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Blue Jackets take worldwide approach to finding talent

Even after trades of draft picks, Ville Siren and his staff leave no stone unturned

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

As John Davidson sat in his office late last month looking back at the organization he helped build, there was one phrase he repeated for emphasis. 

"I think we've been able to establish a firm foundation of how to try to build and keep going and getting better as a hockey club, because it's a worldwide endeavor," Davidson said around the time he left the organization to return to the New York Rangers. 

"It's a worldwide endeavor. That takes worldwide work, and I think we're in a good position here knowing who we have where and what they do in the world to make hockey better here in Columbus." 

DRAFT CENTRAL: Follow the Blue Jackets picks at the 2019 draft

Yes, as hockey has become more of a global game, the Blue Jackets scouting department has gone with it. This postseason, the Blue Jackets had players from 10 different countries -- typical powers like the United States, Canada and Russia; traditionally hockey-mad countries like Finland, Sweden and the Czech Repubic; and burgeoning hockey nations like Denmark, Latvia, France and Switzerland -- on the playoff roster. 

That's a result of the worldwide work done by the Blue Jackets scouts, who each see somewhere between 150 and 250 games per year in helping put together the draft board and roster each year in Columbus. 

And if you're a Blue Jackets fan, you can see where we're going with this. Despite all that work, as it stands going into the first round of the NHL draft Friday in Vancouver, the Blue Jackets have just two draft picks -- the No. 81 overall pick in the third round, plus the No. 212 pick in the seventh round that originally belonged to Calgary. 

The team's first-round pick was dealt at the trade deadline for Matt Duchene, and three days later, picks in rounds four and seven were traded for Adam McQuaid. The team's second-round pick already was dealt in 2017 in the draft-day trade with Vegas involving David Clarkson and the expansion draft, and the picks in rounds five and six were traded last summer to Detroit and Arizona, respectively. 

In other words, it was already going to be a paltry sum of picks, and when general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was aggressive at the trade deadline, the team was down to the bare bones (never has the CBJ had less than five picks in a seven-round draft) in this year's draft. 

The man who would bear the brunt of that is Ville Siren. The Blue Jackets' director of amateur scouting oversees a staff that had traversed the globe looking for future standouts, only to see the team trade away the lion's share of its draft. 

"I was kind of surprised, but also at the same time, you're like, 'OK, we don't have any picks and you have (worked) the whole year,' but then you're thinking, 'OK, we have a chance to win the Cup. Who cares if you don't have any picks?'" he said with a laugh Thursday in Vancouver. "That's how it was."

Video: Dir. of Amateur Scouting discusses pre-Draft process

Yes, it was a double-edged sword for the Finn and his scouts, but the team of course always comes first. Now that the draft is here and the Blue Jackets' gamble ended with the first playoff series win in franchise history but short of the Stanley Cup championship, Siren and his staff are on the clock. 

The approach didn't change after all the moves for a variety of reasons. First of all, you never know if Kekalainen will be able to swing any deals at the draft that will net more picks for the Jackets -- an effort the GM has said he's undertaken in the leadup to the event. 

In addition, those scouting reports are the backbone of the team's database on players who could be acquired down the road, so it's not like they'll all go for naught. 

But at the same time, the true thrill for a scout is traveling the world, finding a diamond in the rough and then beaming when that player gets drafted -- and smiling even wider when he makes it. With that in mind, Siren does hope his scouts get their moment in the sun. 

"Certainly, yes," he said when asked if he hopes the Jackets have a few more picks when all is said and done. "I'm waiting and expecting us getting more picks, but you never know. We'll see. Jarmo will do whatever is best for the club." 

And if it turns out to be just a third and a seventh for the Blue Jackets, that's not a bad deal, either. Since Kekalainen took over as general manager ahead of the 2013 draft, the Blue Jackets have been able to find talent in the later rounds, where the picks generally face long odds of making it.  

In his first draft in 2013, the Jackets took a winger named Oliver Bjorkstrand who has become a key part of the team's core. Two years later, the team nabbed defensemen Vladislav Gavrikov and Markus Nutivaara in rounds six and seven, respectively, and both should be part of the team's blue line next year. And last year, the team got Tim Berni, Veini Vehvilainen and Trey Fix-Wolansky in the last two rounds, with Berni playing last year at the World Championships and the latter two players inking deals with the CBJ in the past few months. 

When it gets to that point in the draft, that's where the Blue Jackets come down to trusting their scouts the most. 

"If our area guys are passionate about somebody, then maybe we try to put them in the place where we have a chance to get them," he said. 

How things will shake out in Vancouver over the next two days remains to be seen, but the goal is the same as always - use the team's worldwide resources to take players who will eventually suit up and shine at the NHL level, no matter how many picks there are. 

"It's the same," Siren said. "If we have seven picks, we want them all to play, but the reality is that most likely not all seven picks will play. But if it's two, we're aiming that those two will play. Time will tell." 

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