draft recap day two CBJ

There is a common theme to the Blue Jackets’ 2024 draft class, but maybe not the one you’d think on first glance.

Columbus finished the two-day event Saturday at Sphere in Las Vegas making six picks overall – one forward, four defensemen and a goalie. And you can’t help but notice all of them share a similar characteristic of height, adding some size to the organization’s prospect pool.

But to general manager Don Waddell, who oversaw his first draft with the team since being hired in May, that’s not exactly the No. 1 thing he was looking for – even if the height stood out.

Don Waddell breaks down the results of the 2024 Draft

“Somebody just texted me and said we drafted a basketball team,” Waddell said at the conclusion of the draft. “We always talk about size, and I didn’t realize it was that much until I found out.

“But size is important, obviously, but skating is the key. I don’t care if you’re 5-8 or 6-7, if you can’t skate, you’re not going to play in the league. The first thing I always ask is the skating, and all those guys came away with either good skating or exceptionally good skating.”

After taking 6-3 center Cayden Lindstrom with the fourth overall pick in the draft Friday night, the Blue Jackets added the four blueliners and a goalie during Saturday’s festivities. And yes, all of them might have to watch their heads walking through a door frame occasionally.

  • Second-round pick (36th overall) Charlie Elick out of Brandon (WHL) measured in at 6-3¼ at the NHL Scouting Combine but says he’s a puck mover, too, posting 4-23-27 in 65 games this past season with the Wheat Kings.
  • Fellow second-round choice (60th overall) Evan Gardner is tied for the smallest of the bunch, but the goalie from Saskatoon (WHL) measures 6-1½ and set franchise records with a 1.91 GAA and .927 save percentage in 30 games in his rookie season with the Blades.
  • Third-round choice (86th overall) Luca Marrelli of Oshawa also checked in 6-1½ at the Scouting Combine and is a puck mover for the Generals, posting six goals and 51 assists in 67 appearances on the Generals blue line this past season.
  • Fourth-round selection (101st overall) Trevor Henricks is just 17 years old but measured in at 6-3¾ at the Scouting Combine, with the Lincoln (USHL) defenseman posting nine assists in 59 games in America’s top development league a season ago.
  • Finally, sixth-round pick (165th overall) Luke Ashton towers over the rest with a listed height of 6-6, with the Langley (BCHL) blueliner leading his league among defensemen with 18 goals this past season in 53 games.

And to a man, they were excited when their names were called at this one-of-a-kind event at Sphere.

“I’m super stoked,” Ashton said. “I’m so excited.”

“It’s a surreal moment for sure,” Gardner said.

“Being able to be drafted by such a great organization is something that’s really special and a dream come true, really,” Elick said.

Only Marrelli seemed somewhat calm about the selection, but that was by design.

“Honestly, I wasn’t super stressed out,” he said. “I knew I was going to be picked, I just didn’t know when or where. Sleep was pretty good (last night), except for the fact my dad was snoring the whole time. ... I didn't really have any expectations. just wanted to come here with a positive attitude and it worked out. I couldn't be happier."

There are some familiar faces among the draft class as well. Lindstrom, Elick and Gardner have played against one another in the Western Hockey League, with Lindstrom and Elick – former teammates for Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky international tournament – even dropping the gloves this past season.

“We were losing quite a bit, so it was a heated matchup,” Elick acknowledged. “We’re good friends still. Two good players going at it, so we ended up fighting, but it was a good experience and we’re still friends.”

Gardner, meanwhile, hails from Fort St. John, B.C., about 90 minutes from Lindstrom’s home of Chetwynd in the northeast corner of the province, and said he’s played with and against the CBJ first-rounder growing up.

Then there are the Lucas, with Marrelli joining 2022 draft pick Luca Del Bel Belluz and ‘23 choice Luca Pinelli in the CBJ system. All are players in the Ontario Hockey League who have crossed paths, with Marrelli skating with Del Bel Belluz in the summer and his cousin playing in Ottawa with Pinelli. Still, their OHL battles have led to some, shall we say, friendships among the group.

“We played against each other a lot, so I wouldn’t say we’re best buddies,” Marrelli said with a laugh. “But I know who they are and I think they know who I am. There’s some familiarity there.”

Even Ashton has some CBJ ties, as the North Vancouver, B.C., native has met Blue Jackets forward Kent Johnson in summer skates.

The players will now head to Columbus and increase that familiarity next week at the team’s annual development camp.

The Blue Jackets did make one trade on the day, dealing picks in the third and fifth rounds to Carolina to move up to select Gardner near the end of round two. Waddell noted the team had Gardner rated second on their board among goalies and wanted to make sure they could land him while they had the chance.

“Goalies were starting to go and we wanted him, so I said, ‘Let’s see if we can move up,’ and we were able to,” Waddell said.

In all, from the weekend, six talented prospects are now Blue Jackets, and Waddell was happy with how the proceedings went.

“I thought the process that we went through to get to today, our list was pretty dead on,” Waddell said. “In fact, we were getting toward the end here, and we don’t have a seventh-round pick, and it’s a good thing because we don’t have any players left on our list. That means our guys have done a good job of identifying the right players.”

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