COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Perhaps a surprise to some with trade talk swirling and the Blue Jackets showing a willingness to move one of their three first-round picks, but the club strode to the podium three times at Prudential Center and made their selections.
They got three players whom they rated highly and had interest in during the first round, the most recent being Marko Dano from Bratislava in the KHL. Dano is a native of Slovakia, and was one of the country's top players at the 2013 World Junior tournament where he put up four goals and nine points in six games on an undermanned squad.
He finished 12th on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for international skaters, and is regarded as a strong two-way player with good hockey instincts. Dano is listed as a natural center and played in the middle of the ice during the World Junior.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mere minutes after selecting a player in Alexander Wennberg who was high on their list, the Blue Jackets selected another prospect they hold in high regard.
Columbus made Kerby Rychel of the Windsor Spitfires their second pick in the first round of the NHL Draft at No. 19 overall, and there's a lot to like about Rychel's aggressive style - and that's in addition to his knack for scoring goals and racking up points. He led the Spitfires in goal-scoring for two straight years, scoring 40 goals in 2012-13 and totaling 87 points, which was good for eighth in the entire Ontario Hockey League.
Rychel is the son of former NHL player Warren Rychel, who played for five NHL teams and won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996. Along with former Blue Jackets assistant coach Bob Boughner, Warren Rychel is the part-owner and general manager of the Spitfires, and they have built a junior hockey powerhouse in southern Ontario.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Kerby Rychel made a name for himself by getting under opponents' skin and unnerving players in the OHL playoffs. Scouts like his ability to score big goals while also playing his role to a "T," and his north-south style should be a good fit with what Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets are trying to build.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The pick is in.
With the No. 14 overall selection in the NHL Draft, the Blue Jackets selected Alexander Wennberg from Djurgarden in Sweden's second division league. Wennberg, a native of Stockholm, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 174 lbs., and is a left-shooting center who is widely regarded as a good skater with strong hockey sense.
That's what the Blue Jackets and GM Jarmo Kekalainen have valued: competitive players who think the game at a high level, and that's one of the attributes scouts really like about Wennberg's game.
Wennberg is a two-time representative of Sweden at the World Junior tournament, winning silver both times, most recently in 2013 in Ufa, Russia. He knows Blue Jackets goaltending prospect Oscar Dansk very well, having been a teammate of his on the Swedish national team.
He played 46 games for Djurgarden last season and was second among all junior-age players with 14 goals. He's slated to play for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League this coming season, where Blue Jackets prospect Anton Forsberg is also on the roster.
Blue Jackets assistant coach Keith Acton, one of the architects of the team's strong penalty kill in 2012-13, has opted to leave the organization.
After one season in Columbus under head coach Todd Richards, Acton was named associate coach of the Edmonton Oilers this morning. Acton, who spent 10 years as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joins the staff of newly-appointed Oilers coach Dallas Eakins, whom he knows well from his days in Toronto.
Eakins and Acton were both assistant coaches under former Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice, who had been rumored to be in the mix for the Oilers job that Acton recently accepted. Before taking the job in Edmonton, Eakins was head coach of the Toronto Marlies (AHL).
Acton was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the sixth round, 103rd overall, at the 1978 NHL Draft. He made his debut with the Canadiens during the 1979-80 season and went on to register 226 goals, 358 assists, 584 points and 1,172 penalty minutes in 1,023 career NHL games with Montreal, the Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. He tallied a career-high 36-52-88 with 88 penalty minutes in 78 games with Montreal in 1981-82.
It seems not long ago that Matt Calvert's breakout NHL season was derailed by a broken finger.
He can joke about the injury now, but at the time, it was gutting for Calvert - who was playing great hockey and doing things his way: with 100 percent effort on every single shift. The Blue Jackets were in the middle of their end-of-season West Coast swing and playing a big game at STAPLES Center on Apr. 18 in Los Angeles, but Calvert took a hard shot from Kings defenseman Slava Voynov off the hand and did not return to the game.
Calvert was slated to be out 2-4 weeks and missed the remaining three games of the regular season, and given how well he was playing and the impact his line was making, it was especially difficult.
Had the Blue Jackets qualified for the playoffs, there was a chance Calvert could return sometime during the first round but it never got that far.
Thankfully for Calvert, the hard part is behind him and the finger is 100 percent healthy, allowing him to get into the swing of summer workouts without issue and begin preparations for the 2013-14 season.
Note to self: when a GM says something is "close," it's probably really close.
Sitting in Jarmo Kekalainen's pre-draft media session yesterday, the topic of restricted free agents was brought up on a couple of occasions. The first being goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (you can read more about those contracts talks here), but also center Artem Anisimov, due to be RFA on July 5.
Kekalainen said on Tuesday that the club was "very close" to getting Anisimov re-signed. It's almost like he knew something we didn't.
Over the past few weeks, Kekalainen has been very frank in stating his confidence of reaching a deal with Anisimov in the near term.
Today, it was made official: Anisimov re-upped with a three-year extension that will keep him in Columbus through the 2015-16 NHL season. Anisimov will be 28 years old and an unrestricted free agent when the deal expires.
Speculation will always exist, but Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he doesn't have any immediate concerns about getting Sergei Bobrovsky signed to a new contract.
At his pre-draft media availability this morning at Nationwide Arena, Kekalainen said the club is in the midst of an ongoing process with Bobrovsky and his agent. Negotiations are continuing, Kekalainen said, and he's optimistic of a deal in the near future with the Vezina Trophy winner.
Bobrovsky, 24, won 21 games for the Blue Jackets in his first season with Columbus and posted a career-high four shutouts. He was named the NHL's top goaltender during the Stanley Cup Final, winning the award over Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi.
"Nobody wants to lose the Vezina winner," Kekalainen said. "We're working hard to get him back, we're optimistic we can get him back. We've had some good conversations with his agent."
Every year, there's a prospect or two whose combination of hockey sense and a prototypical NHL frame make for intense discussions at the draft table. This year, look no further than Frederik Gauthier.
Scouts have raved about his complete, 200-foot game and total commitment to excelling in all three zones. For a young kid, the emerging skills and towering 6-foot-3 frame are a rare commodity and you have to think some team (if one hasn't already) will fall in love with the kid and do whatever it can to move up the draft board.
In his first season with Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), Gauthier was a standout player. He scored 22 goals and totaled 60 points in 62 games, and didn't miss a beat despite a broken jaw that caused him to miss two weeks of action in the fall. Gauthier is considered to be a bit of a project because of an occasional bout with inconsistency, but there's no questioning his hockey sense.
He has a knack for being around the puck at the right time and being on what coaches call "the right side of the puck." At 18 years of age, that's quite the compliment to be paid. Scouts have projected Gauthier as the ideal second or third-line center that can play against any of the opposition's lines, but preferably in a position to shut down offense.
(photo credit: Hockey's Future)
Valentin Zykov's first season in North America gave scouts and their NHL clubs a birds-eye view of the game-breaking talent that's put him high on many draft boards.
After one year spent with CSKA's second-division (junior) team in Russia as a 17-year-old, Zykov opted to bring his game to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and prepare himself for a possible career in the NHL. A strong performance for Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior A Challenge put him on the radar for this year's draft, but gaining experience in North American was deemed the best route for his career.
In one season with Baie-Comeau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Zykov was responsible for a lot of flights to Quebec - and there weren't many nights when scouts left the rink disappointed. He played 67 games this year for the Drakkar and scored 40 goals and totaled 75 points, and was named rookie of the year in the QMJHL as a result.
Zykov was also named the top rookie in the entire CHL with goal and point totals that were unsurpassed by any players in the WHL, OHL or QMJHL.
Selecting two goaltenders at last year's NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo) was merely a continuation of what came before. Former GM Scott Howson made a deal for Bobrovsky earlier that week, then signing Curtis McElhinney and retaining Anton Forsberg with an entry-level deal helped round out the goalie stable.
The club also has University of Maine goaltender Martin Ouelette in its system. Allen York, who has spent time in the ECHL, AHL and NHL over the past few seasons, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 5. Qualifying offers must be submitted by NHL clubs to RFAs by July 2 this year.
Got all that? Alright, let's continue.
The first item of business for John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen is to get Bobrovsky signed to a new contract, Davidson said, but there's more work beyond that. A fantastic season with Springfield (AHL) earned McElhinney a new one-year, NHL contract with the Blue Jackets but there are no guarantees he will backup Bobrovsky in the fall.