It is never too early to talk about the NHL Draft. That’s especially true of the 2023 NHL Draft given the amount of top-end talent available. Anytime 4-5 players could go number-one overall in other years, you know it’s loaded.
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We are far enough into the season where we are starting to get an idea of who the true contenders for the draft lottery are. Although there are some exceptions to this, U.S. Thanksgiving is a good barometer of what teams are for the season.
On Thanksgiving, the Blue Jackets were in 29th place in the NHL Standings with a record of 7-11-1. Since then, the team has gone 1-2-1 and have dropped to 30th place in the overall standings. They trail the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that endured a 10-game losing streak, by five points entering Tuesday’s games. Let’s be honest. Talking about the playoffs is far-fetched given the overall situation. They trail the second wildcard by 11 and are in last place in the East.
Now is as good a time as any to look ahead to what could be. The Blue Jackets could potentially carry a golden ticket to the 2023 Draft Lottery. Assuming they finish at or near the bottom of the standings, with a little luck, the Blue Jackets could finally land a top prospect that could alter the course of the franchise.
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But today, let’s take this one step further. Not only do the Blue Jackets have a golden opportunity to change their franchise forever, they would immediately present the most attractive fit right out of the gate for these top prospects. Whether it’s Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Matvei Michkov or others, they would join a really good situation with the Blue Jackets. But why is that? Glad you asked.
Look Who They Would Play With
Should one of these top prospects land with the Blue Jackets, there is a chance they would play immediately with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine on the top line. No other team at the bottom of the standings presents this kind of situation right away.
But that’s not all. Now consider the future of the Blue Jackets. Their defense is set in the years to come with Zach Werenski coming back next season. David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk and Corson Ceulemans are eventually coming. The goaltending situation, while things are being worked out now, looks bright whether it’s Elvis Merzlikins figuring things out or Daniil Tarasov taking the next step.
That prospect would also join some young, exciting prospects like Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinakhov, Kirill Marchenko and others. The Blue Jackets have pieces in place. If they land a game-changer center to the mix, then it’s all systems go.
Being able to play right away with Gaudreau and Laine could easily make that player rookie of the year. They’d also be able to learn from two of the best in the world. They have the potential of becoming one of the dominant lines in hockey should it come together. The possibilities are endless.
Let’s now look at the other teams at the bottom of the standings. While they could fit on any team, you’ll see quickly why the Blue Jackets are the best situation.
The Ducks occupy the bottom of the standings even with the young talent they have. While their future is bright, the other needs on the team make them less attractive to start.
How will they navigate the goaltending situation? What about the state of their defense? Their prospect pool is not as strong as the Blue Jackets from an overall depth perspective. Although having Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish and one of these prospects would make quite the depth down the middle, they have to address other parts of the team. They seem multiple years away from being a contender.
The Blackhawks are at the beginning stages of their rebuild. What happens with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane? They already shipped off Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. They don’t have the high-end talent waiting like the Blue Jackets do.
The Blackhawks need one of these top prospects. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they struggled for a few years before turning a corner.
The Coyotes are building it up in the desert. But they still need top-end talent throughout. While their far into the future outlook at five years and beyond looks promising, there could still be many lean years coming.
With so many needs in most every position, the Coyotes don’t present the most attractive fit right off the bat.
San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson could be gone at some point. There is some question about Timo Meier’s status going into an RFA negotiation. Like the other teams mentioned, fixing the Sharks will take years.
The Sharks are among teams that need a top prospect the most. But to become a true contender could take 4-5 years or longer.
The last team we present for now needs to make a decision about their direction. They must decide on a full rebuild soon instead of riding the fence.
Coach John Tortorella recently said the Flyers have a long way to go. They need fresh talent in all positions and could be looking at a long rebuild. But to delay the start of that would only hinder the franchise. They do not have the talent there that other teams such as the Blue Jackets already possess.
Blue Jackets’ fans everywhere are dreaming for a line of Gaudreau-Bedard/Fantilli-Laine. They could come right in, make a difference and make them a playoff contender immediately. It would be hard pressed to say that about other teams given their situations.
We’ll see how the rest of the season goes. But given a road-heavy schedule the rest of the way and key players gone for the season, it’s not inconceivable to think the Blue Jackets could finish in the bottom-five of the NHL standings.
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The Blue Jackets will not tank on purpose. That’s not how they operate. But given their situation, they still could lose a lot of games. If it means a chance at a game-changing player, that’s the silver lining. It could mean the difference between being relevant sooner or continuing to wallow while searching for a solution that’s not one of those top prospects.
All of this along with the state of their prospect pool makes the Blue Jackets the most attractive option for the top prospects of the 2023 NHL 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 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.