Despite making some critical trade deadline acquisitions to help their cause, the Columbus Blue Jackets barely missed out on making the playoffs this season after losing out to Minnesota in a tiebreaker. But things look good for the future of the team, and it helps that GM Jarmo Kekalainen holds three first-round draft picks at this year’s NHL Entry Draft from what is widely considered a deep talent pool.
“It seems like it’s a good draft, but I always am kind of cautious about getting too excited about the good drafts or too pessimistic when people say it’s a down year because someone will always surprise you in a good way or, unfortunately, in a bad way,” Kekalainen said. “Either way, we’re excited for our franchise with three first-round picks.”
The team will select at No. 14 with their own draft pick. The No. 19 pick comes courtesy of the New York Rangers as part of last summer’s Rick Nash deal, while the to-be-determined selection, which comes from the Kings as part of the Jeff Carter trade last season, will be cemented based on how well the Kings do in the playoffs.
Defenseman Seth Jones and forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are ranked as the top-ranked skaters headed into the draft, and the number one pick could largely depend on the needs of the Colorado Avalanche, who will pick first overall.
At No. 14, two mock drafts on NHL.com see the Blue Jackets taking a defenseman—either Mirco Mueller or Ryan Pulock, both of the WHL. The third has Columbus selecting Ryan Hartman, a right wing with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. However, Kekalainen is also a firm believer in drafting the next best available player.
“I think you’ll find a lot of opinions, there are a lot of good prospects,” Kekalainen said. “When it’s close, and especially with the multiple picks we have, a tiebreaker could be selecting a position of need. As a principle, though, I would always take the best player available.”
With the luxury of three first round draft picks, Kekalainen could also choose to use one of those picks to move up or down in the draft or even grab a proven NHL player.
“We’re going to keep our options open and we’re going to be open for talks,” he said. “I’ve expressed the willingness to move one of those picks [prior to making a selection] if we could get some help for our team. But we’re not looking for any short-term fix or a quick solution. We’re looking for a top prospect in return or a player that’s still young and can contribute for our team for the long term.”
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft will take place June 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.