This could be the start of something special for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After experiencing the success of making the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, the Blue Jackets now find themselves in a position to be a major player on night one of the NHL Draft when it starts Friday. Thanks to the trade deadline deals of David Savard and Nick Foligno, the Blue Jackets own three first-round picks. They will pick fifth, 24th and 31st.
Why could this be the start of something special? That’s because if the Blue Jackets can nail these picks, they’ll be able to get back to contention quicker. They have a chance to get good players while addressing major needs.
This guide will help you get ready for what could happen leading up to the draft and beyond. First, we’ll take a look back at the expansion draft and how that impacts the Blue Jackets moving forward. Then we’ll get into the storylines of the draft. One word of advice. I hope you are emotionally ready for what’s about to unfold.
Seattle Took Gavin Bayreuther?
Yes. You are reading the heading correctly. The Seattle Kraken chose pending UFA defenseman Gavin Bayreuther from the Blue Jackets at Wednesday’s Expansion Draft. We can safely say very few if any experts saw this one coming.
Despite having Max Domi, Dean Kukan, Kevin Stenlund and others available, the Kraken elected to take Bayreuther. The question on the minds of many is why? There’s one big reason for it. GM Ron Francis has said it on multiple occasions. They wanted to be in a good position with the salary cap. He stayed true to his word.
We wondered if the Kraken would avoid Domi due to his contract and injury situation. His cap hit is $5.3 million and is owed $6 million in cash. Would the Kraken take that on in the hopes he eventually plays or gets traded for an asset?
It’s clear Francis didn’t want to take on that cap hit now. Why? We believe it’s because of the events that are yet to come. If the Kraken did one thing well Wednesday, they put themselves in prime position to pounce on opportunities without the cap being an issue. Having $5.3 million extra available in this case is a big deal. They might get a better situation than taking someone who might not even play that much for you.
But then still, there was Kukan and Stenlund. Surely the Kraken would look at these options instead of a pending UFA. Each player has a smaller cap hit so it would have made some sense. But would either player even make the Kraken roster? I think there’s a case to be made that they would have been extras. Do you want to invest in that even if the cap hit is smaller?
Why Bayreuther Then?
To me, taking Bayreuther results in one of two things. The Kraken can either let him walk if they can’t reach a deal. Or they can sign him to a two-way deal where he can be an AHL leader and on stand by in the event of injury in the NHL.
Bayreuther enjoyed a successful season in Cleveland for the Monsters playing a top-four role while helping to mentor the likes of Andrew Peeke and other young defensemen. The Kraken needed to consider the AHL with some of their picks. They saw the Blue Jackets’ list didn’t offer them what they wanted so they opted to go with Bayreuther. It keeps them out of cap trouble and he could be an important piece later should they arrive at a deal.
From a Blue Jackets’ perspective, that’s a huge break in that they keep their best players. Kukan and Stenlund could see more playing time this season. As for Domi, Kekalainen said on Thursday that he thinks the latest Domi will be out is early December but hopes he can return sooner. He can certainly help a team with the skill he has. He’ll look to bounce back in a big way when he’s ready to return.
In all, the expansion draft was much less painful for the Blue Jackets than in 2017. They didn’t have to make a side deal and they lost a depth player rather than someone projected to play higher in the lineup. That’s a win.
As for Bayreuther, he was respected within the Blue Jackets’ and Monsters’ locker rooms for what he did and how he handled himself. He gets an opportunity now to see if there’s a role in Seattle for him. If not, someone will scoop him up to play in a similar role he did with the Blue Jackets.
It seems the Blue Jackets like many other teams learned their lesson from 2017. As a result, they keep their most important assets in tact. That’s a good start to the offseason.
Blue Jackets Set to Star at NHL Draft
As of this writing, we do not know what deals will be announced after the trade freeze expires at 1 P.M. eastern on Thursday. Will the Blue Jackets be involved in any of that? With Seth Jones still on the roster, there’s always a chance.
Any activity done prior to the start of round one could alter what ultimately happens at the draft for the Blue Jackets. They have those precious three first-round picks. How could this go?
With the fifth pick, Kekalainen was asked Thursday what he thought he might do with it as in trade up, trade down or stay put. He said he thinks he’ll stay put. That reiterates the general belief that they would hold steady knowing they’d get a good player. But who could that player be?
The Blue Jackets have needs everywhere. So it will come down to who is on their list and how picks 1-4 go. If there are three players that I have my eyes on though based on needs and the way the Blue Jackets like to conduct business, it’s these three names.
The first two are defensemen who are good with the puck. The third is a center who fits the mold of how the Blue Jackets like to play. I am assuming Owen Power, Matty Beniers and William Eklund are gone by the time the Blue Jackets pick.
Edvinsson is drawing comparisons to Victor Hedman. He has size and is mobile. He does come with some questions though. If the Blue Jackets believe the Hedman comparison is accurate, I believe Edvinsson becomes a Blue Jacket on Friday night.
Clarke is a different type of defenseman. He’s great offensively and can skate. But he needs to improve defensively. Still with Jones potentially gone soon, the Blue Jackets can get a right-shot defenseman in Clarke who can move the puck and add offense. He is a possibility here.
McTavish is a center who can play 200-feet, can score and can be nasty when he wants to be. That fits the Blue Jackets mold to a T. For my money, he would be a perfect fit in Columbus.
Prediction: The decision at five comes down to Edvinsson or McTavish in my opinion. Given the Blue Jackets’ standard of being strong from the blue line back, it signals to me that Edvinsson would win out. If he turns out to be anything close to the next Hedman, then it’s a no brainer pick. And while McTavish projects as a top-six center, Edvinsson’s ceiling is higher. Therefore my prediction is that Edvinsson will be called by the Blue Jackets fifth overall on Friday night.
What about 24 and 31?
If there is one thing this draft does have, it’s depth at forward towards the end of the first round. Players like Cole Sillinger, Chaz Lucius, Matthew Coronato, Xavier Bourgault, Fedor Svechkov and others could be available.
What makes these two picks interesting is that the Blue Jackets could go in any number of ways. They may make the picks if players high on their board are available. Or they might elect to make a trade for an asset should the opportunity present itself. This intrigue makes the Blue Jackets a must-watch team on draft night. Kekalainen will get many calls about 24 and 31. But will any be good enough for him to give up?
Assuming they keep the picks, watch to see where a player like Aatu Raty ends up. He was considered a top prospect last season until his game fell off. If he’s still there at 24, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kekalainen jumps on the opportunity. If he can find the game he had last season, that becomes a steal. And at 31, there are a variety of names available that could be interesting. Francisco Pinelli? Corson Ceulemans?
The Blue Jackets could address both center and defense with these three picks to help get them back on the right track. The team always believes in building the right way. They can end up with any combination of defensemen and centers to make Friday night a good and memorable one. But will a trade opportunity present itself? Stay tuned.
As For the Rest of the Draft
The Blue Jackets will have picks at 69, 101, 132, 133, 165 and 197. With nine total picks upcoming, this is the perfect chance to replenish the system.
It’s hard to say who will be available and who the Blue Jackets are looking at with these picks. But there are a couple of storylines to watch for here.
First, what is the impact of OHL players who didn’t get to play? Blue Jackets’ Head Amateur Scout Ville Siren said they try to be equal for everyone. But the more you see of someone, the better you feel. All teams will have to depend on video and notes from underage seasons. Could that open the door for more late-round steals than in a usual year? I have to believe it does for sure.
And second, will there be more players picked from Europe because most of them got to play? This is going to result in vastly different lists for teams especially when we get to the later rounds. I will be curious to see the breakdown of players taken by country is and if any new trends come from that.
For the Blue Jackets, having these six picks outside the first round gives them a chance to really make it a special draft because they got hit on later picks (hello Elvis Merzlikins, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson among others.)
The Blue Jackets are going to be one of the stars of the show on Friday night at the draft. Armed with three firsts and nine total picks, they can get on the fast track back to where they want to go. Plus there’s the Jones situation and possibly a goalie too that could be moved.
This draft will go a long way in telling how the next 5-10 years could play out. That’s why the Blue Jackets will be one of the biggest storylines come night one of the draft.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.