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Jackets ready for unpredictable first round

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

PHILADELPHIA -- Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen (obviously) doesn't know exactly who will be available at No. 16 overall, but he has a general idea. Call it a hunch.

"I wish I had that kind of ability and look into a crystal ball (and see it)," he joked. "We have a group of guys that we think should be there at that time, but you never know."

That's how many draft experts and analysts view this year's draft: a lot of wild cards. There are some players who have been projected to go as high as the top 10 or out of the first round, and others who are considered top-five locks. You'll find a general consensus at the top of the order but after that, it's a wide open field of candidates.

Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets will have their list and have an idea of how the draft may unfold, but once the first pick is in and things officially get underway, they have to be prepared for a multitude of scenarios - some of which they may not have considered beforehand, but that's just the way it goes.

"There's probably going to be 5-10 guys who are locks for the top 10 (this year), and after that it scatters all over the place when you don't have a top heavy draft as everyone's saying about this year," Kekalainen said. "Everyone has different lists and even with the great mock drafts that are around from experts and guys that see games...they don't have to draft anybody.

"It's the teams that know who they're taking and they're not usually telling anyone, and their lists aren't public."

Kekalainen holds steady to the "best player available" strategy with his first-round picks while aiming to fill organizational needs in the later rounds if possible. So, if there's a forward on the board who's high on their list and he's deemed to be the best player available, the Blue Jackets will select him, regardless of where a perceived need might be.

While there are several forwards projected to go high in the draft, the pool of defensemen might be deeper in the later rounds, something Kekalainen hinted could be possible - filling out the depth chart that way - provided the draft unfolds how the Jackets expect.

"I read (the scouts') reports all year and look at the lists, and we put the list together in the final meetings," Kekalainen said. "We listen to everyone's opinions and who they're pushing for. I think on the defense side, it's similar to the forward side - it's not real top-heavy.

"After (Ekblad), it's not like there's two, three or four great defensemen right at the top of the draft. There are some good defensemen who could come to play...we should still be able to find some good defensemen even after the first (round)."

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