If you would have asked me this past summer when I would be starting the draft discussion, there's no way I would have said November. Though the Jackets have been playing better of late, they are still in 30th place in the league, and currently have the best shot at the first overall pick in the 2012 Draft.
With some help from Chris Ralph at The Hockey Writers, I'm going to look at some of the players who could see their name called at the podium by GM Scott Howson in June.
Personally, I think the Jackets' most glaring need is on the back-end, and luckily for the Jackets there are a handful of great young defensemen available. That said, there is one forward who sits atop most of the early draft lists, but there a handful of reasons why Columbus may avoid drafting him.At this point of the season, many scouts and draft analysts have Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov atop their lists. It's hard not to get excited about the kid, just take a look at Chris' breakdown of him, including this gem:
The feisty, dynamic, explosive right-winger who possesses a heat-seeking one-timer (1:00 mark of video) is simply electrifying with the ability to cause a jaw-dropping reaction to all those watching his super array of skills. He is destined to become one of the true must-see players around the league. Fans in hockey cities everywhere will be circling the dates when Yakupov comes to town when he is inevitably donning NHL battle colours.
From a Columbus perspective, there are some red flags, however. The Jackets have drafted Russians twice in the first round- first Nikolay Zherdev in 2003 and then Nikita Filatov in 2008. Both have been extremely disappointing. Neither are currently in the NHL, and both players were the source of many off-the-ice headaches for the Jackets. Both players were eventually traded by Columbus, Zherdev to the Rangers for blueline stalwart Fedor Tyutin, and Filatov to Ottawa for prospect T.J. Tynan, who currently leads the nation in scoring as a sophomore at Notre Dame.
Yakupov differs from those two in that he's already in North America. Zherdev and Filatov were still playing in Russia when they were taken in the NHL draft. Yakupov was the second overall pick in the CHL Import Draft two years ago, and is committed to playing in the NHL.
Another red flag, and it's not really a knock on Yakupov, is that the Jackets have major needs elsewhere on the roster. Namely on defense and in goal. The Columbus blueline is severely lacking in terms of high-end skill, Former first round pick John Moore has played a bulk of the season with the Jackets, leaving only David Savard as a blue-chip defense prospect not on the main roster.
If the Jackets should decide to draft a blueliner, there are four players that I have my eye on- Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels, Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, Jacob Trouba of the USNTDP and Morgan Reilly of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Here's a quick breakdown of each player:
Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
2011/2012 Stats: 22GP / 7G / 11A / 18PTS / +8 / 29PIM
2010/2011 Stats: 62GP / 15G / 11A / 26PTS / +24 / 83PIM
Scouting Report from Dan Sallows
Dumba is known for both his offensive ability and his physical play. He's got it all in terms of skill, and would be a great addition to the Jackets. He can run a powerplay, and keep opposition forwards in-check. He reminds me of James Wisniewski in that he can follow up a goal with a big hit. He isn't the biggest defenseman out there, but he makes up for that with his offense and mean-streak.
Everett Silvertips (WHL)
2011/2012 Stats: 10GP / 3G / 3A / 6PTS / -4 / 15PIM
2010/2011 Stats: 70GP / 6G / 40A / 46PTS / +18 / 45PIM
TSR Draft Rankings, see Number Four for Murray
Murray has seemingly been around for a while. He was named captain of the Silvertips at a young age, so his leadership abilities aren't in question. He's currently out of the lineup with an ankle injury, but nonetheless he projects to be a steady defenseman, who contributes in all zones. He won't put up as much offense as Dumba, but he has the potential to be a future captain and shutdown defenseman. He's also considered to be the most NHL-ready of the blueline prospects available.
2011/2012 Stats: 4GP / 0G / 1A / 1PTS / -1 / 8PIM
2010/2011 Stats: 31GP / 3G / 4A / 7PTS / -2 / 31PIM
Hockey News Prospect Watch
While Trouba doesn't have the polish of his draft-mates, he nonetheless has above-average puck-moving ability and doesn't shy away from physical play. He's likely going the college route, so that gives the team that drafts him two extra years of development, which Trouba will need to become a full-time NHLer.
Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
2011/2012 Stats: 17GP / 3G / 15A / 18PTS / +6 / 2PIM
2010/2011 Stats: 65GP / 6G / 22A / 28PTS / -15 / 21PIM
Hockey News Prospect Watch
Rielly was off to a great start this season before suffering a torn ACL, and is likely out for the season. This shouldn't affect his draft status though, as Rielly remains a high-end offensive weapon from the back end. Like Dumba, he brings a scoring element, though he isn't as physical.
These four blueliners are just a taste of what the 2012 draft has to offer on defense. While most, if not all teams will have Yakupov ranked first, Columbus needs to add one of these elite talents to their future blueline. If the Jackets remain the league's worst team, and end up with the first overall pick, trading down to the second or third overall slot could be in the cards. Dropping down to draft a blueliner could fetch the Jackets an extra first rounder later in the draft, or a package of second rounders and prospects.
As it stands now, the only team with multiple first round picks is the Washington Capitals, as they picked up the extra first rounder from Colorado in the Semyon Varlamov trade. If Colorado continues to struggle, they could be in the mix for a top-five pick. A potential trade could see the Jackets trade the first overall pick to the Caps for both of their first rounders (Washington's pick will likely be in the bottom third of the round), at which point the Caps would add Yakupov to their stable of young Russians. He'd be an obvious replacement for the underachieving and frustrating Alexander Semin. The Jackets would come away with a high-end blueliner, and a forward later in the first round such as Brenden Gaunce of Belleville, Martin Frk of Halifax or Pontus Aberg of Djurgarden. The Jackets could also use that later pick on a goaltender, perhaps Belleville's Malcolm Subban, younger brother of Montreal's P.K. Subban.
I really wish I didn't have to talk draft this early in the season, but the Jackets could use the boost of talent in their system, and the 2012 draft is primed to be one of the best ever, especially for blueliners.