As draft approaches, Jackets have plenty of options
Every NHL team wants depth, competitiveness and options -- and sometimes those three go hand-in-hand-in-hand.
Over the past two seasons, the Blue Jackets have concentrated a significant amount of time and effort into building competitive depth throughout the organization, while at the same time giving themselves as many options as possible to improve the team in both the short and long term. When they acquired Jack Johnson from the Los Angeles Kings a year ago, they not only picked up a key piece of the club in Johnson, but also a first-round pick that they could use in either the 2012 or 2013 NHL Draft.
Then came the Rick Nash trade in July: the Blue Jackets bolstered depth at center ice and on defense, and also netted another first-round pick in this year's draft. In a year when the draft class is widely considered to be ripe with NHL talent, there's no such thing as too many assets (and really, is there ever such a thing?)
Along the way and down the stretch of an exciting 2012-13 season, the Blue Jackets made calculated moves that made sure not to jeopardize their long-term growth, i.e. the "brick by brick" approach that John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have preached since taking over hockey operations in Columbus. They re-signed key pieces of the core in Mark Letestu, Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert after the season (each to two-year contracts), but made perhaps the biggest trade at the deadline in early April.
Picking up Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers was a prime example of how the Blue Jackets (and any team, for that matter) can utilize its depth to acquire pieces for a short-term boost while also keeping an eye on the long-term.
What does this have to do with the NHL draft, you might ask?
With three first-round picks, it's pretty much a guarantee that the Blue Jackets' phone number will be a popular one - if it isn't already. Kekalainen has indicated to NHL.com and other outlets that the team's first rounders are in play, but only if a potential deal brings back young, established NHL-caliber help. That alone should raise some eyebrows around the league and up the level of activity leading up to the picks.
Here are a few of the options available to the Blue Jackets:
1) Keep all three picks - if this ends up being the case, I don't think Davidson or Kekalainen will be disappointed in the least. As mentioned earlier: it's a talented draft class with many top-end prospects projected to go in the first round, so if Columbus can snag one, two or three of the players on its master list, it will be a successful weekend in New Jersey.
2) Trade pick(s) for immediate NHL-caliber help - we usually see a few of these trades on the draft floor, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins did a year ago in their building. The trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina was one of the shockers at CONSOL Energy Center and is evidence of acquiring proven help in exchange for a coveted asset such as a first-round pick. Could the Blue Jackets make such a move when the draft begins? We'll have to wait and see.
3) Package pick(s) and move up the board - while it's a deep draft, there's no denying the instant impact players projected to be selected at the top of the board. Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and most recently the young Russian Valeri Nichushkin, who opened many eyes at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Armed with four of the first 44 picks in the draft, could the Blue Jackets use some combination to move up the board and pick one of the "big four?"
Less than a month remains until the lights come on the stage at Prudential Center, and the Blue Jackets hockey operations and amateur scouting staff have spent the past two weeks together in order to start assembling the master list.
One thing's certain: whatever happens, they will be prepared for it.