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Aggressive Jackets also holding high-demand assets

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – We’ve all heard the talk about this year’s NHL Draft class: the two generational players at the top, followed by a group of 8-10 top-end prospects and, in general, a deep talent pool through the first round and into the early second round.

To no one’s surprise, there has been plenty of talk surrounding teams with multiple assets, and the Blue Jackets happen to be one of them.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen admitted on Thursday that he’s looking for a defenseman, but wouldn’t specify the preferred method of acquisition. If nothing comes to fruition on the trade front between now and tonight’s first round (7 p.m. ET, live on NBC Sports Network), the Blue Jackets are comfortable making their pick at No. 8 overall and re-grouping for Day 2.

Caveat: some of those Day 2 assets – namely, the Jackets’ three second-round picks (34, 38 and 58 overall) – are attracting a lot of attention this weekend in south Florida.

“I think we’re in a pretty good situation with our picks,” Kekalainen said. “It’s become very clear that picks 34 and 38 have great value in this year’s draft. They’re in high demand, let’s put it that way. Whether they can get us moved up anywhere, we’ll see, or whether we even want to give them up because they’re almost like first-round picks in a regular draft because of the depth of the draft.

“We view them as very valuable assets, 34 and 38, so if we want to use those to move up, it’s going to have to be a considerable asset to acquire.”

Kekalainen holds firm in his philosophy of taking the best player available in the first round, regardless of position, so it remains to be seen how much influence the Jackets’ search for a defenseman has on that selection.

There are talented defensemen in this draft class, led by Boston College rising sophomore Noah Hanifin, considered by many to be a franchise defenseman in the making and one of the more polished players in the draft. Hanifin said yesterday that he plans to wait to make a decision on where he’ll play next year (either return to college or turn pro), likely after discussing with the team that drafts him.

After Hanifin, many scouts believe Russian-born Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings is the next-best defenseman in the draft, one that’s potentially NHL-ready. Then there’s 17-year-old Zach Werenski from the University of Michigan, who boasts a well-rounded game and grown man’s frame (6-foot-2, 200 lbs.), rounding out the top three defensemen at the top of the draft.

The Blue Jackets are exhausting all options, knowing well that a lot can change between now and 7 p.m.

“I don’t know how much higher on our list we’ll get,” Kekalainen said. “Time will tell. You can always project and take educated guesses on what the other teams might be taking or what they may be looking for…at the end of the day, you don’t know. We’re looking for a defenseman, we’ve said that, but if we make a trade and get a defenseman, all of a sudden we might be picking a forward.”

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