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Revisiting the early round draft picks of the Howson and Kekalainen eras

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Which picks did they get right and which did they miss?

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

As we wrap up What If? Week here at The Cannon, it’s time to finish what I started on Monday, when I looked back at who the Columbus Blue Jackets could have selected in the first round during the Doug Maclean era. Today we will do the same for the first and second round picks of the Scott Howson and Jarmo Kekalainen eras.

A refresher on the rules:

  • The only alternatives considered were players actually chosen in the ten picks after the Columbus pick. These GMs can’t have crystal balls; they’re going to be bound somewhat by conventional wisdom.
  • For Maclean I only had time (and moral fortitude) to review his first round picks. For the next two GMs I’m going to consider the second round picks as well. Anything after there is more of a crapshoot for even the best GMs.
  • What makes a good draft pick? It can depend on where they’re selected. A top 5 picks should be all star caliber. The next 10-15 should be top half of the lineup players. Beyond there, you’re in good shape if you find a regular contributor. As a result, if you pick more often towards the top of the draft, you should have better selections on your resume.
  • The 2017 through 2019 drafts were not included because it’s still too early to know whether our picks will work out - or if the others will.
  • I’ll grade these choices on a win/lose/tie scale. It’s a win if Columbus made the best choice. It’s a tie if there were good alternatives, but the pick itself was a good fit and performed well for the Jackets. It’s a loss if the pick was a complete bust or there was a genuine star left on the board.

Scott Howson (2007-2012)

2007 #7 Jakub Voracek

Alternatives: Logan Couture, Brandon Sutter, Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk
Verdict: That’s an impressively deep draft! Couture could have been the franchise center, while McDonagh or Shattenkirk would have carried the blue line for the next decade. That being said, Voracek has had the best career of them all. Too bad most of that happened in Philadelphia. WIN.

2007 #37 Stefan Legein

Alternative: P.K. Subban
Verdict: Only one good name in the next ten, but it’s a very good one. Legein never reached the NHL. LOSS.

2007 #53 Will Weber

Alternative: Wayne Simmonds
Verdict: Similar to the previous pick. If they were set on getting a RW and D in the second round, we could have had Subban and Simmonds instead of Legein and Weber. Damn. LOSS.

2008 #6 Nikita Filatov

Alternatives: Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson
Verdict: I buried the lede on that list, didn’t I? Filly didn’t do rebounds, and he also didn’t win two Norris trophies (yeah ok he wasn’t a defenseman but he wasn’t winning any other award for that matter). LOSS.

2008 #37 Cody Goloubef

Alternatives: Roman Josi, Justin Schultz
Verdict: Oh, no big deal, we could’ve simply had KARLSSON AND JOSI nine years before Jones and Werenski became a thing. Only two years in and I’m ready to throw my laptop out of the window. LOSS.

2009 #21 John Moore

Alternatives: Marcus Johansson, Kyle Palmieri
Verdict: For the first time in franchise history, the first round pick was outside of the top 10. Progress! Moore wasn’t outstanding in his first 2.5 years in the league, but he was a key piece of the Gaborik trade and has built a nice career for himself as a journeyman defenseman. I’ll be generous to Howson and call this a TIE.

2009 #56 Kevin Lynch

Alternatives: Tomas Tatar, Anders Nilsson, Tyson Barrie
Verdict: Lynch never reached the NHL and Tatar has been a consistent 20 goal guy, and is having the best season of his career this year with career high 39 assists and 61 points in just 68 games. LOSS.

2010 #4 Ryan Johansen

Alternatives: Nino Niederreiter, Brett Connolly Jeff Skinner, Mikael Granlund, Cam Fowler
Verdict: By Hockey-Reference’s point share metric, Skinner and Fowler are better than Johansen, but it’s close enough and Joey had such great seasons in 2014 and 2015 that I’ll say this was a worthy top 5 pick. WIN.

2010 #34 Dalton Smith

Alternatives: Justin Faulk
Verdict: Bet you thought Prout was the worst Dalton drafted by the Jackets, didn’t ya? Faulk would have been an excellent pick here and the number of whiffs on defensemen in these drafts led to the depleted pipeline at that position around 2015. Trade acquisitions like Tyutin, Wisniewski, and Johnson had to carry the load instead of homegrown players. LOSS.

2010 #55 Petr Straka

Alternatives: Jason Zucker
Verdict: Even Johan Larsson, Oscar Lindberg, or one of my favorite hockey names, Greg McKegg, would have been more productive than Straka’s 3 games and 2 assists. LOSS.

2011 #37 Boone Jenner

Alternatives: John Gibson, Brandon Saad
Verdict: Gibson and Saad are better players than Jenner but Boone is arguably the best fit of the group. He had two excellent years at the start of his career as a top line winger. Now he’s a checking line center. He has gotten time on both the power play and penalty kill. In addition, he’s a part of the leadership group. TIE.

2012 #2 Ryan Murray

Alternatives: Alex Galchenyuk, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Mathew Dumba, Jacob Trouba, Filip Forsberg
Verdict: Well, at least Murray was a better pick than Nail Yakupov. I’ll be generous to Howson here again because a) Murray was sensible pick, b) you couldn’t predict his injury issues, and c) he has been brilliant at times when he has been healthy. TIE.

2012 #31 Oscar Dansk

Alternatives: Pontus Aberg, Phillip Di Giuseppe
Verdict: We can Dansk if we want to, we can leave your friends behind. Cause your friends don’t Dansk and if they don’t Dansk, they’re no friends of mine. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the two names I listed are the only ones in this portion of the draft to play more than five games. LOSS, but with forgiveness since Damon Severson was the best player from this round by point share.

Howson’s final score: 2-8-3, or 7 points out of a possible 26. A few really good players, but simply not enough contributors. Four of the 13 played fewer than five games in the NHL. That’s a quick way to torpedo your depth.

In Howson’s defense, he did find some gems in the later rounds, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Jarmo Kekalainen (2013-present)

2013 #14 Alexander Wennberg
2013 #19 Kerby Rychel
2013 #27 Marko Dano

Alternatives (since these picks were bunched up, I’m considering choices from #15 through #37): Ryan Pulock, Nikita Zadorov, Anthony Mantha, Andre Burakovsky, Shea Theodore, Ryan Hartman
Verdict: No stars available, but several solid contributors. The Jackets had three picks and only one became an NHL regular. That’s a disappointing start. I’ll give Jarmo a TIE for Wennberg but Rychel and Dano are both a LOSS.

2013 #50 Dillon Heatherington

Alternatives: Artturi Lehkonen, William Carrier, Tyler Bertuzzi
Verdict: I don’t like Bertuzzi but I think if he were a Jacket he’d probably be a fan favorite. LOSS.

2014 #16 Sonny Milano

Alternatives: Travis Sanheim, Alex Tuch, Anthony Deangelo, Nick Schmaltz, Robby Fabbri, Kasperi Kapanen, Jared McCann, David Pastrnak
Verdict: No need to re-litigate the Milano experience. Pastrnak has scored 30+ goals for each of the last four seasons, including a league-leading 48 goals this season. LOSS.

2014 #47 Ryan Collins

Alternative: Brandon Montour, Ryan Donato
Verdict: Weak round, but Collins remains stuck in the AHL. LOSS.

2015 #8 Zach Werenski

Alternatives: Timo Meier, Mikko Rantanen, Lawson Crouse, Jake Debrusk, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot
Verdict: Lots of excellent choices here but Z still has the highest point share total of the bunch. How fortunate that he fell to Columbus as the third defenseman off the board. WIN.

2015 #29 Gabriel Carlsson

Alternatives: Christian Fischer, Travis Dermott, Sebastian Aho, Brandon Carlo
Verdict: Jarmo traded up for this pick to take another defenseman, at a time when the blue line depth was extremely depleted. Unfortunately Carlsson is only the fourth best defensemen selected by Columbus in this draft. It hurts to see a division rival take such an elite player as Aho. LOSS.

2015 #38 Paul Bittner

Alternatives: MacKenzie Blackwood, Erik Cernak
Verdict: Blackwood has played well with little help in front of him. Bittner has yet to reach the NHL, no thanks to injuries. LOSS.

2015 #58 Kevin Stenlund

Alternative: Oliver Kyllington
Verdict: Slim pickings here. Based on the flashes of value Stenlund has shown this season...a surprise WIN.

2016 #3 Pierre-Luc Dubois

Alternatives: Jesse Puljujarvi (lol), Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev, Tyson Jost, Logan Brown
Verdict: Several excellent players here but Dubois was absolutely the best player for this team. WIN.

2016 #34 Andrew Peeke

Alternative: Alex DeBrincat
Verdict: Peeke has plenty of time to develop into an NHL defenseman, and Columbus is already deep on right wingers, but...DeBrincat has been a great scorer from the beginning (28 goals in his rookie season and 41 the next year). Peeke would have to get to Norris Trophy level to make up for that. LOSS.

Jarmo’s final score: 3-8-1, or 10 points out of a possible 24. I’ll be honest, that’s a much worse score than I expected. It has potential to improve, with positive starts for Alexandre Texier (2017 #45) and Liam Foudy (2018 #18) and positive reports from overseas for Kirill Marchenko (2018 #49).

Like Howson, he has found some late round gems who have already contributed. He also has the excuse of often picking later. When he has had a top 10 pick, he has gotten the right player. As I did this exercise, it confirmed the data I’ve seen that shows a steep dropoff in expected value starting halfway through the first round. From the 20s on it’s not uncommon to go several picks without finding an above average NHLer. That makes it all the more important to pick well when you’re picking higher.

Which picks would you have made out of these alternatives? Do you agree with my verdicts? Which GM do you think was a better drafter? Let us know in the comments.