Off-season mode: Where the Blue Jackets go from here?

For a team with a lot on their plate, the answer of where to go? Start simple, build up the foundation through the draft.

It’s tough to think about hockey-related matters so soon after the tragic passing of Matiss Kivlenieks. If you haven’t heard this week’s edition of The Cannon Cast, Elaine Shircliff shared stories and memories of Kivlenieks from her time covering the Cleveland Monsters. It was great to see the local Columbus and NHL communities come together to honor and remember Kivlenieks.

The NHL season is officially in the books as the Tampa Bay Lightning keep the Stanley Cup for another off-season, fresh off the gentleman’s sweep over the Montreal Canadiens last night. Now we turn our attention to the official off-season with the NHL Expansion Draft starting July 21, NHL Entry Draft July 23-24, and Free Agency July 28.

If there’s any good news in completely missing the playoffs, it’s that Columbus has had a leg up on filling out a brand new coaching staff, with Brad Larsen appointed to head coach, two new assistants — Sylvain Lefebvre and Pascal Vincent — to join Larsen, extra time to ruminate about the upcoming draft, and to watch how the playoffs unfold and see who they'd be okay with exposing for the expansion draft.

For instance Eric Robinson’s speed and size come to mind — Aaron Portzline references Robinson specifically in his piece in The Athletic July 4 (Blue Jackets Sunday Gathering: Brad Larsen may get a coaching mentor, and analytic flexibility) and you can look no further than former Blue Jacket Josh Anderson who earned a trip to his first Final appearance with the Canadiens. He came up huge with a pair of two-goal games in the playoffs, both overtime game-winners against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Semifinals and against the Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

John Davidson and Jarmo Kekäläinen have had time to ponder potential trade packages for defenseman Seth Jones. The thought process is that Jones will likely be dealt sooner than later, possibly around the time of the NHL Draft when lots of big deals typically go down. Considering any team looking to acquire Jones will then be tasked with trying to get him to re-sign long-term following the next season, the trade could hinder based on how much a team is willing to give up.

There’s been talks about Jack Eichel, more so for the league than a presumption Columbus pulls that trade off, and that domino could be the dynamo to set things in motion.

The simplest and most sensible theory right now is Columbus attempts to solidify needs via the draft. Below are a few of the players I’ve written and learned about:

Brandt Clarke

Clarke is a defenseman that’s expected to go early in the draft and the Blue Jackets are taking a hit on the blue line with the likely departures of Jones and possibly Zach Werenski in the next few years. Here’s an anonymous junior coach on Clarke: “I think that’s the best D I’ve coached against. He’s special.” This per Scott Wheeler in The Athletic

Aatu Räty

There’s also the one position the Blue Jackets have needed solidified for the last two decades, basically their entire existence, and have only been able to fill briefly. Just like those in the past that worked out before being dealt in trades — Ryan Johansen and Pierre-Luc Dubois — the Blue Jackets are more likely to find the next answer to their center problems in the draft. What better potential gem than that of Räty?

DobberProspects ranks Räty ninth and another top defenseman in Simon Edvinsson 10th. You can read all about Edvinsson in MrSwift13’s writeup.

Columbus has three first-round draft picks which to work. The word on Räty is that he has good hockey IQ and great work ethic. He's eager to learn, but can the Blue Jackets foster the growth?

That question can be asked for everyone on the roster, and any draft pick that comes to Columbus. They’ll go into next season with three unproven coaches at the NHL level, headed by Larsen.

I haven’t seen any of these prospects play to fairly judge and even if I had watched them — there’s a reason I’m not a scout. The good news is the scouting reports on these prospects, done by experts at The Athletic, DobberProspects, and other outlets have poured over these players and the reports are very good. It is a crapshoot, especially after the first round, and these prospects are raw. No matter who the Blue Jackets take, it’s up to the coaching staffs and minor leagues to further refine and develop.

That’s where you really hope they got it right with the coaching staff and a lot of these players will work in Cleveland or other stops along the way.

I think my personal preference is to go center unless there is a defenseman or another player that is too good to pass up.

I floated an idea by Dalerrific and whether he could see any surprises like the Blue Jackets going rogue to draft someone like Jesper Wallstedt (here’s his writeup on Wallstedt) to use him as part of larger trade bait with interested teams looking to trade up for him.

I don’t see that happening but it’s not like Kekäläinen hasn’t surprised at the draft before.

What should Jarmo do at the draft?

Best player regardless of position156

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