John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have made it very clear: the organization values drafting and developing players above all else.
“We are a draft and development organization,” Davidson said. “I think if you look around the league at the very good teams, they’ve gone through that and done a nice job. The teams that are in transition, trying to build, they’re draft and development teams, and we are too.”
The management group has a plan in place and has stated on more than one occasion that they won’t risk putting the club’s future in jeopardy for short-term solutions. They have bolstered positions of need (goaltending, defense, scoring forwards) via the NHL Draft, and they aren't afraid to pursue trades and free agents - but only if it fits the long view.
“We’ve working more with the players we’ve drafted to have them develop,” Davidson said. “We’ve added people in that area of our franchise. There are people all over the world that we’ve drafted. We have to been hands on, we have to have people work with them (and) get them to where they need to be.”
There is no one clear path for development and all roads to the NHL are different, but the American Hockey League has been a training ground for many of the game's top players.
The success of the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, is a reflection of the organization's commitment to building through the draft. The Monsters are currently in the quest for the Calder Cup in only their second-ever playoff appearance, and begin their second round against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday in Cleveland.
How exactly were the Monsters built? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the high-impact players this season:
A fourth-round pick (No. 95 overall) by Columbus in 2012, Anderson has been leading the charge in the Monsters' hunt for the Calder Cup.
So far, the big, strong power forward has scored four goals (including a hat trick on Apr. 21) and notched one assist for five points in three playoff games. Anderson scored 18 goals and added 21 assists for 39 points in 58 games with the Monsters this season, and was recalled by the Blue Jackets on two separate occasions this year.
In 12 contests with Columbus, the 21-year-old scored one goal and added three assists. His lone goal of the season, which was scored against Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 9, 2016, was the first of his NHL career.
Drafted by Columbus in 2013's third round (No. 89 overall), the shifty Dane has been a force to reckon with during the Monsters’ first three games of the playoffs, scoring two goals and adding two assists.
In 51 games with the Monsters this season - his first year pro after a 65-goal, MVP-caliber final season in major junior - Bjorkstrand scored 17 goals despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury.
A native of Herning, Denmark, Bjorkstrand was recalled by the Blue Jackets on Mar. 16 and made his NHL debut the following day against Detroit. He scored his first and second NHL goals in his second NHL game on Mar. 19 against the New Jersey Devils.
In 12 games with the Blue Jackets, the 21-year-old scored four goals and added four assists before returning to Cleveland for the postseason.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote: “Bjorkstrand has flashed a high-end NHL-level shot, even though he has only taken 22 shots in his 11 games. His wrist shot is deceptive, such that goaltenders rarely seem to glove it or stop it cleanly.”