3 Takes: The Draft, The Defense & The Division

Three Takes is a weekly feature that explores the world of the Columbus Blue Jackets and offers strong insights into the team and what to watch for. Have a strong take to share? Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @THWMark.

Take One: The Blockbuster That Almost Shook The Draft.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is known as aggressive. Even he couldn’t accept the offer the Toronto Maple Leafs made on draft night.

The Blue Jackets released an exclusive draft night video documenting the events that led to them drafting Zach Werenski. While the Oilers and Sabres were at the podium, the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs almost stole the show.

The video captures Kekalainen talking on the phone with the Maple Leafs. Once he hung up the phone, he mentioned to the table that the Maple Leafs wanted all of the second rounders the Blue Jackets had. The offer made Kekalainen pause.

“Right now, I’d say yes, we’ll do it,” Kekalainen told John Davidson. “Except that I think there’s a great chance that we’ll get Werenski at eighth. It’s so close. And if we don’t get him, I’ll kick myself, for sure. But then we get a great forward.”

Kekalainen declined the Maple Leafs offer, and then got his man.

The Blue Jackets drafted Werenski eighth overall. The plan worked. But just imagine for a minute if Kekalainen accepted the Maple Leafs offer.

The Blue Jackets likely take Noah Hanifin with the fourth overall pick. Carolina, who drafted Hanifin fifth overall, is drafting someone else. Is Ivan Provorov wearing a Hurricanes jersey today? Is Mitch Marner wearing a Devils jersey? Who would the Maple Leafs have drafted eighth? And how would their team look with another first and three additional seconds at their disposal? We’ll never know.

The moral of this story is that Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets made the decision of the draft, by keeping their original pick. We’ll revisit this in a few years to see if it was the right decision. You can watch the Blue Jackets draft night video below.

Take Two: The Season Of Separation For The Defense

This season will go a long way in determining how the defense looks in future seasons. Four projected starters, Ryan Murray, David Savard, Dalton Prout, and Kevin Connauton, are all restricted free agents after this coming season.

David Savard Blue Jackets
David Savard is among the defensemen who become RFA’s after the season. Which ones rise up this season? (Via Wikipedia)

This is an especially important season for Murray. His injury history is well documented. If he is able to stay healthy, the Blue Jackets defense is that much better. Is he able to put in a full season?

Savard, Prout, and Connauton also have very important seasons coming. Given the fierce competition that now exists on the team, they need to have their best season. Cody Goloubef is on a one-way contract, and surely wants to prove he belongs in the lineup. Newly acquired Michael Paliotta wouldn’t mind winning a spot in camp. Zach Werenski is now a major part of the Blue Jackets future. There are only so many spots to go around.

As management has said, if you play well, we’ll make room for you. The defense needs to play well, especially these upcoming free agents. Their future with the team depends on their performance this season.

Take Three: The Blue Jackets Will Win The Metro

The Metropolitan is up for grabs this season. Any of five teams can make an argument that they’re the best team in the division. After carefully considering the contenders, the Blue Jackets stand out as the best.

The Blue Jackets finished last season with over 500 man-games lost. They also finished with 42 wins. When the team was healthy, very few opponents could stop them. They played major spoiler, by finishing 15-2-1 in their last 18 games. They’ve dramatically improved this offseason.

Brandon Saad is now a Blue Jacket. The tandem of Saad and Ryan Johansen has the makings of becoming among the best duos in the league. Brandon Dubinsky anchors the second line. Scott Hartnell is on the third line. The Blue Jackets could run out a fourth line of Matt Calvert-Gregory Campbell-Rene Bourque. Top to bottom, this is the best collective group of forwards in the league.

Their defense is slightly underrated. Murray is a top-pair defenseman. Savard and Jack Johnson can each play heavy minutes. Then when all else fails, Sergei Bobrovsky is there to backstop the team. When you add it all up, it equals a division title.

If they add another defenseman such as Christian Ehrhoff, that only increases their chances of winning. The Rangers, Capitals, Penguins, and Islanders have good teams. But top to bottom, the Blue Jackets are the best of the bunch. If they perform the way they are capable of, they will win their first division title in franchise history.