The injury situation in Columbus this season is well documented. Fans are sick of hearing about it too. But, on a regular basis, someone is going down to a major injury.
In spite of all the injuries, it hasn’t stopped the Columbus Blue Jackets from going on a historic winning streak. They have now won 8 games in a row on the road. That has never happened in franchise history.
— Todd Sharrock (@ToddSharrock) March 29, 2015
If this winning streak proves anything, it proves that the Blue Jackets are a good team, when everyone is healthy and in the lineup. Recall that they also went a franchise best 10-1-1 in December. And they are not beating scrubs either.
During the 8-game streak, they have beaten the likes of Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago, and St. Louis in their buildings. This is the kind of thing that a playoff team does. But, as is, thanks in large part to injuries, Columbus will not be making the playoffs this season.
But as with most situations, there are silver linings. The consensus on Columbus remains the same. They can be a very dangerous team who can make a run in the postseason when everyone is healthy. This last stretch of games shows just how dangerous they are. Columbus is finally playing like a playoff team.
But as it is, they currently are 24th in the NHL in points. Assuming they don’t win the lottery, that is the 7th overall draft pick. Because of this bizarre season, a playoff caliber team is getting a Top 10 draft pick, in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. If they’re a playoff team now, what does that make them next season and beyond?
The Rich Get Richer
Let’s put some perspective on this. Assuming a healthy roster (which is a big assumption right now), take a look at what Columbus already has, and what could be coming soon. Positions are as listed on the Blue Jackets website.
Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky.
Centers: Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu, Marko Dano, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, William Karlsson.
Right Wingers: Cam Atkinson, Rene Bourque, Jared Boll, David Clarkson, Jack Skille, Corey Tropp.
Left Wingers: Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Matt Calvert, Jeremy Morin.
Defensemen: Kevin Connauton, Justin Falk, Cody Goloubef, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, Dalton Prout, David Savard, Fedor Tyutin.
In The System: Kerby Rychel, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson, among others.
You can see why there is reason for optimism. There are good pieces in place. Now throw in a Top 10 draft pick, say Ivan Provorov, Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, or if the lottery works out, a Connor McDavid, you have a team who is going to be relevant for many years.
With certain positions saturated, and others needing depth, you can expect that Columbus will have a busy off-season. I spoke recently with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, and asked him about how Columbus will approach this draft, especially since they’ll have a high pick. Will they take a defenseman, or go for the best available player?
“I think you always go for the best available player”, Kekalainen said. “It can take anywhere from 3-5 years for these 18 year olds to make an impact in this league. My philosophy is to always go for the best available player.”
There are a lot of great players available at the top. Columbus can take a patient approach as well. They don’t have to rush these guys to the NHL, given the talent already here.
Summarizing Columbus’ Unusual Situation
It’s an unusual situation for a team. A team is usually in the playoffs and drafting lower, or out of the playoffs drafting higher, but years away from making an impact. Columbus is out of the playoffs, but a playoff contender, who gets to add a Top 10 pick. They will be a popular pick to make a deep playoff run.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Their recent play is showing what they are capable of. They have also demonstrated how a playoff caliber team will get a Top 10 pick. It’s not the path they wanted to take, but that’s what’s been dealt to them. Sometimes, the unexpected blessings lead to bigger things.
Someday, we will all look back to the start of when Columbus became a perennial contender. We’ll look back on this season and all the injuries, and what Columbus got as a result. This season has been painful, but it may be the turning point Blue Jackets fans have been waiting for.