The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft with an already strong prospect pool. After adding seven players Thursday and Friday, they left Montreal with an elite prospect pool.
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If there was one big thing missing for the Blue Jackets coming into the draft, it was that elite defenseman who would project as a true number-one down the road. Not only did the team address this glaring need, they made history in doing so.
By selecting David Jiricek sixth overall and Denton Mateychuk 12th overall, the Blue Jackets took two of the best defensemen available in the draft. This became the first occurrence of a team taking two defensemen in the first 12 picks since the Boston Bruins back in the 1960s.
That makes three defensemen the Blue Jackets have taken in the first round in the last two drafts. They drafted Corson Ceulemans last year.
With this set of defensemen now in the fold coupled with an already deep forward group, the Blue Jackets now boast one of the most elite prospect pools in the NHL. Given how empty the cupboard was just a couple years ago, this is a great accomplishment for the team.
Recapping 2022 Picks
To understand why the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool is among the elite now, we have to understand how good of a job the team did this year. As soon as Jiricek was available at six, it became an easy decision for them.
The debate all season was which of Jiricek and Simon Nemec would be the first defenseman to be drafted. There were mixed reviews. Many folks felt Nemec was the better defenseman due to his offensive upside. Others, myself included, gave the nod to Jiricek because he’s a better two-way defender and is a physical force.
In Jiricek, the Blue Jackets got their long-awaited Seth Jones replacement. He’s a right-shot, big-bodied defenseman who is not afraid to hammer his opponents. He also projects as a number-one, shutdown defender who can quarterback the power play. He can bomb the puck when given the opportunity.
In a draft where there wasn’t a consensus number-one player, the Blue Jackets landed arguably the best defenseman and one who could make an impact for a long time. That in and of itself would be considered a win. But then they doubled down and added one of the most intriguing prospects in Mateychuk.
Don’t let the size fool you. Mateychuk is listed at 5-foot-11. He measured 5-foot-10.5 at the NHL Combine and weighed in at 194 pounds. He is not undersized by any means. He also has room to grow still.
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What makes Mateychuk so interesting is his skating. He was one of the best skaters available and used it to his advantage on the blue line. He finished his season in Moose Jaw with 64 points in 65 games.
The below highlight video gives you a nice summary of what all Mateychuk is capable of. He can shoot from anywhere on the ice. His skating is his biggest strength. He will drive the net. He can also find wide-open teammates in the process. It’s hard not to think of a little Cale Makar when you see Mateychuk at full throttle.
Jiricek and Mateychuk made for a winning day one where the Blue Jackets get an A+ from me. On day two, they kept the momentum going. Here are the five prospects the team added on Friday with some quick thoughts.
Luca Del Bel Belluz
I tried to tell you. After the NHL Combine, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the Blue Jackets were interested in either Owen Beck or Luca Del Bel Belluz. I wrote as much in our Emptying the Combine Notebook piece. The evidence was overwhelming.
Both Beck and Del Bel Belluz admitted talking to the Blue Jackets. Del Bel Belluz called his interview with them great. He then said the team asked him about Blue Jackets’ prospect Ole Julian Bjorgvik-Holm. It sealed that there was familiarity with these players more so than others.
Then on Combine Saturday, the Blue Jackets group were in the stands when both Beck and Del Bel Belluz took their fitness testing. Given the need for centers in the organization, it all made too much sense. The only question was would they be available at 44. Beck was the first pick of the second round by the Montreal Canadiens. At 44, Del Bel Belluz was available for the Blue Jackets. They made it happen.
As for Del Bel Belluz’s play, he projects as a two-way center who can play in the top-nine. He’s great with the puck on his stick and is creative. He thrives on the power play. He also plays against the opposition’s best and does well. This includes playing against Shane Wright.
At this spot in the draft, it’s a good pick to add a center who has the tools and room for improvement. He’s a few years away but I do expect him to get to the NHL and make an impact.
The Blue Jackets aled their draft success after they landed one of the most dynamic prospects available Jordan Dumais. He scored 109 points in 68 games in the QMJHL. You’d think someone like him would go much higher.
Dumais is 5-foot-9. The concerns with him are can he compete in the NHL against bigger players with as much skill. This is a good gamble at 96th overall. Considering he is the offensive threat on the Halifax Mooseheads, he sees the opposition’s best. But that didn’t stop him from his incredible production.
Where he goes with his development will be interesting to follow. But when you get compared to Brayden Point, you take notice. There is a chance Dumais could become one of the biggest steals in this entire draft.
- Kirill Dolzhenkov: Dolzhenkov made my must-have prospects list. He is 6-foot-6 and is highly skilled for a big man. If his skating has any kind of improvement he could be a force.
- Sergei Ivanov: After a trade of fifth rounders with the San Jose Sharks, the Blue Jackets got their goalie in Ivanov. He helped Russia win gold at the last Hlinka-Gretzky tournament.
- James Fisher: Fisher is already 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds and is still in high school. He’s set to play at Northeastern in 2022-23 and is an interesting longer-term prospect who could play center.
Blue Jackets Prospect Pool Now Elite
The Blue Jackets were a top-10 prospect pool before this draft began. Now there are squarely in my top-five pools in the NHL. When you look at the incoming talent at each position, you see elite at all levels.
For the purposes of this, we are going to consider players who have less than 100 games in the NHL currently in the organization. This will include Yegor Chinakhov and Cole Sillinger. This only counts drafted players, so Nick Blankenburg and Jet Greaves will not appear below.
At center, Sillinger leads the pack. His impressive first season left a mark on the team who kept trying to find reasons to get rid of him. They couldn’t. Kent Johnson will be ready to make his mark on the league this season. We think he plays wing at the start but do project him to be a center down the road.
- Centers: Sillinger, Johnson, Del Bel Belluz, Dmitri Voronkov, Mikael Pyyhtia, James Malatesta.
On the wing, Chinakhov leads the way. He’s looking to build off a rookie season that saw him adjusting to the NHL but showing some flashes of what he could become.
- Wingers: Chinakhov, Dumais, Dolzhenkov, Fisher, Kirill Marchenko, Martin Rysavy, Liam Foudy, Trey-Fix Wolansky, Tyler Angle.
The defense now boasts not only high-end talent but great depth too. This strength could help the Blue Jackets eventually acquire talent in trades if the opportunity arises.
- Defense: Jiricek, Mateychuk, Ceulemans, Bjorgvik-Holm, Stanislav Svozil, Guillaume Richard, Nikolai Makarov, Eric Hjorth.
In net, the Blue Jackets have now replenished the pool. Daniil Tarasov leads the way and could find himself on the Blue Jackets sooner rather than later.
- Goalies: Tarasov, Ivanov.
At all levels, there is good to elite talent. This bodes well for a team looking to take the next step towards becoming an annual playoff contender. The Blue Jackets overall get an A from me for the 2022 Draft by landing Jiricek and Mateychuk on the blue line and Del Bel Belluz and Dumais up front.
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As for an overall draft grade, the Blue Jackets get an A. They had to address defense and they did. They took good gambles later that could pan out. They accomplished what they set out to do.
While that’s good, the Blue Jackets now have to focus on today and the start of free agency. They made no trades involving current players. Something will have to give to allow their young players important playing time. It’s not a matter of if someone goes but rather a matter of who goes.
In the end, Montreal was a success for the Blue Jackets. But now the real work begins to build for 2022-23.