Horrible drafting has cost the Columbus Blue Jackets

Ryan Johansen Blue Jackets

Ryan Johansen, hopefully an exception to the trend (Icon SMI)

It is not unprecedented to see the Columbus Blue Jackets toiling at the bottom of the NHL’s standings. In their 11 year history, they have qualified for the playoffs only once, and they haven’t won a single post season game. However the 2011-2012 season was supposed to be different, the off season provided fans with hope.

The Jackets acquired Jeff Carter from the Flyers for Jakub Voracek and the 8th overall pick, and they finally provided Rick Nash with the centre he desperately needed. Columbus also signed James Wisniewski to a massive 6-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $5.5 million dollars. The deal raised eyebrows, but it was a price they deemed fair to acquire a point producing defencemen.

The year got off to a bad start for Columbus as Wisniewski was suspended 8 games, in the preseason, for a head shot on Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck. Things then went from bad to worse when Jeff Carter injured his foot five games into the season, he missed 10 games and recently returned to their lineup.

Every team in the NHL has to deal with injuries at various points throughout the year, but these injuries couldn’t have come at a worse time for Columbus. They desperately needed to get off to a good start. They needed to prove to their fans and themselves that they were a good team. However without both Carter and Wisniewski, Columbus fell into a tailspin. They currently sit dead last in the NHL with just seven points through 16 games.

There is plenty of blame to go around in Columbus, and a fair place to start is in net. It is no coincidence that Columbus’ lone playoff appearance was in 2009. It was the same year that Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. As a microcosm of his team, Mason currently ranks dead last among starting goalies in both save percentage and goals against average. Columbus as a team allows an NHL worst 3.69 goals per game, and the Jackets inability to stop opposing teams is compounded by the fact that they can’t score.

Columbus currently ranks 26th in the NHL in goals for, and they have the league’s 28th ranked power play at 10.8 per cent. This is clearly a recipe for losses. However, there is a reason the Blue Jackets aren’t very good at either end of the ice, they don’t have very much talent.

Outside of Rick Nash, and arguably Jeff Carter, their roster is short on top level talent. The real question is how can a team that has been drafting in the top 10 for the better part of a decade be short on talent? A quick glance through the draft history of the Blue Jackets provides ample evidence.

2000 – Rostislav Klesla – 4th overall
2001 – Pascal Leclaire – 8th overall
2002 – Rick Nash – 1st overall
2003 – Nikolai Zherdev – 4th overall
2004 – Alexandre Picard – 8th overall
2005 – Gilbert Brule – 6th overall
2006 – Derrick Brassard – 6th overall
2007 – Jakub Voracek – 7th overall
2008 – Nikita Filatov – 6th overall
2009 – John Moore – 21st overall
2010 – Ryan Johansen – 4th overall
2011 – Sean Couturier drafted 8th overall and traded with 2007 7th overall pick Jakub Voracek for Jeff Carter.

This franchise has had top ten picks in eleven of the past twelve drafts, and Rick Nash, Derrick Brassard, and Ryan Johansen are all they have to show for it. Conversely, teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, and Edmonton have parlayed high draft picks into Stanley Cups, regular season dominance, and an exciting young roster. Not only has Columbus been brutal for the majority of their existence, but many of their high draft picks aren’t even in the NHL anymore!

Draft Bust Derick Brassard (Dave Gainer/THW)

Zherdev is in Russia, Leclaire is a UFA looking for work, Picard, Filatov and Brule are in the AHL with the affiliates of other NHL teams. The Blue Jackets selected these players ahead of NHL superstars like Tyler Myers, Claude Giroux, Logan Couture, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, Mike Green, Thomas Vanek, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, among others.

Are you seeing a trend? If just one of the aforementioned players were with the Blue Jackets today, they would be a completely different team. It is tough to succeed in the NHL if you draft poorly, it is next to impossible to succeed if you draft poorly for ten years straight! The Columbus Blue Jackets are far and away the worst drafting franchise in the NHL.

It’s a sad reality for Blue Jackets fans who have waited patiently for a winning team. The saddest part of all is that the Blue Jackets should be really good right now. As it stands their draft history is embarrassing and it’s the reason why they currently sit dead last in the NHL.

Tom Yawney

Tom Yawney

Digital Media Strategist at CanEye Media
I'm a digital media strategist with CanEye Media. I help businesses build and establish their brand through internet marketing. I also blog regularly for Canada's Best Sports Blog - Unsportsmanlike.ca
Tom Yawney
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6 Comments

  1. Actually, if you compare the Blue Jackets across the NHL since they entered the league in 2000, they are middle of the pack in terms of players they have drafted contributing in the league. The percentage of draft picks that actually make it is amazingly low, and even first round picks are far from locks. The Zherdev pick in an incredibly deep draft was one that hurt, but the problem is really that the Blue Jackets were never quite bad enough to get a really good pick. There is a drastic difference between the performance of the top 3 in the first round and the remaining 27. The Jackets converted their chance in that area, with Nash in 2002.

    The Penguins are where they are because of four consecutive years with the first(twice) or second (twice) overall picks, which translated to Crosby, Staal, Malkin and Fleury. Howson has done much better than MacLean throughout the draft, though those results are just on the verge of starting to be realized, due to development time.

    • When you mention that the Jackets are middle of the pack in terms of drafting players that have contributed to the league, who do you have in mind? One thing you can’t deny is that Columbus is the only team int eh NHL that has been drafting top 10 for 10 years. Regardless of circumstance they should have more to show for it.

      I agree that the Zherdev pick was a tough one, it is probably the pick that cost McLean his job.

  2. The Blue Jackets aren’t a bad drafting team but they are certainly a terrible at “developing” their talent. That is where the problem lies with this organization as everyone of those Top 10 picks would’ve been scooped up by another franchise.

    Columbus needs to address their developing.

    Comparing Columbus to Washington or Pittsburgh is unfair as those teams have had the luxury of selecting in the top two rather than the often more mediocre 6-12th range. Both the Caps and Pens had the luck of drafting franchise players in the years they were absolutely abysmal.

    • I don’t think it is unfair to compare Columbus with Pittsburgh or Washington.

      Washington has only had one top-two pick, Ovechkin. Other than him they also drafted Backstrom 4th. Who else have they draft dop 4-10? No one. Columbus has had a decade of top ten picks.

      Pittsburgh took Crosby and Fleury first overall, and Malkin and Staal 2nd overall. These are 4 highly impactful players but like I mentioned, Columbus has been drafting top 10 for a decade. That has to count for something.

      • But I think it is hard to compare to Washington, Pittsburgh, and Chicago because many of their franchise-changing players were selected with top 3 picks. Washington got Ovechkin first overall. Pittsburgh got Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, and Staal with picks in the top 2. Chicago got Toews and Kane with picks in the top 3. These teams were bad enough to select the top talent.

        The Blue Jackets have had only had one pick in the top 3, and that was Rick Nash. Clearly the Jackets have made some bad picks, but their drafting has been handicapped by their inability to be truly awful – and medium-bad is far less desirable than being the true worst. Thus the Jackets have been left (even in their years with #4 or #6 picks) looking at surefire All-Stars picked before their spot.

        This doesn’t excuse general poor drafting (and consistent top-10 drafting should yield good results), but it does leave the Jackets without a chance to get the potential best player and potential generational player. Would Washington be good without Ovechkin? Would Pittsburgh be good without Crosby, or Chicago without Kane? Probably, but when they were that much better than all the other players in their respective drafts, that access to top 3 players reveals its worth.

        The current NHL demands having some game-changing superstars on the team, and Columbus has managed to be “good enough” to never get any beyond Rick Nash. Imagine Columbus with Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, or another super-top-tier player. Maybe then all these failed 4-10 picks wouldn’t be such a topic.

        • I agree with you to some degree but Columbus has passed on countless all-stars in favor of guys who never made it in the NHL.

          Sure they didn’t have the benefit of drafting “can’t miss” top 3 prospects, but MORE importantly, they have missed on great players that were available to them that they chose to pass over.

          The 2003 they didn’t select Jeff Carter and in 2011 they traded Voracek (7th overall ’07) and the 8th overall pick to get him. It’s just poor management.

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