After another draft where Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen went off the board, this time by selecting Russian overager Yegor Chinakhov with the 21st overall pick, many began to ask questions of the man in charge. Is he a mad genius with a flair for finding guys other teams might have overlooked? Is he simply beholden to his initial impressions of a player and refused to budge? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?
We’re here today to try to find out what Jarmo looks for while drafting.
Jarmo’s background is in scouting - Kekalainen worked with the St. Louis Blues from 2002 as the director of amateur scouting, helping the team to draft players like T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, and David Backes.
In an interview with Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun for the Two-Man Advantage podcast on The Athletic from March 5, 2019, Kekalainen mentioned that he found that a draft is considered successful by his metrics if two out of seven players from a draft contribute at the NHL level.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of Jarmo’s drafts and see how that success rate has played out here in Columbus.
2013 NHL Draft
Alexander Wennberg (round one, pick 14)
Kerby Rychel (round one, pick 19)
Marko Dano (round one, pick 27)
Dillon Heatherington (round two, pick 50)
Oliver Bjorkstrand (round three, pick 89)
Nick Moutrey (round four, pick 105)
Markus Soberg (round six, pick 165)
Peter Quenneville (round seven, pick 195)
Despite none of the final three picks playing a game in the NHL, this goes down as on of Jarmo’s better drafts. Each of the first five picks has appeared in the NHL for at least ten games, and three have played more than 100 in the NHL. Marko Dano is the least successful of those three, playing just 38 games for the Blue Jackets. Alexander Wennberg played 415 for the Blue Jackets, but he could never live up to his most recent contract and was bought out by the team this offseason. Oliver Bjorkstrand, the third round choice, has blossomed into a top six winger and goal scoring threat for the Blue Jackets. Judging by the “two contributors” rule, this draft is deemed a success thanks to Wennberg and Bjorkstrand (even though Wennberg was drastically overpaid on his second deal).
2014 NHL Draft
Sonny Milano (round one, pick 16)
Ryan Collins (round two, pick 47)
Elvis Merzlikins (round three, pick 76)
Blake Sibenaler (round three, pick 77)
Julien Pelletier (round four, pick 107)
Tyler Bird (round five, pick 137)
Olivier Leblanc (round seven, pick 197)
Only two players from this draft have appeared in the NHL, Sonny Milano and Elvis Merzlikins. Of those two, only Merzlikins remains with the team (though Milano did receive a contract extension with the Anaheim Ducks this offseason). Even though the front office did not do so hot in this draft, they may have secured their starting goaltender of the future. Judging by Jarmo’s ““two players” rule, this draft falls short due to Milano never really put it all together for Columbus.
2015 NHL Draft
Zach Werenski (round one, pick 8)
Gabriel Carlsson (round one, pick 29)
Paul Bittner (round two, pick 38)
Kevin Stenlund (round two, pick 58)
Keegan Kolesar (round three, pick 69)
Sam Ruopp (round five, pick 129)
Veeti Vainio (round five, pick 141)
Vladislav Gavrikov (round six, pick 159)
Markus Nutivaara (round seven, pick 189)
Obviously Zach Werenski stands out as the major success of this draft - he finished third in the Calder race, owns the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, and has developed into a legitimate first pairing player. In addition, Vladislav Gavrikov looks like a solid contributor for the team. Markus Nutivaara was a solid contributor for his time here (before being unceremoniously shipped out of town) and will likely be a contributor for the Florida Panthers as well. Gabriel Carlsson and Kevin Stenlund have appeared in the NHL in various capacities and may have a heavier role this year.
Hands down Jarmo’s best draft thus far.
2016 NHL Draft
Pierre-Luc Dubois (round one, pick 3)
Andrew Peeke (round two, pick 34)
Vitaly Abramov (round three, pick 65)
Peter Thome (round six, pick 155)
Calvin Thurkauf (round seven, pick 185)
Dubois and a whole lot of not much else, but damn if that one pick isn’t a good one. Jarmo went against the conventional wisdom, picking PLD over Jesse Puljujarvi and in doing so landed the franchise a number one center that has played 234 games, scored 158 points, and has improved every year since his arrival in Columbus.
Now, sign him to an extension.
In addition to Dubois, Andrew Peeke has appeared in a handful of NHL games and this season looks to be a bottom pairing contributor.
2017 NHL Draft
Alexandre Texier (round two, pick 45)
Daniil Tarasov (round three, pick 86)
Emil Bemstrom (round four, pick 117)
Kale Howarth (round five, 148)
Jonathan Davidsson (round six, pick 170)
Carson Meyer (round six, pick 179)
Robbie Stucker (round seven, pick 210)
The good: Alexandre Texier looks to be a player, as does Emil Bemstrom. Both players are going to be in the lineup on opening night next season (whenever that arrives), so on that note, the draft is a success. In addition, Carson Meyer recently signed a deal to join the Cleveland Monsters this upcoming season.
The no-longer-in-the-organization: Jonathan Davidsson was traded to the Ottawa Senators as part of the deal for Matt Duchene, so there’s that.
The unknown: Daniil Tarasov has been developing in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev before moving to Finland where he can get the number one goaltender reps he needs to continue developing. It is currently unknown when he will arrive in Columbus.
2018 NHL Draft
Liam Foudy (round one, pick 18)
Kirill Marchenko (round two, pick 49)
Marcus Karlberg (round three, pick 80)
Tim Berni (round six, pick 159)
Veini Vehvilainen (round six, pick 173)
Trey Fix-Wolansky (round seven, pick 204)
Liam Foudy has already made his NHL debut and will likely be on the roster to open next season. He scored a goal in the play-in games and played in all ten of the team’s games in the bubble. Kirill Marchenko is developing into a solid player in the KHL, but cannot come to the NHL for a few seasons. Veini Vehvilainen is currently under contract with the Blue Jackets but is playing on loan with Finnish club JYP Jyväskylä.
In addition, Trey Fix-Wolansky is a contributor for the Cleveland Monsters.
2019 NHL Draft
Eric Hjorth (round four, pick 104)
Dimitri Voronkov (round four, pick 114)
Tyler Angle (round seven, pick 212)
None of these players are in Columbus yet, though Voronkov is developing into a solid defenseman in the KHL.
After reviewing Jarmo’s drafts, we see:
Three drafts where there have already been multiple NHL contributors (2013, 2015, 2017).
Two where one player is in position to be a significant contributor next season (2014, 2016).
Three drafts where the grade is “incomplete at this point” (2018, 2019, 2020).
Based on Jarmo’s stated goal of “two NHL contributors is a successful draft,” he has had three successful drafts in Columbus. The 2018 draft looks to be a successful draft, based on the Foudy/Marchenko/Vehvilainen picks, but those players are mostly still developing. It is too early to judge 2019 and 2020 drafts.
What is noticeable is that Jarmo is hit or miss on middle round picks. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Elvis Merzlikins are successes from the third round, but Blake Siebenaler and Keegan Kolesar are misses. Jarmo has hit on some first round picks (Wennberg, Werenski, Dubois, Foudy) and missed on others (Dano, Rychel, Milano, Carlsson).
This leaves us with the result that Jarmo is not an above-average drafter, but neither is he poor - he’s a middle of the road, perhaps slightly above average drafter.
He has, however, hit on his two highest picks - Zach Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois - which is more than some general managers can say.
How would you grade Jarmo Kekalainen’s ability to draft?
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