Blue Jackets Draft Recap

GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn't have three first round picks this year to provide an immediate talent infusion to the organization, but coming off a welcome (if unexpected) playoff appearance he also didn't sacrifice draft picks in an effort to provide a quick boost to the NHL roster either. Here's the latest batch of kids striving to be part of the future in Columbus:

1(16) - Sonny Milano, LW, US Under-18 (USHL)
Milano is hardly a typical Kekalainen pick, in that the focus of his game is primarily on the offensive side of the red line, but his speed, elusiveness, skill and goal-scoring instincts are second to none in this draft class. He's made a commitment to Boston College but there is scuttlebutt that he might head to the OHL instead, presumably to provide him with a quicker path to the NHL. He'll need to improve his defensive play before he'll earn a regular spot on the Blue Jackets, but once he establishes himself he should be a dynamic force off the wing.

2(47) - Ryan Collins, D, US Under-18 (USHL)
Collins is almost a clone of last year's second round pick Dillon Heatherington, a big, physical shutdown defender who won't supply anything in the way of offense. He's not close to the NHL, but the Jackets have some fairly young blue liners on the roster already (headlined by Ryan Murray) and can afford for Collins and Heatherington to grow into their frames and get ready for their crease-clearing duties.

3(76) - Elvis Merzlikins, G, Lugano (Swiss League)
The Jackets continue to stockpile young European metminders, and while Oscar Dansk is currently tabbed as the club's goalie of the future it may not be long before the 18-year-old Merzlikins challenges him for that designation. The young Latvian has some rough edges to his game, but he's big, athletic, already handles the puck at an NHL level and looked very good playing in the top Swiss pro league (not unlike Marko Dano's rise to prominence in the KHL before he became one of the Blue Jackets' first round picks last season). Young goalkeeps are tough to project, but Merzlikins seems to have the building blocks to make an impact in the NHL down the road.

3(77) - Blake Siebenaler, D, Niagara (OHL)
Siebenaler is a converted forward with a good package of offensive skills off the blue line, featuring good wheels, vision and sharp passing instincts. He's not very big or physical though, and he didn't get many chances to show what he could do last season on a fairly weak Ice Dogs squad. He could eventually develop into a useful second unit power play defenseman.

4(107) - Julien Pelletier, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
Coming off a solid rookie season in the Q (including setting a Cape Breton club record for most goals by a rookie), Pelletier doesn't have great physical traits but makes his mark thanks to an exceptional hockey IQ. The odds are against him developing into anything more than an AHL player, but if his skating and defensive play improve enough he might just carve out a role for himself on a Blue Jackets' checking line.

5(137) - Tyler Bird, RW, Kimball Union (NE Prep)
Bird has good size and racked up 33 goals and 60 points in 37 games last season at Kimball Union, and while he needs to face some stiffer competition to really determine what his future will look like you can see the potential to become an abrasive third line type who can chip in some offense. That future is a long way away, though.

7(197) - Olivier Leblanc, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Like Siebenaler, Leblanc is an offensive defenseman with good skating, vision and passing ability, but he lacks the big shot needed to be a top power play man and his commitment to actually playing defense and honing his skills in his own end wasn't exactly in evidence at Saint John. He'll need to put in a lot of work, and get a lot of AHL seasoning, if he ever hopes to crack an NHL roster.


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