This is a different draft experience for the Blue Jackets this year. First, Howson & Company will actually have to get up and walk some distance to the stage, thanks to the debut in the playoffs last season. In past years, Bettman had to step over the CBJ staff to get to the microphone. That same benefit, however, takes some of the luster out of the proceedings, as there are no "Wow!" names after the first 3 or 4 slots. Lots of good players, but nobody the average hockey fan is going to jump up and down over.
That being said, I am not going to even attempt a mock draft here.
Of course, all of this is largely guesswork. I have done a ton of reading and listening to various commentators on NHL Network, TSN.com, NHL.com, etc. I have only seen highlights from a few of the draftees, so my opinions are largely based upon the observations of others. Further, as we have all learned by now, Mr. Howson prides himself on not being predictable. If we can't figure out what he is up to, neither can the opposition, and that is a good thing.
Now that I have all of the legal caveats made, here are my less-than-bold projections for the upcoming draft and beyond:
Round 1 Picks (my top 5 favorites, in order of precedence, factoring in likely availability)
- David Runblad, D, Sweden -- Runblad has good size at 6'2" 189, is supposedly a magician with the puck, and solid in all zones. He has power play eperience. TSN has him ranked 21, but THN has him at 10. He works on the power play in the Swedish Elite League, which is amazing for someone so young. Besides, why should Detroit have all the Swedes? A lot of upside here.
- Dmitri Kulikov, D, Drummondville -- Perhaps a reach in terms of still being available at 16, Kulikov is the real deal. Decent size at 6'1" 180, he netted 12-50-62 in 57 games for Drummondville, and many believe he could play in the NHL right now. Again, unsure if he will be around. It could come down to whether Scott Niedermeyer makes up his mind about returning prior to the draft. Anaheim has the 15 pick right before the CBJ.
- Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor -- another Kris Russell in size, at 5'9", 173 pounds, but impossible to ignore his skating and puck handling. 89 points in 57 games for Windsor in their championship run this year, and ranked in the top 20 by every ranking service. Only issue is whether he has the ability to do the same at the NHL level, and hold up over 82 games of major league pummelling.
- John Moore, D, Chicago - This is a solid, all-around defenseman who can compete with anybody at 6' 2", 189. A world class skater, he has the ability to get shots through from the point, and has good instincts for the puck. Only 14-25-39 for Chicago, but many believe he has much more offensive upside.
- Simon Despres , D, St. John -- At 6'4" and 205 pounds, this guy can BRING it. At 2-30-32 over 66 games for St. Johns, he is not Bobby Orr, but plays mistake free, shut down defense and can shut opponents down.
So, there is my list. If Howson pulls the rug out and takes a forward, I look like an idiot, but hey, I do that frequently, so no big deal.
X-Factor Pick -- Here is a sleeper to watch for, either by the Blue Jackets or somebody else. Jeremy Morin from the U-18 development league is reputed to be one of the best pure shooters and goal scorers in the draft. He was 26-22-48 in 46 games this season, and apparently plays with an edge to his game, as he amassed 99 penalty minutes in those same 46 games. It is perhaps that temper that is keeping him from a sure 1st Round slot, but if the Top 5 above are gone, and he is around, don't be surprised to see Howson take a shot here. Alternatively, Howson might package a player and picks to get a high 2nd round slot if Morin is still around.
Overall Picture -- With the free-agent situation being what it is, Howson has a lot of dollars, and several bodies, to play with between the draft and free agency. I strongly suspect that some combination of bodies or picks moves to get that 2nd Round pick we used in the Vermette/LeClaire deal.
With no movement on the Manny front, he will likely join the ranks of Jason Chimera, Frederik Modin, Jared Boll, and possibly others, as being available for the right player, picks or to clear room for a bigger free agent deal. There is still concrete interest in Bouwmeister, I am told, so who knows?
Draft On Twitter -- I will be on Twitter from Nationwide tonight, so stay tuned.
Preview of Coming Attractions: Coming soon to a blog near you -- Chapter 2 of the 3-part series on the Arena situation, more free agency speculation, and other goodies.