Hope for the Future in Columbus- Nail Yakupov and Nathan MacKinnon
Let's be honest, it's been extremely disappointing to be associated with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Whether it's ownership, management, staff, players, media, fans...nobody is happy. The mood turned even more sombre these past few weeks, when trade rumors involving Rick Nash started to percolate. One of the most active discussions is whether or not to clean-house, tear it all down and rebuild.
I'm at the point now where I could go either way, I'd be happy with both minor tweaks and the blow-it-up option. Assuming that a goaltender can be acquired during the blow-it-up phase, I give you two reasons why I'd be on board with such a move:
Nail Yakupov and Nathan MacKinnon.
As most of you are aware, I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada- the home of the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. The past few seasons have been extremely difficult for the Moose, as they've been on a slow-track rebuild after the cupboard was emptied a couple of seasons ago, when the Mooseheads went all-in bolstering their roster for a run at a QMJHL title and a spot in the Memorial Cup. That season, many thought that all the team needed to do was upgrade their blueline at the trade deadline. Instead of making that move, the team's short-term future was packaged and dealt to the Val D'Or Foreurs for a pesky scorer namedBrad Marchand
. Not only was Marchand a disappointment in a Halifax uniform, he was a downright locker room disaster. Former Jacket Jake Voracek was the offensive leader of that team, and Marchand was supposed to be another offensive star on a team that could already score at will. Things were so bad with Marchand on the team that he was at one point scratched in the playoffs for his poor attitude and play. The Mooseheads went on to lose in the second round of the playoffs, and the team had few young players or picks to retool after that season. Fast forward to this season, and the Mooseheads are finally in a position to contend. After bottoming out last year, they managed to pull off the most important trade in team history, acquiring a young forward named Nathan MacKiinnon.
Prior to the QMJHL entry draft this past spring, MacKinnon was widely regarded as one of, if not the top prospect in Canada for his age group. Many compared him to Sidney Crosby, as both were from the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour (where I currently live), both went to Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota, and both were miles ahead of their competition in terms of talent. While Crosby and MacKinnon play very different styles, the hype surrounding both players was overwhelming.
At this point, MacKinnon is the favorite to go first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He's put up fantastic numbers with Halifax this season, with 26 goals, 39 assists for 65 points in 47 games. He's missed time with injury, but he leads the Mooseheads in scoring and is second in league rookie scoring behind Mikhail Grigorenko, who looks to be the odds-on favorite to go second overall in this year's NHL Draft. Earlier this season I attended a Mooseheads game where they were hosting Grigorenko and the Quebec Remparts. In the battle of the two stud rookies, MacKinnon came out on top, scoring five goals that game. He was an absolute beast, the best player on the ice. All of this at 16 years old.
This season the Jackets are going to finish with the worst record in the league, giving them the best chance of picking first overall. If this happens, the team will undoubtedly take Nail Yakupov, who many believe is the top prospect available, a real game-breaking winger who can score and isn't afraid of hard work.
If the Jackets do end up breaking up the core of the team, including trading stars Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, along with other important members of the team like Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger or Samuel Pahlsson, they will likely be in a position to pick first overall again in 2013- where MacKinnon would be right there waiting.
Look at the Edmonton Oilers- they went with the full-on rebuild, and now possess some of the best young forwards in the league with Jordan Eberle and back to-back first overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Jackets could be in a similar situation in 2013 by having Ryan Johansen, Nail Yakupov and Nathan MacKinnon on the roster. If Derick Brassard is still with the team, as he should be, that would be a potent group of young forwards, and that's without AHL leading sniper Cam Atkinson or another young player acquired in Nash/Carter deals.
Losing Nash and Carter would hurt, but the boatload of assets they could bring back to the team, along with potentially adding two young phenoms in Yakupov and MacKinnon would put the Jackets in a position to be a perennial contender in just a few short years. For that reason, I'd be cool with blowing it all up, and so should management and ownership.