The Best Draft Class in Columbus Blue Jackets History

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NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets best draft class.

Columbus Blue Jackets Best Draft Class: 2015

It’s a bit tricky to judge the draft class of any recent team. Even one from the beginning of the century hasn’t had enough time to really get going. Early picks were stuck on an expansion team, so new players had little help; recent ones haven’t had time to make an impression. In 2015’s case, we get both. We didn’t get into this series because it would be easy. Let’s down theĀ tomato juice* and get to it!

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Where We Go From Here

The Blue Jackets got a star out of their first-round pick – not something they’ve managed often – and several players primed to be NHL regulars. Tough to ask for more than that from any draft year, really. Even if those “regulars” are lower in the lineup of their respective teams now, there’s room for them to grow. Or if not, the value of hitting on late picks is not to be disregarded.

Zach Werenski, 1st round, 8th overall

Zach Werenski is a household name right now. That’s an impressive feat for the often-overlooked Ohio team. Unfortunately, much of the attention was as a collective gasp over his new six-year, $57.5 million contract. These two facts are not coincidental, as even fans who know the name don’t know just how heavily the Blue Jackets rely on the young defenceman.

He was an easy selection to the All-Rookie team in 2016-17, scoring 11 goals and 47 points in 78 games. He was 19 years old, playing a position almost universally described as “taking a while to learn.” His partner on that team was Brady Skjei who was a more typical 22. Also unlike the perfectly-decent Skjei, Werenski’s ice time has increased every season since his first – and his first averaged over 20 minutes per game. It should surprise no one he was third in Calder Memorial Trophy voting.

It will be a surprise if Werenski isn’t wearing a letter this season alongside Boone Jenner. He is very much a central figure from the Blue Jackets best draft class ever. He’s been a vital part of their on-ice performance with 65 goals and 189 points in his 335 professional games, all with Columbus. It follows that he’s going to be one in the dressing room and the community as well.

Gabriel Carlsson, 1st, 29th

Another defenseman, it would be unfair to compare him to the top-10 selection ahead of him. Indeed, in playing style and paycheque, Gabriel Carlsson is pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum for NHL defencemen. He is very much the “shut-down guy” to Werenski’s point-producer. He did get his first NHL goal last year – with four assists – despite playing just 14 games from the Blue Jackets’ taxi squad.

With the arrival of Jake Bean in an off-season trade, Carlsson is going to be hard-pressed again to make the team as much more than a seventh defenceman this season, too. At 6’5″ he’s going to be a tempting target on the waiver wire if he is sent to Cleveland again.

Kevin Stenlund, 2nd, 58th

It seems the Columbus Blue Jackets best draft year ever has a type if the 6’4″ Swede Kevin Stenlund is anything to go by. He repeated 2019-20’s 32 games and ten points in 2020-21, making a home for himself as Columbus’ fourth-line centre. Stenlund split shifts between there and on the right side before, but he proved his worth in the middle and should continue there for now.

Keegan Kolesar, 3rd, 69th

Keegan Kolesar worked his way up through the Vegas Golden Knights system since he was traded to them in 2017, working his way from the ECHL up to a regular shift in 44 games in the NHL. It’s on the fourth line, but of an excellent team, and the 6’2″ 225 lb Kolesar wants to stay. The newly-arrived – and more experienced – Brett Howden is likely his biggest challenger. Still, at worst Kolesar should be dressed ready to go as their extra man.

As for his value for Columbus, his trade allowed them to move up in the draft and select Alexandre Texier.

Vladislav Gavrikov, 6th, 159th

It almost seems unfair when a team can say “Our sixth-round pick is coming along.” But that’s the story with Vladislav Gavrikov, who should be stepping up to a middle-pair role after two full(-ish) seasons with the club. He’s played 124 games with seven goals and 30 points, but he’s also a large part of their penalty kill. He’s definitely got the lead over fellow 2015 draftee Stenlund, though Bean could affect his ice time, too.

Markus Nutivaara, 7th, 189th

Did I say having a player from the sixth round in the NHL is unfair? Sorry, I meant the seventh. Markus Nutivaara is a solid, all-around defender. If he’s on your top pair, something’s gone terribly wrong, but you’re glad to have him when it does. He played last season with the Florida Panthers, his trade bringing back the younger AHL forward Cliff Pu. The deal was partly driven by the numbers game, but it’s hard to deny the Panthers have an NHLer right now and Columbus doesn’t.

But Nutivaara will always be part of the Blue Jackets best draft year ever. He was their final pick that year, and so far he’s played a very solid 274 games in five seasons with 17 goals and 70 points.

Honourable Mention

There’s one player who needs to be mentioned here, as much for his impact as for his draft position. Cam Atkinson is an excellent example of a player’s size working against him. The 5’8″ Atkinson was a sixth-round pick in 2008, 157th overall. All he’s done since then is become the Blue Jackets’ second-leading scorer, behind only first-overall draft pick Rick Nash.
Atkinson played 627 games with Columbus, scoring 213 times with 402 total points. That he was traded away for their former first-round selection of 2007 is at least bitterly poetic, if not just.
*Hm. Needs clam.

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