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Best and Worst of Jarmo Kekalainen’s Draft Picks

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The Columbus GM has had his fair share of hits and misses

2016 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is only one day away and the Columbus Blue Jackets hold nine picks in total, three of which are in the first round. The last time Columbus held three first round picks was in 2013 when they selected Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, and Marko Dano. That also happened to be Jarmo Kekalainen’s first draft as a GM and his first with Columbus. Like Jarmo’s history as the Columbus GM as a whole, that draft had its ups and downs. With a rebuild brewing in Ohio’s capital city, this year’s draft is the franchise’s most important in a long time. What better way to kick off this pivotal weekend than reviewing the best and worst of Jarmo’s draft picks in Columbus.

The Best

Pierre-Luc Dubois (1st round, 3rd, 2016)

Dubois was Jarmo’s premier “off the board” pick. With Jesse Puljujarvi being the consensus number three pick, Jarmo shocked the hockey world by skipping his fellow countryman in favor of the Canadian center. Dubois played 239 games with the Blue Jackets and was an integral part of a playoff series win against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a play-in series win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, Jarmo’s biggest draft success ended up requesting a trade in 2020.

Oliver Bjorkstrand (3rd round, 89th, 2013)

Not only is Bjorkstrand Jarmo’s best pick outside the first round, but he’s the best forward draft pick of the Finnish GM that is still on the roster. With 302 games played, 83 goals, and 177 points, the Danish winger would be a top line player on most teams in the league. Jarmo could really use another Bjorkstrand type pick in this year’s draft.

Elvis Merzlikins (3rd round, 76th, 2014)

Merzlikins quickly rose to the upper echelon of NHL goalie prospects after being picked in 2014. His success on the Latvian national team and performance for Lugano in the Swiss League earned him worldwide notoriety among hockey fans. He’s had his ups and downs in Columbus so far, but he’ll likely get the chance to solely take on the number one goalie spot this upcoming season. Tarasov may be lurking, but Elvis is Jarmo’s best goalie pick so far.

The Worst

Sonny Milano (1st round, 16th, 2014)

Milano hasn’t been a complete bust in the NHL and he did play a solid number of games as a Blue Jacket. The main reason he is on this list is because of the players that were picked right after him. Jarmo could have thrown a dart at a board with the next ten or so best available players and he would have likely landed a significantly better player. Some of the players that were picked right after Milano included: Travis Sanheim (17th), Alex Tuch (18th), Robby Fabbri (21st), Kasperi Kapanen (22nd) and David Pasternak (25th). Sonny Milano was eventually traded to the Anaheim Ducks - for Devin Shore.

Kerby Rychel (1st round, 19th, 2013)

Rychel only played 37 games as a Blue Jacket between 2014 and 2016. He registered two goals and seven assists with Columbus and was traded to Toronto in 2016 for Scott Harrington. First round picks bust all the time, you say. However, similar to Milano, it’s the players that were picked immediately after Rychel that make this pick worse in hindsight. Who were those players? Anthony Mantha (20th) and André Burakovsky (23rd).

Gabriel Carlsson (1st round, 29th, 2015)

Jarmo traded up in the 2015 draft to get Carlsson at 29th, using the 34th overall and 68th overall picks. Carlsson has yet to make a major impact in the NHL and remains outside the top six on the Columbus depth chart. He may still end up as a serviceable bottom pairing defenseman, but Jarmo still traded two picks for a guy that hasn’t lived up to any hype. Who was picked directly after Carlsson? Travis Dermott (34th), Sebastian Aho (35th), and Brandon Carlo (37th).

Honorable Mentions

Zach Werenski (1st round, 8th, 2015)

Werenski is Jarmo’s best draft pick. So why is he on the honorable mentions list? In short, this pick was in line with the consensus rankings at the time. If Jarmo had skipped over Werenski, it would have been a shock to most in the hockey world. On top of that, it has since been reported that Jarmo made a hard push to trade up for Noah Hanifin. Still, Jarmo does deserve credit for ultimately picking Werenski.

Vladislav Gavrikov (6th round, 159th, 2015)

The Russian defenseman may not be burning down the league, but he’s been a top four defenseman for the Blue Jackets and has played a lot of minutes in recent seasons. That’s a very solid result for a sixth round pick.

Recent Picks

The jury is still out on draft picks from recent years. The Russians (Chinakhov, Marchenko, and Voronkov) have made a lot of noise in the KHL and could prove to be very good picks. Liam Foudy, Alexander Texier, and Emil Bemstrom still have a chance to be impactful NHLers. Tyler Angle has surprised many by being a point per game player in Cleveland. Andrew Peeke is projected to be a top four defenseman this upcoming season. Daniil Tarasov could be the goalie of the future. Some of these players will be busts, but some of them could end up earning a spot on Jarmo’s list of best draft picks. Only time will tell.

What do you think? Do you disagree with this list at all? Was anyone left off? Sound off in the comments.