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Blue Jackets hit stretch drive to NHL Draft weekend

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Like 29 other NHL teams, the Blue Jackets put a checkmark next to “NHL Combine” on their pre-draft to-do list last weekend in Buffalo.

For the first time, the league hosted the annual Combine at HarborCenter, the Sabres’ new state-of-the-art practice facility located next to First Niagara Center downtown. Over 100 of the top prospects in the 2015 draft class took part in interviews, fitness testing, and more interviews leading up to the main event at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., later this month.

The Blue Jackets’ amateur scouting staff, led by head amateur scout Ville Siren and director of amateur scouting Paul Castron, convened at Nationwide Arena earlier in the offseason to put their draft plans into motion.

With all regions represented, the Blue Jackets assembled their final master list, putting hundreds of players in order with information compiled from countless viewings (in person and on video), reports, conversations and opinions.

The next step in the process came at the Combine, getting a chance to meet with prospects face-to-face and watch them go through a rigorous set of fitness tests – another phase of information gathering as we hit the stretch drive to draft weekend. The Blue Jackets met with over 60 of the top prospects in attendance, including several they project to be available when the No. 8 selection rolls around.

“It’s more of a follow-up for us, as a group,” Castron told “Our regional scouts have already seen and met with the guys that we speak to at the Combine during the season, and they might meet with kids during the season in October or November and they’ll see what type of player they are or what role they’re going to play, and then we get to watch them throughout the season.

“When we get to the Combine, it’s an extension of that; we can say ‘hey, you said you were going to be this…do you think you followed through on it?’ We get to know them a little more, talk with them and get the face-to-face meetings and those can be helpful.”

For the second time in three years, the Blue Jackets figure to be prominent players in the early stages of the draft. In 2013, they entered with three first-round picks (which they used to select Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano) and, then, acquired prospects Dillon Heatherington and Oliver Bjorkstrand in the second and third rounds, respectively, after making a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This time around, they own the eighth overall pick in what’s considered a strong first round – and even into the second round, there are players thought to be first-round talent – as well as three second-round selections (34, 38 and 58 overall).

In a business where you’re not judged today as you are 3-5 years down the road, Castron believes there’s no such thing as too much information.

“Any information is good information,” Castron said. “You certainly don’t want to miss something and find out after the fact, for example, an injury. If we don’t talk to a kid and find out later he’s got a bum knee or a bad back, you can’t put yourself and the organization in a bad spot like that. It’s turned into a 12-month ordeal, just gathering information from watching players, watching film, talking to our scouts…it never stops.

“I’ll be honest with you: all the guys we’ve talked to, they’re all polished and smart kids. There aren’t many interviews that you look back on and say, ‘oh man, that was a bad interview.’ These are the top kids in the world at their sport and they’re sharp – they’re pretty focused and dedicated to make it in the NHL.”

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