Draft day hasn’t always been kind to the Columbus Blue Jackets – especially in their early years. While the team was often loaded with high selections, some swings and misses still haunt fans long enough in the tooth to remember when they were made. The Blue Jackets have had some real stinkers in their draft history. Here’s a look at their five biggest draft busts.
Kerby Rychel/Marko Dano – 2013 NHL Draft – 1st Round
The hype surrounding the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft was gigantic. The Blue Jackets had started to turn things around, and they had not one but three first-round picks to help supplement their roster. Things were looking good in Ohio, but they didn’t turn out so great.
Alexander Wennberg was selected first with the 14th-overall pick. He didn’t become the number one center they were hoping for but became a decent enough player not to be on this list. Kerby Rychel was picked second. He was a two-time 40-goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) by the time he was selected 19th overall by the Blue Jackets. Marko Dano brought up the rear at 27th overall as a player who had been lauded as the next big thing out of Slovakia.
Rychel played a couple of seasons in the Blue Jackets organization but could never find that same scoring touch at the pro level. He was traded for Scott Harrington, who became a pretty decent seventh defenseman for the club over the next several seasons. Rychel made his way through a handful of NHL organizations with a stint in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) before calling it quits in 2020.
Dano parlayed an impressive debut season into being used as trade fodder to acquire Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. The decision looked questionable at the time, with an impressive 21 points through 35 games – which was on pace for 49 points through a full season. However, Dano lost his mojo and never came close to that production again.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Blue Jackets’ second attempt at three first-rounders in 2021 ends up just as bad. Based on the early returns on Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson, along with the progression of Corson Ceulemans at the University of Wisconsin, the Jackets fared significantly better in take two than in their first kick at the can.
Ryan Murray – 2012 NHL Draft – 1st Round, 2nd Overall
To not get a franchise-altering player with the second-overall pick is a definite bust. After an abysmal season in 2011-12, the Blue Jackets owned that second slot. It was the organization’s highest selection since Rick Nash a decade earlier, so there were lofty expectations for the pick.
It was obvious at the time that Nail Yakupov would be picked as the first-overall selection, which left the Blue Jackets to choose between Yakupov’s teammate, Alex Galchenyuk, or to draw a name from a pool of highly regarded defensemen. They settled on Ryan Murray, who was billed as the ultimate defenseman. He was captain of the Everett Silvertips and was considered to have immense talent, leadership, and the work ethic to match. That was backed by Murray being the youngest player after Jonathan Toews to play for Canada in the World Championship at the time.
In hindsight, Columbus should have paid attention to one red flag in Murray’s draft year. He was limited to 46 games in 2011-12 due to injury. Those injuries followed him and derailed his career from the start. After he was drafted, he was held to 23 games in his final season with Everett, and then he was held at or below 60 games in five of his seven seasons with the Blue Jackets. It seemed that whenever he gained any traction in his development, it was offset by injury.
I will grant the team this: 2012 was not the strongest draft year. Headlined by Yakupov – the only first overall pick since 2002 who is not active in the NHL – it may have been one of the weakest drafts since the turn of the century. But, it’s tough not to look back and wonder how things might have been different had the Jackets picked any of the other defensemen available, including Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Jacob Trouba, and Matt Dumba.
Nikita Filatov – 2008 NHL Draft – 1st Round, 6th Overall
The tantalizing skill of Nikita Filatov was too much to resist for the Blue Jackets in 2008. However, it was a marriage doomed from the start.
After being drafted sixth overall, Filatov immediately made his way over to North America, where he lit the lamp with the Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League (AHL) team in Springfield. That earned him a call-up at the end of the season, where he showed a little of what he could do, scoring four goals through eight games – including his first hat trick.
It was Filatov’s lack of effort towards building a two-way game that left him in coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse. Although he started with Columbus heading into the 2009-10 season, he averaged only 8:07 minutes of ice time through 13 games. In a shocking mid-season move, Filatov left the team to return to CSKA Moscow in the KHL.
He didn’t stay away for long. A successful run in Moscow, along with Hitchock’s departure, paved the way for Filatov to return. He split another season between Springfield and Columbus, but it was likely too late to make a long-term partnership work. So, at 21 years old, the Blue Jackets traded him to the Ottawa Senators. He played half a season in Ottawa before jet-setting back to Russia, where he spent the next nine seasons, bouncing between nine different teams without much success.
Later on, reports surfaced that Filatov had returned to Russia out of necessity, partly because of his gambling debts that he was unable to repay on an AHL salary. Filatov’s story could be about immaturity or a lack of work ethic from a supreme talent, but what is certain is that he’s one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory.
Gilbert Brule – 2005 Draft – 1st Round, 6th Overall
The selection after Carey Price was not destined for the same level of stardom. However, many have argued that Gilbert might have been rushed into the NHL before he was ready.
The smaller center had a strong draft year for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. Similar to Murray, the injury bug bit him early. The year after being drafted, he only played 34 games, split between the Giants and the Blue Jackets. In 2006-07, he played 78 games, which would be a career-high. However, he also didn’t earn any meaningful minutes with his play, averaging around 10 minutes a night.
The Blue Jackets bailed on Brule early, trading him to the Edmonton Oilers for another high draft pick that didn’t turn into a star, Raffi Torres. With the Oilers, Brule had one season that showed flashes of what he could be, scoring 37 points in 65 games. However, that was the pinnacle of his NHL career. He left for the KHL in 2014-15 and made a decent living over there until he retired in 2020. With 95 points through 299 games, he wasn’t what the team was hoping for in a skilled centerman drafted sixth overall.
Alexandre Picard – 2004 Draft – 1st Round, 8th Overall
Entering the 2004 Draft, Columbus had just gotten their first dose of the star player that Nash had become. In his age 19 season, Nash tied for the league lead in goals with 41, but the Blue Jackets still finished low enough to pick eighth overall in the draft. Management selected Alexandre Picard from the Lewiston MAINEiacs, who was billed as another high-skill winger that could provide secondary scoring playing alongside Nash.
Picard was expected to bring the same mix of skill and physicality as Nash. However, he trended more towards the physical side than the skill and ranks just behind longtime Blue Jackets enforcer Jared Boll in hits per 60 minutes in team history. He was rarely utilized, averaging 7:49 of ice time through 67 games in the NHL. He never played more than 23 games in an NHL season, with his last game coming in the 2009-10 season.
Not only was Picard not the player the organization had hoped for when he was drafted, but he wasn’t even the best Alexandre Picard born in 1985 to play in the NHL. A defenseman by the same name, drafted in the third round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003, played 253 games, scoring 69 points. The Blue Jackets’ version was a textbook early pick that just did not pan out for the young franchise.
Fans in Columbus are hoping that their 2022 first-rounders, David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk, and their 2021 first-rounders Johnson, Sillinger, and Ceulemans don’t wind up on this list. Based on the organization’s draft history and their current development model, I’d say the Jarmo Kekalainen regime is less likely to bust than those who came before them.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.