhaps the most notable of selections came late in the first round at #28. Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes traded back in to the first round to select forward Viktor Tikhonov. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He is the grandson of former Soviet Red Army coach, and 1980 loser of the Miracle on Ice game, Viktor Tikhonov.
The free agency period begins July 1. Part two of this series will come out later this week.