The Columbus Blue Jackets decided they were in need of a reset this season and decided to sell off their expiring assets. Rentals David Savard and Nick Foligno both brought back first-round picks (and more) through some savvy cap manipulation, while injured Riley Nash even landed them a sixth. Now, as the draft approaches and Columbus sit with three first-round selections, teams around the league are showing interest. At today’s press conference introducing new head coach Brad Larsen, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about the upcoming offseason:
As a management staff we’re going to have a busy summer. We have draft meetings coming up soon. We have three first-round picks, nine picks altogether that we can do a lot of different things with. I’ve already talked to several of the general managers in the league that have protection problems in the expansion draft, and they’re eyeing those picks like–they’re very hungry for our first-round picks I can tell you that. We could do a lot of things with them, if we think it makes sense for us now and into the future. We’re not going to trade them for a 35-year-old player that can help us next season, no matter how good that player would be.
The Blue Jackets’ own pick will be fifth overall, while the one they acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs will be 25th (though it will be the 24th player selected since Arizona forfeited their first-round pick this season for scouting violations). The one they received from the Tampa Bay Lightning could be anywhere from 29-32 depending on how far they go from here.
It’s hard to know exactly why teams that face issues in the expansion draft would be after the Blue Jackets’ picks, but part of it could simply be because they will have to give their own up to the Seattle Kraken in order to protect extra players. That situation should be familiar to Kekalainen, given he traded a first (and a second) to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 along with David Clarkson’s contract to protect Josh Anderson, Joonas Korpisalo, and Jack Johnson. The Golden Knights eventually picked William Karlsson from the Blue Jackets, who scored 43 goals in his first season in Vegas.
Not only will Kekalainen have learned from that mistake, but he also should have a good grasp on the desperation that will face some of the other managers around the league as the draft approaches. For instance, if a team believes a player is ripe for selection by Seattle and doesn’t want to lose them for nothing, why not flip them to the Blue Jackets for a relatively high pick instead? Columbus has some extra space to protect incoming players, especially if they were to move the likes of Seth Jones or Patrik Laine in the coming weeks.
One of the interesting questions when it comes to first-round picks this season however is how teams feel about the incoming draft class. Many of the players that will be selected this year haven’t been scouted in person since early 2020, with many others not even getting much game experience in the year since. How that will affect the value of a late-first is still to be determined, but Columbus and Kekalainen could be a test case to watch over the next little while.