Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen believes his team's biggest need is for a No. 1 center, but he said doesn't expect to leave the 2016 NHL Draft with that spot filled for the 2016-17 season.
The Blue Jackets have the third pick of the draft, which will be held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The first round is Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports); the final six rounds will be Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2).
"We've been talking about wanting to get a center since we traded Ryan Johansen for [defenseman] Seth Jones [Jan. 6]," Kekalainen said during the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month. "That's probably our biggest need right now. But we don't expect to get immediate help for that from the draft. We're not focused on filling a need. We're focused on getting the best player available at [No.] 3."
Kekalainen did not rule out trading down and potentially adding to the five picks they have at the 2016 draft. He told the Columbus Dispatch on June 11 that he has received a number of what he called aggressive but fair offers, but said, "It would take an awful lot for us to move out of that pick."
Whether they hang onto the third pick or trade back to accumulate more draft picks, Kekalainen said whoever the Blue Jackets draft in the first round would be given time to develop. Part of that is because of the expected influx of prospects from their American Hockey League affiliate, Lake Erie, which won the Calder Cup.
"It's a marathon not a sprint," Kekalainen said during the combine. "I think that's what we feel with every player that comes into training camp. He'll show us where he belongs."