BUFFALO, NY – We’re about 30 hours or so away from the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, and as you may expect, there is no shortage of speculation surrounding what could go down at First Niagara Center.
When we spoke to Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen earlier in the week, he said he liked the team’s position at No. 3 overall. They know that, if they stay there, they will be getting a quality player who’s ranked high on their year-end draft list. So, regardless of what could happen, they will be happy if nothing changes.
But we’re not just going to let that die now, are we?
Let’s take a deeper look into the Blue Jackets’ options – because they are plentiful and exciting – on the day I will now be calling “Draft Eve.” Has a nice ring to it.
1. Trade up/trade down: It should be no surprise to read that Kekalainen is getting a lot of interest from around the league in the No. 3 pick, as has been widely reported. It also should be no surprise that he has gauged the market for moving up in the draft order (as The Dispatch noted today), with the top two spots being occupied by Toronto (first) and Winnipeg (second). That’s what GMs do; Kekalainen would not be doing his job without performing due diligence on the draft picks ahead of him. He would also not be doing his job if he didn’t field interest in his own pick and see what teams are willing to pay to move up.
Now, if you’re looking for my opinion, I would venture to say it’s more likely the Blue Jackets trade down than up. It’s a high price in any draft to move into the top two, and even more so when there are two highly-coveted players at the top in Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Kekalainen has not been shy in saying the club has a need for a center, and while he’s always operated in “best player available” mode in the first round, he can still achieve that if he were to move back and get one of the highly-rated centers in the draft.
2. Stay put: If this ends being the scenario, Kekalainen has said he’s confident they will get one of their top players in that spot. Unless acquired in a trade that results in a lottery pick, the process which precedes getting a lottery pick isn’t fun (you know, because the season wasn’t a whole lot of fun) – so GMs are committed to making full value of the lottery pick when they get one. If the Blue Jackets rise from their draft table and walk to the podium to make the No. 3 pick on Friday night, do not be surprised. Be excited that they’ll be drafting a top-end talent.
3. Trade out: This seems to be the least likely scenario for the Blue Jackets. Now, a deal could come out of left field that forces Kekalainen to think long and hard, but the chances of the Blue Jackets trading out of the first round altogether appear to be quite slim. An example: a team offers the Blue Jackets a young and skilled No. 1 center in exchange for a package involving the No. 3 pick. That’s something to consider, without question, because it would fill a need the Blue Jackets are actively trying to remedy. Such a deal doesn't happen every day and No. 1 centers don't often become available, so this option should be deemed unlikely.
The fact is that this is an enviable position for the Blue Jackets. If they stand pat at No. 3, they’re guaranteed one of their top guys and they’re thrilled. If they move back, odds are they’re getting a great deal and still have the opportunity to select a player they’re quite fond of.
“We like where we sit, we really do,” Kekalainen said earlier this week. “This is one of the busiest times of the year, and it’s exciting too.”