The 2013 NHL Draft was important for the Blue Jackets for several reasons. First, the previous GM had dealt his way into not one, but TWO additional first round picks. In a deep draft class, this proved to be huge. Secondly, this was the first draft for the new front office of JD and Jarmo. They had been touted for their draft prowess and this was their first chance with the Blue Jackets.
As is usually the case, most of the draftees stayed with their junior or European teams in 2013-2014. This season, though, many of the kids are showing why Jarmo has been known as a draft master.
The first pick for Columbus in 2013 was Alexander Wennberg. Alex made the conversion to North America this season and even made the CBJ Opening Day Roster out of camp. He struggled early at the NHL level, had a short stint in Springfield, but has been living up to his first round potential since rejoining the Blue Jackets. His two-way game has been impressive, and he's also been starting to cash in offensively. Remember when one Ryan Johansen started out slowly on the offensive end in his first couple years? The only thing seemingly missing from Wennberg's game is consistently putting up points, but he's on his way. He's been centering veteran Scott Hartnell and fellow rookie Marko Dano for most of March.
Just five picks later, Jarmo and company selected Kerby Rychel. Unfortunately, Kerby is still out with an injury but he has been an important player for Springfield, putting up 33 points in his first 51 AHL games. He also did not look out of place in his five games as a Jacket, even notching three assists. I thought he would have gotten more of a chance with all the injuries and as the playoff hopes clearly faded, but it didn't happen. Still, Rychel appears to be exactly who the Jackets thought they got when they drafted him.
Later in the first round, the Jackets selected a player who has turned out to be the most productive so far. Some scratched their heads when Marko Dano's name was announced as the 27th overall pick, but he has proven why he went in the first round in recent games. He has razzle dazzled some highlight goals and assists. Dano led a comeback win in Vancouver with a couple goals and an assist. It is Dano's first year in North America the kid is taking off. He started with the big club out of camp, but then spent some time with Springfield where he posted 10-8-18 in 37 games. Since coming back to the CBJ, he has looked like one of the best forwards up front as he's found chemistry with Hartnell and Wennberg. He is actually a +6 in his 25 NHL games to go with 7 goals and 7 assists. He has drawn comparisons as a more-skilled Matt Calvert.
It's not just the first rounders that are impressing. Dillon Heatherington, a 2nd round pick, recently signed his entry-level deal with the Jackets and represented Canada's U20 team at the World Juniors. Heatherington could be that "stay at home" defender the blue line needs. If you haven't heard, Oliver Bjorkstrand (3rd round selection) is dominating the WHL. Bjorkstrand has represented Denmark on the world stage for several years now. He is drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane due to his size and skill.
It's always fun to hear "the future is bright," but no we are seeing the kids mature and perform, some on the NHL stage. The playoffs obviously aren't happening this year, but you can see how these young guys are going to be major players for years to come. The summer and ensuing camp should be fun as these players battle it out for roster spots next season. Hopefully we will see improvement from all these young guys and the "future" will become the "present" next season.