Calgary ended its season as a burnt-out husk of a team that wasn’t very good to begin with, while Columbus experienced the hollow, debilitating pain of missing the playoffs by less than a point. Long summers? Sure. But at least the draft is approaching and with the combine taking place in Toronto right now, the Flames and Blue Jackets can look forward to a magical night in Newark on June 30 where each franchise will hold three picks in the first round. The key now is to maximize that value.
Looking at recent history, there’s a mixed bag of success when it comes to big first rounds. Los Angeles had three selections back in 2003, netting them Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle and Jeff Tambellini. Brown was the first King ever to lift the Stanley Cup, as the team’s captain, but Boyle and Tambellini were traded for minimal return after having minimal impact in L.A.
Florida pulled the same trick in 2010, grabbing Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden. Gudbranson developed the quickest, with Bjugstad and Howden seeing their first NHL action this season. Ottawa is a year behind, with Mika Zibanejad, Matt Puempel and Stefan Noesen all culled from the 2011 first round.
The luxury of these multiple selections for Calgary is that the Flames need everything right now. Our annual Future Watch issue ranked the franchise 27th in terms of prospects, but I do like the team’s 2012 draft class. Was Mark Jankowski a reach in the first round? Sure, but GM Jay Feaster covered his bases by netting solid players such as Pat Sieloff, Jon Gillies and Matt DeBlouw after that. Max Reinhart and Sven Baertschi will be full-timers up front next season, while Tyler Wotherspoon can push for a spot on the blueline.
Calgary’s first selection in 2013 comes in at No. 6 and in a deep draft, they’ll get an elite prospect. My pick would be Sean Monahan, the big Ontario League center who has the smarts and skill to go straight to the NHL. Looking at the Flames depth chart, they have much more talent on the wings, so this would be a good situation. The next two selections come in the final 10 picks of the round, courtesy St. Louis and Pittsburgh. At that point, the board will be jumbled, but the depth of this draft class means a whole slew of solid defensemen and versatile forwards will be available – it's basically up to Feaster whether he's a fan of Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen, Ryan Hartman or Max Domi, among others.
As for the Blue Jackets, they (for once) find themselves in a more enviable position. They’ve got a top-flight goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, a dangerous sniper in Marian Gaborik and a lot of stout, earnest players who want to be in Columbus. New GM Jarmo Kekalainen basically has a bunch of mid-round picks to play around with, the first coming in at No. 14. I can certainly envision a scenario where the Jackets package a couple selections to move higher, or even trade picks for a roster player. After all, this team has a nice pipeline set up with Ryan Murray on defense, a wealth of netminders (Anton Forsberg, Oscar Dansk, Martin Ouellette and Joonas Korpisalo) and emerging forwards such as Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen. Plus, the Jackets weren’t bad this year. In fact, had the season gone longer or Bobrovsky taken over for Steve Mason earlier, they would have been in the post-season. So this is a draft to augment and perhaps pick up some more scoring punch in the form of a player such as Bo Horvat, Anthony Mantha or Kerby Rychel.
Based on Kekalainen’s brief resume, it will be a productive draft for the Jackets and, for both Columbus and Calgary, it’s shaping up to be an important day.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.