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Jackets' draft prep ramps up with annual scouting meetings

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

After this week, there are five weeks remaining until the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

In other words, it’s getting down to crunch time for NHL teams and their amateur scouting departments.

The Blue Jackets recently wrapped up their annual amateur scouting meetings at Nationwide Arena, the next step in a year-long process that begins with watching hundreds of players from all parts of the world. Regional scouts, video scouts, scouting directors, general managers…they’ve all watched the games, compiled information and ranked players, and now, it’s time to get “the list” together.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spent nearly a decade in charge of the St. Louis Blues amateur scouting efforts before he arrived in Columbus, so he’s got more than a good idea of what it takes to draft and develop. His first draft as Jackets GM was a big one, when the team had three first-round picks in 2013 and selected Alexander Wennberg (No. 14), Kerby Rychel (No. 19) and Marko Dano (No. 27).

With just over a month remaining until the 2014 draft process is complete – and the NHL Scouting Combine upcoming at the end of the month - the decision-making process is at one of its most critical points. The Blue Jackets also have a new face atop their amateur scouting hierarchy; longtime scout and NHL talent evaluator Ville Siren (formerly of the Blues organization) joined the organization as head amateur scout last July, working with Paul Castron to spearhead the club's draft preparation. 

Kerby Rychel (center) was one of three CBJ first-round picks in 2013.

“Scouts do the work all year. They do reports on players, and they do the three-step process: they do their reports, they adjust the preliminary ratings and then you adjust your list,” Kekalainen told “It’s an ongoing process for the whole year. We want everyone to work on it regularly, so when they come here (for the annual meetings), every scout should have their reports and ratings ready to go so that we can start to put people in order.

“We start with our lists from each league or region – WHL, OHL, Quebec league, United States and Europe - and from there, we work to build two overall lists for both North America and Europe. The next step from there is to create one master list.”

A year ago, the Blue Jackets were armed with serious ammunition when the draft began, holding three of the first 27 picks and in a prime spot to draft three very good players. Their playoff run and franchise-record 43-win season has Columbus slotted back to No. 16 overall at this year’s draft, but Kekalainen’s first-round draft strategy is not likely to change regardless if he has one pick or three.

He wants the best player on the draft board to be a Blue Jacket at No. 16 overall, and much of the energy expended during the amateur scouting meetings was devoted to identifying players who might fit that bill.

“In the first round, we’re always going to take the best player available,” Kekalainen said. “And then once you go further into the draft, and say, you’ve taken two skilled forwards, maybe you go based on need and draft a defenseman so you don’t take six or seven forwards in the same draft.

“They say this draft is not as good (as last year), but it remains to be seen. Some guys might not even be on the radar right now and they’ll become good players. You’ll see some players develop later and become the late bloomers, of course. You have to approach as if you’re always going to get good players and address needs, regardless of what’s said about the draft class.”

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