For just the second time in the last four seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets will make a selection in the first round of the NHL Draft. That will afford the team a chance to land one of the best players available in a loaded draft class.
Take nothing away from the Blue Jackets though despite their lack of firsts in recent years. From 2017-2019, just one player, Liam Foudy, was selected in the first by the team. But look at some of the other talent gathered in those three seasons that are highly thought of in the industry.
- Alexandre Texier (2017 second rounder)
- Daniil Tarasov (2017 third rounder)
- Emil Bemstrom (2017 fourth rounder)
- Kirill Marchenko (2018 second rounder)
- Veini Vehvilainen (2018 sixth rounder)
- Trey Fix-Wolansky (2018 seventh rounder)
- Dimitri Voronkov (2019 fourth rounder)
This is not an all-inclusive list of the last three seasons but it gives you an idea of the job the Blue Jackets have done despite not having a first in multiple seasons.
This season, the Blue Jackets have a chance to land a high-impact player to add to the prospect pool. They’ll be ready to go whenever a draft happens. The question for us to consider is who could be on their radar?
The one thing we do know for certain is that this player will be their best-available player on the master list. While it is easy to assume that they will want an impact forward, we can’t assume they will take a forward. It will depend on how the picks before them go and who is on their list. And there is quite the argument to be made to pick a defenseman in the first round should the opportunity arise.
For now, I will give you eight players who in my opinion will both make a lot of sense for the Blue Jackets and could be available in the middle of the first round. The first player is a defenseman actually. I happened to land him 15th in our recent THW Writer’s Mock Draft and felt like I got a steal.
For this, I am going to assume the following players will be gone by the time the Blue Jackets pick: Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Jamie Drysdale, Lucas Raymond, Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, Alexander Holtz and Anton Lundell. If any of these players somehow get to the Blue Jackets, it will be a miracle and you would witness the team racing to the podium on draft night.
8 First-Round Targets
Sanderson is widely regarded as the second best defenseman available behind Drysdale. There is good reason for that. He is an excellent defender who plays his position very well and has A+ instincts. He can also add plus offense. He has been compared to current Blue Jackets’ players Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
Now why would the Blue Jackets consider a defenseman when they have plenty in the system? Good question. There’s a few reasons for that.
First, you take the best player available regardless of position. If Sanderson were to fall to the Blue Jackets, he is likely the best available on the board. He would provide an immediate and immense improvement to their prospects on the blue line.
Second, you might finally have enough reason to unload a current player to improve up front. Imagine Jones, Werenski and Sanderson for the next several seasons. That’s lethal assuming Sanderson reaches his potential. Or, if the right deal comes up, Sanderson could be included in a package for an impact forward. This is why you take the best-available player at the draft. It allows for options later.
Finally, with the health and future of Ryan Murray a question because of his injury history, the Blue Jackets could get his eventual replacement and not miss a step. If Sanderson is available, to me it’s a no-brainer. Plus his father Geoff played in Columbus so there is that obvious connection. I personally think Sanderson is gone before 15, but if I was able to get him in a mock draft, it’s possible the Blue Jackets get him in real life.
Gunler will be one of the wildcards early in the draft. He has red flags because of his perceived attitude. But he’s also one of the most skilled players available in the entire draft. The question teams will need to consider is how likely will his issues be corrected.
In my mind, it’s very likely Gunler is available when the Blue Jackets get to the podium. His skill for my money is top-10. Will they value the skill and hope things fall into place otherwise? It’s possible. But knowing the history of recent drafts for the Blue Jackets, they highly value character and that could shy them away from Gunler here. Regardless where he goes, he will be worth following to see who eventually takes the chance.
Here’s another player who some have in the top-10. Given he is one of the youngest NCAA players available, the upside is intriguing despite the numbers not jumping out at you.
If he falls and the Blue Jackets have a chance to draft him, they will absolutely consider him. Holloway is one of the best-decision makers available in this draft. He’s also one of the better skaters available on top of being a center. He fits what the Blue Jackets would look for in a player. I think he’s gone by 15, but if teams are concerned about the lack of offense during his freshman year, he could fall and become a steal.
If you were to ask me which three players the Blue Jackets would have their eyes on most, one of those players in my mind for consideration is Zary. He is one of the few players outside of the obvious names that projects as a top-six center.
Zary leads all WHL first-time draft eligibles in scoring and brings a lot to the table. He plays in all-situations and is dependable on defense. He does so many things well but doesn’t do anything extraordinary. He projects to go in the 15-20 range which is where the Blue Jackets would pick. If the obvious names are gone, Zary makes perfect sense. He has the character and work-ethic the team would love.
There are a lot of teams that like Quinn and for good reason. He reached 50 goals in the OHL shortened season on the best team in the league. His consistency took a huge step this season to put him on the map as a potential lottery pick.
There are even some who prefer Quinn over Rossi based on how they each project to the NHL. I expect Quinn to be gone but I could also see him fall to the Blue Jackets’ range. If he cracks the top-20, it would complete one of the most impressive jumps in the rankings in recent memory. The question with Quinn was his strength and consistency. Both have been answered and now he’s primed to give a team much-needed offensive help.
Our resident draft expert Josh Bell would agree with me here. Teams that can draft Mysak should if given the chance. While the consensus rankings still see him outside the top-20, his skills in my sight are better than that.
Mysak came over to the OHL and immediate started to make a name for himself because of how electric his game is. His quick adjustment to the smaller rinks is impressive and shows how intelligent he is. The Blue Jackets would land one of the most skilled players if Mysak was there. He’s been dynamic everywhere he’s been which bodes well for his chances at the next level.
Amirov for my money is one of the most underrted prospects available in this draft. He spent time in the KHL last season after dominating the MHL. But what stands out about him is just how polished his game is overall for his age.
Amirov is the best non-goalie Russian prospect available in this draft. He’s plus in all major facets including skating, shooting, playmaking, vision and creativity. Knowing how much the Blue Jackets scout Russia, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have a good handle on who he is and strongly consider him with their first pick.
Mercer doesn’t get the attention he deserves because of the names being talked about ahead of him. But he has top-20 talent and would fit in with the Blue Jackets.
Mercer is a 200-foot player who is dependable at both ends. I’ve seen some that have questioned his skating but it is above average. He can also finish and produce offense at a good clip. If nothing else, Mercer is one of the safest picks in the 16-20 range.
That’s my list. Who do you think the Blue Jackets should target? Let me know what you think. No matter how it shakes out, the Blue Jackets will get a great player that will eventually make an impact.
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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.