The Columbus Blue Jackets often make life difficult for beat reporters and draft analysts, constantly doing the unexpected and keeping their cards close to their chest. Nobody can forget general manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen’s decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi or acquire Brandon Saad and later flip him for Artemi Panarin, and, of course, the move that even stumped broadcasters: selecting Yegor Chinakhov as a first-round pick. Last season, he even traded fan favorite and long-time Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson to a division rival in the Philadelphia Flyers shortly before the second day of the draft began.
Management has made major moves since the Chinakhov selection; the Dubois and Seth Jones trades come to mind. However, those moves were generally expected, which made them less shocking even though they were blockbuster deals. Entering the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday, the Blue Jackets could be set to shock the world again. Here’s how.
Kekalainen Goes Off the Board
This is one of the organization’s specialties. Kekalainen and his scouts often enter the first round with a significantly different draft board than other teams. If he had the first overall pick, it wouldn’t surprise me if they selected a player projected to go in the middle of the first round (maybe an exaggeration, though not by much). He’s the type of general manager who wants his guy and will do whatever it takes to get him, regardless of what other organizations and experts believe.
Since Kekalainen selected a previously undrafted player in the first round, it’s almost impossible to know what he is thinking. Many believe the organization should trade down in that situation; however, if a player ranked third overall on their list falls to sixth, it seems logical to make the pick. Is it possible that a seventh-round prospect is taken in the first round? No. But it isn’t impossible with the team’s previous track record. We could see him select a player projected to go five or six picks later, or even a bit further down. A few names that come to mind would be Conor Geekie or Brad Lambert, but again I’m not ruling anything out.
Blue Jackets Make a Trade
If any team is going to trade up when they take the floor at the Bell Centre on Thursday, the Blue Jackets would certainly make sense. My THW colleague, Mark Scheig, discussed a specific example earlier this week which focused on the Arizona Coyotes as a potential trade partner for a blockbuster trade. However, there are many ways Columbus could move up if that’s the approach they want to take.
It’s unlikely that the Montreal Canadiens will trade the first overall pick, but we can’t rule it out until they’re at the podium making the pick. The sixth and 12th overall picks on their own certainly wouldn’t be enough to convince Montreal’s GM Kent Hughes to move down, especially in front of a home crowd. The Blue Jackets have a wealth of talent that could be added to the mix though, as former first-round picks Jake Bean and Liam Foudy are young enough to carry a decent amount of value. Bean is coming off of a very strong first season with Columbus, and although it wouldn’t be ideal to part with him, he’s far from untouchable. Despite only being 22 years old, Foudy is no longer someone the team sees as a long-term top-six center since he’s been overtaken by Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson. So, it would make sense to allow him to explore a new opportunity where he may be able to eventually fill that role.
Trading down could be a possibility as well. The Buffalo Sabres have the 9th and 16th overall picks, which may be enough to entice the Blue Jackets if Sabres GM Kevyn Adams wants a specific player bad enough. A move like this wouldn’t shock the world, but it would increase the odds of Kekalainen going off the board with one of their picks or even potentially making a second move. With multiple picks on the board, it makes it much easier to acquire a big-name player. They don’t have a Jones-like asset that they’ll be looking to move this offseason, but with the log jam of similarly skilled players on defense, they might use someone like Bean or Gabriel Carlsson as a sweetener.
Even though there are no major assets that Kekalainen is looking to move, certainly, some are available that other teams may be interested in. Gustav Nyquist is in the final year of his contract and although he’ll be difficult to let depart, if the return is right, then it might be tough to turn it down.
It seems fitting to say that the team based on the Union Army of the American Civil War has a lot of ammunition going into the draft. There are quite a few different ways for the Blue Jackets to use that ammunition and whenever Kekalainen is on the stage, we should always expect the unexpected. Whether it’s a trade, an off-the-wall pick, or something else completely unexpected, he usually finds a way to make headlines when the draft comes around, and I wouldn’t expect this year to be any different.
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.