With 2005 first round pick Gilbert Brule struggling to show any promise as the Jackets solution to a number one centerman, it was not all that surprising that 2006 found the team selecting another center with their first overall pick. Many scouts cringed at the thought of drafting Phil Kessel, deemed generally 'soft' at the combine, and a serious question mark in the locker room with his teammates. It was only slightly fortunate that Kessel was taken by Boston in the pick prior to the Jackets making their way to the podium. It seemed to quite possible that Kessel would slide to Columbus' pick, as did his stock during the course of the year, slipping to 5th spot on the final Central Scouting Service report for North American Skaters.
To understand what these scouts go through on a yearly basis is unlikely. I was recommended a book by a very close friend, which happened to follow the Columbus draft years in between Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. The insight by the author is fantastic, and it is one of those books that document by experience, giving you unfettered access into the eyes and ears of the NHL scouts. It is called "Future Greats and Heartbreaks" by Gare Joyce, and it provides fantastic details into specifically Columbus' draft experience. If you have not read it yet, I strongly recommend you do. Here is an exerpt regarding Brassard:
Brassard knows that his best bud, Mathieu Carle, a defenseman in the Q, did 15 reps. He knows five isn't good. He's right. By the end of the day, his reps will stand as the low total among all skaters tested. Then he gets on the bike to demo his lung capacity, feet taped to the pedals, mouthpiece hooked to a tube. Shouts from the testing staff drown out the never-ending chatter of 100 or so scouts and execs. "Go! Come on! Go!" The suits see Brassard strain, and love it. They'll love it even more later on: VO2, 71.6, among the best at the combine. He went harder and longer than anyone else: The test maxes out at 15 minutes, and he pedaled 10 seconds past it.
"What you get a look at here," Boyd says, "is just how willing the kids are to work on their own and what their work ethic is like."
Brassard's English is shaky. At the combine, Smith translated. Here, he struggles on his own. "Did you break curfew this year?" MacLean says. "Yeah," Brassard admits, laughing. "Why?" "A girl," Brassard says. "Good. If you're going to break curfew, it better be a girl and she better be worth it. What do you know about our team?" "Everyt'ing!" Brassard says, before enthusiastically running through the roster. "You don't know how good it is to hear someone come in here who knows about our team," MacLean says. "We like that. What's your strongest asset?" "Hockey sense," Brassard says. "You're what, six feet? One-seventy? When I was in Detroit we had Steve Yzerman. He was about that, and he worked at the game. Are you going to work at the game?" Brassard, of course, says he will. But it's how he says it that impresses MacLean. The interview ends with a firm handshake after 20 minutes. After it's over, Brassard's expression reads: C'est tout? Is that all there is? Later, MacLean explains, "I just want to look them in the eye and see if they're engaged."
Now, onto the draft picks:
Hit: Derick Brassard (6th) - Brassard was the 4th ranked North American player ahead of players like Kessel, Mueller, Okposo, Shepard and Little. His character was strong, and his VO2 readings at the combine were along the highest numbers. His time in Columbus has been somewhat rocky, however, if Johansen can be a legitimate number one center, Brassard will fill the gap as a fantastic second line center. Only Okposo (0.60 PPG - 11th ranked NA Skater), Mueller (0.57 PPG - 6th ranked NA skater) and Grabner (0.64 PPG - 15th ranked NA skater) better Brassard's PPG average of 0.54, and none have really spent extended time on their teams top line. In short, there was not and still is not a better selection for Columbus at the 6th pick.
Hit: Steve Mason (69th) - Already off the table was Bernier, Helenius, Varlamov, Irving, Neuvirth, and Enroth. The Blue Jackets needed support for budding goalie Pascal Leclaire, and selected Mason with their first 3rd round pick. 24th ranked Clutterbuck and 80th ranked Marchand remained on the table, but Columbus made an attempt to fill their goaltending need with a future Calder winner in Mason. The only notable goalie taken after Mason in the 06 draft was Toronto's Reimer, however, the jury is still out regarding his capacity in net.
Hit: Tom Sestito (85th) - Sestito was the 112th ranked North American skater at the draft, but Columbus had their sights set on acquiring him. He was a big bodied player who showed an ability to be mobile while bringing a serious level of physicality to the game. While he only spent a brief stint with Columbus this year, he became a fan favourite almost instantly, and should find success at the NHL level in between the 3rd and 4th line. The next twenty-five picks in the draft hold no forward or defensemen with more than three NHL games under their belt.
The final four rounds of the 2006 draft are ugly. Between the selection of Tom Sestito(85th) and Jesse Dudas(159th) - 74 selections - only Matt Beleskey(112th) has shown any signs of being a legitimate NHL player. Following the Dudas pick were a few decent players in defensemen Andrew McDonald (160th) and winger Viktor Stalberg(161st), and shortly thereafter Mathiew Perreault(177th), who have found limited success in the NHL only recently. This leads to the second to last pick of the Blue Jackets, and likely the best pick based on results vs draft spot;
Hit: Derek Dorsett (189th) - It would be hard to say that Columbus knew what they were getting with Dorsett, although his junior numbers during his draft year showed a very clear ability to find the back of the net while amassing a substantial number of penalty minutes. In his time with Columbus, he has become a staple of the 3rd/4th line, and has taken full advantage of his role as a scrapper, maintaining heavy fighting majors. Only Ben Ferriero(196th) and Erik Condra(211th) have shown legit promise after the Dorsett pick, and both are only just breaking into their respective teams lineups.
This draft was a success for the Jackets. Four legitimate NHL caliber players including a number one goalie, a feisty character player, a potential number one center, and a twitter celebrity who would eventually get dealt for a player the Columbus organization had been eyeing for over a year. In the first round, I did not see substantial evidence to show a player who would have been a better fit or a better solution to Columbus' woes at center, nor did I see any data that would have outweighed Brassard's VO2 scores. If Columbus did anything wrong in this draft year, it was finishing outside of the top four to land one of Toews, Staaal, or Backstrom.
Apologies on the length of time between draft years. I hope I can pick up the pace for the 2007 draft, but I want to make sure all angles are covered. As mentioned, feel free to share your opinions on who you think would have better suited the Columbus system. Carry the Flag!