While no team can quite match the draft pick stockpile the Arizona Coyotes have amassed for next month’s draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets might be the team best positioned for the first round specifically. The Blue Jackets hold the sixth and twelfth-overall selections, and according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, that might not be where they end up picking. (subscription link) Portzline makes it clear that the Blue Jackets will be “keeping their options open” with regard to the two picks, specifically pointing to the Blue Jackets potentially using their two selections to climb higher on the draft board.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is notoriously private about his strategy leading into drafts, so it’s unlikely that we’ll know exactly what the team decides to do until the night of the draft itself. That possibility is made especially true due to the uncertainty at the number-one slot. The Montreal Canadiens, who not only host the draft but also hold the number-one pick, could possibly pass on Kingston Frontenacs center Shane Wright in favor of Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky, whose momentum has been building in recent weeks. If the Canadiens end up doing just that, it brings up an extremely intriguing trade possibility with the Blue Jackets and Devils. The Devils are already set at center — having two number-one picks in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes on the roster will do that — and there are few teams that could match the Jackets’ offer should Kekalainen dangle both of his first-rounders. While we’re obviously a ways away from any sort of wildly entertaining scenario such as that one from actually taking place, it seems like there are definitely the pieces in place to make this year’s draft one of the more memorable in recent history, especially thanks to the mystery surrounding the Blue Jackets and their two top picks.
Now, for some other notes regarding the league’s Eastern Conference teams:
- While Columbus holding the sixth and twelfth picks at the 2022 draft is certainly an enviable situation for many teams, few clubs have been able to replicate the sort of high-end draft capital the Ottawa Senators were able to amass in 2020. The team held two top-five picks, and with their second they selected American defenseman Jake Sanderson. Sanderson’s debut has been highly anticipated since he signed from the University of North Dakota, but injuries kept him from getting into NHL games this past season. Per Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, by the time the season starts in the fall, those injury woes will be behind Sanderson and he’ll be ready to be a full contributor with the Senators, assuming he makes the team out of training camp as he’s widely expected to. Sanderson is a dynamic defenseman who has the potential to transform the makeup of the Senators’ blueline corps. His full recovery coming in time for the start of next season is not only a win for the Senators, it’s a win for hockey fans in general.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins were a single goal in Game Seven away from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2018, but ultimately their injuries and inability to finish off the New York Rangers doomed their season. That has left the team with an offseason of major uncertainty, and that uncertainty may not involve just their two big-name franchise pillars that are out of a contract. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Fenway Sports Group, the new Penguins owners, “may not be so enamored with Brian Burke keeping his post as president of hockey ops after a second straight first-round flameout.” Burke was hired in tandem with GM Ron Hextall last February, and under their stewardship, the Penguins have had a points percentage above .600, albeit with two first-round losses as Brooks mentions. Burke is a highly experienced hockey executive who is widely respected across the league, and the Penguins parting with him so early in his tenure would certainly be a surprise. While a summer front office shakeup is not something many had on their radar for the Penguins, especially given the high-stakes negotiations the team is currently engaged in, it now looks like it’s a possibility that cannot be ruled out.