The Columbus Blue Jackets now know where they are going to pick at the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville. Thanks to the draft lottery, they will be at the mercy of the team directly in front of them.
The Blue Jackets hold the third-overall pick. The Anaheim Ducks own the second-overall pick. Most of the hockey world assumes that pick will be University of Michigan standout Adam Fantilli.
You know what they say about those that assume, right?
It would surprise absolutely nobody if the Ducks go with the majority and take Fantilli second overall. What he was able to do as a freshman has him on the path to be one of the NHL’s shining stars in due time.
But we have to ask a question. Are the Ducks set on taking Fantilli right now? Or could there be other options they explore that throw everyone a curve ball? Pat Verbeek will ultimately decide.
One look at the Ducks’ situation is telling. It shows that they could actually do multiple things with the second pick. If they believe Fantilli is going to be their top-six center of the future, then it’s a no-brainer.
However the Ducks have both Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish, both of which are thought of as high-end centers. Is center ice their most pressing need at this point?
Drafting Fantilli would allow the Ducks to move someone to the wing, Zegras can play both center and wing so that would be an easy transition should it come to that. Talk about a loaded top-six if this is the decision.
We have other questions that we need to consider. Is Fantilli by far and away the best center in this draft not named Connor Bedard? And then what other options are there if the Ducks look at other positions?
Leo Carlsson is someone who many scouts believe will be a cornerstone center in the NHL. There are even some that have considered the possibility that Carlsson is better than Fantilli.
The ongoing World Championships could be a huge factor in what the Ducks do. Both Fantilli and Carlsson are playing for their respective countries. What if Carlsson shines on the big stage? Will that be enough to take him second overall? It’s not completely out of the question.
But then what might the Ducks do if they don’t target a center? There is a generational talent available in Matvei Michkov. They are far away from contending at this point. Selecting Michkov makes sense in that case since the team is years away from being in the playoff conversation. He would join the team at a time when they’re ready for the next step.
Michkov’s situation is well documented. He could slip down the first-round board if teams find it too risky to take him early. If Michkov is the next Alex Ovechkin as some are suggesting, the Ducks have to at least think about it.
The other thing the Ducks could do in theory is complete a trade. If they believe their target is available a spot or two down the board, a team could trade up and land a coveted center while gaining extra assets. It seems unlikely they’d trade from two. However a phone call could change everything.
Blue Jackets at Mercy of Ducks
No matter what the Ducks decide, the Blue Jackets are at their mercy. The Ducks will have to decide who their best available player is at two.
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This is why the Blue Jackets’ future will be decided by the Ducks. The Ducks choosing Fantilli would make the Blue Jackets choose between Carlsson, Will Smith or another center. The Ducks passing on Fantilli would open the door for the Blue Jackets to land him instead.
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Much of the post-lottery takeaway focused on missing out on Bedard. But a bigger story is dropping the extra spot from two to three for the Blue Jackets. That moment will have a ripple effect felt for years to come.
The Blue Jackets lost control of picking first after Bedard. While they’ll still get a good player, they must now wait on the Ducks before finding out what their future looks like.
While all signs point to Fantilli joining the Ducks, anything is possible until the pick is announced at the podium. Now, we wait and see where it all goes.