During the 2012 NHL Draft, the New York Islanders made an unprecedented offer to the Columbus Blue Jackets: We’ll give you all seven of our draft picks if you’ll give us one of yours. That one desirable pick was second overall, and the opportunity to select defenseman Ryan Murray. The Blue Jackets declined.
While Murray’s injury-filled career in Columbus hasn’t spelled Hall of Fame, he’s been effective when healthy, playing 347 NHL games, with 110 points and 104 penalty minutes. (Statistics are as of the NHL’s Pause due to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020). Only once in seven pro seasons has Murray played a full 82 games (2015-16), when he recorded 25 points and 40 PIMs.
The Islanders 2012 Draft
In the 1st round of that draft, with Murray off the board, the Islanders selected defenseman Griffin Reinhart fourth overall. Reinhart played eight games for the Islanders (1 assist, 6 PIMs), all in the 2014-15 season. The following year he appeared in 29 games for the Edmonton Oilers, picking up only another assist and 20 more PIMs. That was it for Reinhart’s NHL career: 37 games, 2 points.
The Islanders’ other six picks in the draft didn’t work out much better, with only two players appearing in the NHL. Defenseman Adam Pelech (3rd round, #65 overall) has played 247 NHL games with 61 points and is still with the Islanders (injured at the time of The Pause). Seventh-round pick Jake Bischoff played four games (zero points) with the Vegas Golden Knights in October 2019 before being returned to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
That’s it for the Islanders’ seven 2012 draft picks; 288 total NHL games, 63 total points. Where are they now? Pelech should be back on the ice when the NHL resumes play, post-pandemic. Of the other six, two play in the KHL, two play in the AHL, one is in the Finnish Elite League, and one plays in a little-known league based in Quebec.
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In addition to Murray, the Blue Jackets’ six 2012 picks brought in goalie Joonas Korpisalo (currently the team’s starting netminder), and Josh Anderson, a bruising winger who can score (115 points in 267 NHL games). Oscar Dansk, the Blue Jackets’ 2nd-round pick, is part of the Vegas organization, while the other two selections (Daniel Zaar, 6th round and Gianluca Curcuruto, 7th round) didn’t sniff an NHL locker room as players.
If you think the idea of the Blue Jackets having 13 picks in a single draft is ridiculous, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Ottawa Senators have 14 picks in the 2020 Draft. Fourteen, including three 1st-round picks and four in the 2nd round. While the draft order has yet to be determined, expect a couple of those 1st-rounders to be in the top five. Of course, who knows what trades involving those picks will happen between now and then?
The State of the Blue Jackets in June 2012
The Blue Jackets were a mess leading up to the draft in 2012. Scott Howson had been the team’s general manager for five years. Rick Nash was the team’s captain, face of the franchise, all-time leading scorer, and apparently out the door. In February of 2012, Howson tried to arrange a trade with the New York Rangers but his credibility took a big hit when he publicly announced that Nash had demanded a trade (a trade that would come to fruition a month after the draft).
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Ryan Johansen hadn’t yet found his footing as a top-line center, although he had just finished his rookie season and had not yet turned 20 years old. Behind Johansen were Derick Brassard (who would follow Nash to the Rangers), R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, and Mark Letestu. All were serviceable, but even Brassard didn’t look like the dynamic playmaker expected of a 1st-round pick (#6 overall in 2006).
Goaltending wasn’t as good as expected after Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy in 2009. (Alex Stallings wrote about the “Blue Jackets Goaltending Woes” at the time.) A couple of weeks before the draft, Andrew Grimm listed five key factors for the Blue Jackets’ future: The Nash situation, goaltending, the draft, free agency, and team unity all made his list.
How Columbus Might Have Used Those 7 Picks
On the surface, it looks like the Blue Jackets were wise to hold onto the Murray pick rather than giving it up for Pelech and a bunch of non-NHLers. However, if Columbus had made the trade, they probably would not have chosen the same seven players selected by the Islanders. Assuming the Blue Jackets used their own picks as they did, who might Columbus have selected instead of the players drafted by the Islanders?
With a combination of hindsight (NHL career to date) and pre-draft rankings, here’s who the Blue Jackets might have selected with those seven additional picks. Considering mock drafts and scouting reports in addition to NHL stats means you won’t see Connor Brown (324 games, 142 points) or Vinny Hinostroza (246 games, 100 points) jump from their actual 6th-round selection positions to, say, the early 4th round.
Islanders 1st Round, #4 Overall
This one’s tough – there were quite a few options available (typical of the 4th-overall draft slot). After losing Murray to the Islanders, Columbus may have tried to select a scorer with their new 1st-rounder. By the end of the 2011-12 season, a center may have looked like a good place to start. Jeff Carter was already off to the L.A. Kings and Vinny Prospal was showing his age. Johansen was still young. Center Alex Galchenyuk was snapped up at #3 overall by the Montreal Canadiens, however, his career has derailed over the years.
Among the centers available after Galchenyuk were Mikhail Grigorenko (selected at #12 by the Buffalo Sabres), Radek Faska (#13, Dallas Stars), Zemgus Girgensons (#14, Buffalo Sabres), Tomas Hertl (#17, San Jose Sharks), and Brendan Gaunce, who was ranked in the top 15 of North American skaters, but fell to the 26th pick, where he was grabbed by the Vancouver Canucks. (Grigorenko is in the KHL and Gaunce is in the Boston Bruins organization, but the other three remain active with the teams that drafted them.)
With Nash heading out, a scoring winger might have softened the blow for the Blue Jackets’ fan base. Filip Forsberg, who was selected #11 by the Washington Capitals, has 353 points in 458 games and was ranked pre-draft as the #1 European skater. He didn’t light up the league right away. In fact, he didn’t suit up until after he was traded to the Nashville Predators late in the 2012-13 season. Since he became a Predators regular in 2014-15, he’s averaged about 58 points, despite missing time with injuries. Of the players taken in the 1st round, Forsberg is the leading scorer (1st in points with 353, 1st in goals with 166), despite ranking 8th in games played.
Islanders 2nd Round, #34 Overall
The Blue Jackets selected goalie Oscar Dansk with the first pick of the second round (#31 overall), and then selected another goalie prospect with the first pick of the 3rd round (Joonas Korpisalo, #62 overall). With the Islanders’ 2nd-round pick (#34), they might have made that second goalie selection earlier. Anthony Stolarz, snapped up by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2nd round with the #45 pick, was still on the board when the Islanders were on the clock. Rather than using a 2nd round and a 3rd round pick on goalie prospects, why not use two 2nd round picks?
It’s unlikely the Blue Jackets would have used three early picks on goaltenders, and for this exercise, we’re not altering any of the actual Columbus picks. Instead of choosing Stolarz, sandwiched between Dansk and Korpisalo, let’s say the 2nd-round pick was used on a skater.
Interestingly, that #45 pick, which Philadelphia used to select Stolarz, was property of the Blue Jackets for a few months. It flipped to the Flyers on draft day as part of the Sergei Bobrovsky trade.
Of the skaters available between the Islanders’ #34 slot and Columbus’ #62, defenseman Damon Severson (430 games, 163 points) would have been a good choice. He’s been a regular for the New Jersey Devils for several seasons. Center Chris Tierney (436 games, 189 points), of the Senators, might also have been tempting. Severson was considerably higher in pre-draft rankings and was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the #55-overall pick. His four seasons with the Sharks and two with the Senators have been reasonably productive.
Islanders 3rd Round, #65 Overall
The Pelech selection doesn’t look bad in this draft slot. However, drafting 13 picks later, the Flyers grabbed Shayne Gostisbehere. “The Ghost Bear” has played more NHL games than Pelech (340 to 247) and has significantly outscored him (51 goals and 199 points to 12 goals and 61 points). Gostisbehere’s rookie season included a 15-game scoring streak (a record) and four OT-winners. GM Howson may not have selected the smaller Gostisbehere over Pelech, but hindsight makes it a no-brainer.
Other defensemen available included Jimmy Vesey (304 games, 110 points), Esa Lindell (308 games, 100 points), Matt Grzelcyk (197 games, 54 points), and Colton Parayko (385 games, 159 points).
Islanders 4th Round, #103 Overall
The Blue Jackets used their 4th-round pick (4th in the round, #95 overall) on Josh Anderson, who has developed into a large and relatively productive winger (until this year’s shoulder injury, which required surgery). The Islanders’ pick was 12th in the round, which was used to select Loic Leduc, selected well above his pre-draft ranking (picked #103 overall, ranked #209 of #210 North American skaters.) After finishing his junior career with the Rimouski Oceanic in 2013-14, Leduc played 53 games in the AHL and an even 100 in the ECHL. He’s spent the past couple of seasons in the LNAH. (“The what?” The Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey is a low-level professional league, known for fighting over skill. Donald Brashear played in the LNAH following his NHL career.)
Using the Islander’s pick, the Blue Jackets may have jumped on defenseman Jaccob Slavin (selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the 120th-overall pick, late in the 4th round). Slavin played a 3rd season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL and a pair of years with Colorado College before turning pro in 2015-16. In 377 NHL games, all with Carolina, he has 151 points. He celebrated his first All-Star selection this season. Alternatively, a pair of centers were available, Cedric Paquette (376 games, 85 points) and Andreas Athanasiou (303 games, 156 points) are still active in the NHL.
Islanders 5th Round, #125 Overall
Columbus’s 5th-round pick was sent to the Canadiens as part of the trade for the rights to defenseman James Wisniewski. The Islanders drafted 4th in that round, #125 overall, selecting the hulking Doyle Somerby (6-foot-5, 225 lbs). Somerby played a year with Muskegon of the USHL and four years at Boston University before turning pro in 2017-18. He’s been with the AHL Cleveland Monsters since. He wasn’t listed in the top 210 North American skaters before the draft, so he likely wasn’t on Columbus’ radar.
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A trio of players who were on the pre-draft list included defensemen Connor Carrick (ranked #124) and Ben Hutton (#200), as well as center Alexander Kerfoot (#165). Another player drafted in that round was defenseman Colin Miller (unranked). All four are active in the NHL. Hutton and Miller have played over 300 games in the big league, and Miller and Kerfoot have scored over 100 points.
Islanders 6th Round, #155 Overall
In the 6th round, New York opted for Jesse Graham, a smallish right-handed defenseman, who never cracked the NHL roster of either the Islanders or the Colorado Avalanche (signed as a free agent 2017). He’s currently with KalPa Kuopio of the SM-Liiga, the top Finnish league. (That’s not too shabby – many consider the Liiga to be among the best in the world.)
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Who would the Blue Jackets have selected with the Islanders’ pick in the 6th round? They used their own pick, #152 overall, on Daniel Zaar, who’s playing in Sweden. Connor Brown and Vinny Hinostroza (mentioned earlier) were possible picks. Defenseman Matt Benning has also played over 240 NHL games and is still active in the NHL.
One thing to be said about former Columbus GM Howson, he wasn’t afraid of drafting small forwards or from the NCAA. Cam Atkinson (5-foot-8, 175 lbs) was selected in the 6th round of the 2008 Draft and is second all-time in Blue Jackets scoring (tied with Nash for the single-season goal record at 41). In the 2011 Draft’s 3rd round, Howson nabbed 5-foot-9 T.J. Tynan out of the University of Notre Dame. Why not select another smallish forward out of Notre Dame in Hinostroza?
Islanders 7th Round, #185 Overall
In the last round of the 2012 Draft, the Blue Jackets picked Gianluca Curcuruto, who played another four years in the OHL and three at McGill University. He’s now working in finance in the Toronto area. The Islanders drafted slightly better – Jake Bischoff appeared in four games for the Golden Knights in 2019-20 before being returned to the AHL’s Wolves.
Only two players drafted in that round played over 100 NHL games, Christian Djoos (drafted by the Capitals #195 overall) and Joakim Ryan (#198 by the Sharks). But what if Howson had looked past the list of first-year eligible players and poked around the NCAA for undrafted free agents (remember that Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis was an undrafted NCAA free agent). He might have found defenseman Danny DeKeyser (441 NHL games, 123 points) at Western Michigan University or center Luke Glendening (500 games, 111 points) out of the University of Michigan.
How Would the Trade Have Changed the Blue Jackets future?
With 13 players joining the pipeline in a single year, how would the Blue Jackets’ future have changed? Would the careers of the players selected have turned out differently? Some of the youngsters would perhaps have been allowed to develop in the minors longer because of a logjam ahead of them. Some would have been traded. Some may never have been given an opportunity to play in the NHL. Would the Blue Jackets have been more successful with the seven additional draft picks in 2012 than they have been with Murray?
I’ve taken advantage of hindsight here. Murray has (when healthy) been a solid defender for Columbus, however among the players listed above, Shayne Gostisbehere has played seven fewer games than Murray but has outscored him 199 to 110. Maybe just that one pick would have altered the Blue Jackets’ fate. We can’t know, because the seven-for-one trade never took place.