The Columbus Blue Jackets hired Jarmo Kekalainen this week, the third general manager in franchise history, but also the first European-born GM in the entire NHL.
While Kekalainen is Finnish, it’s his expertise in beginning (the NHL draft) that has the move being applauded globally.
There is no secret that the Blue Jackets have not had a strong draft record, and the numbers don’t lie. Stick with me here…there are a lot of numbers here, but I think it’s worth your while to allow me to sort through them (all stats are through Thursday games on February 14th).
In the first ten years of its existence (2000 through 2009), Columbus drafted a total of 97 players. From that group, 43 went on to eventually reach the NHL, playing in at least one game (44.3%).
However, just 15 of those players reached the 200 game mark (15.5%), while only 7 (7.2%) have appeared in 300 or more NHL contests. Only Rostislav Klesla and Rick Nash have hit the 600-game plateau.
From those 43 players who reached the NHL, the number of career games is 7,045. That number is inflated a little due to the Jackets rushing prospects to the NHL at times, as well as available playing time in Columbus for younger players.
Combined, that group (including goaltenders) has scored 919 goals, and 1,350 assists for a total of 2,269 points. That’s an average of 9.5 goals per pick, and 21.4 goals per NHL player. (Assists are 13.9 per pick and 31.4 per player, for a total of 23.4 points per pick and 52.8 points per NHL player.)
Astonishingly, Rick Nash accounts for nearly 10 percent of the games played (687), 32% of the goals (292) and 20% of the assists (266). He’s credited with 25% of all points scored (558) by Blue Jackets draft picks from 2000 through 2009. (Re-read that again for emphasis)
With three first round picks in the upcoming NHL Draft in June, it’s important to make the most of the opportunity to infuse the organization with impact players.
That’s where John Davidson and the CBJ brass are hoping Kekalainen pays off. He was in the hockey operations department of the Ottawa Senators from 1995 through 2002, including a three year stint as director of player personnel.
I ran the numbers on the Ottawa draft picks from 1996 through 2002 (7 year time frame) to compare them to the Blue Jackets. Obviously, the career stats are a higher because those players are much older, and have had more opportunity (time wise) to play in the NHL.
The Senators drafted 65 players in that period, with 36 reaching the NHL (55%). That’s a pretty good success rate, and many of those players have been better than average.
Names like Jason Spezza, Tim Gleason, Ray Emery, Brooks Laich, Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette, Greg Zanon, Martin Havlat, Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Marian Hossa, Chris Phillips and Sami Salo were all taken by Ottawa between 1996 and 2001.
Those players (as well as others) combined to play 11,770 NHL games, scoring 2,045 goals and 3.242 assists. That averages 326.9 games per player, with 56.8 goals and 90.1 assists.
Incredibly, half of those players (18) played in at least 200 NHL games, which is a lot more than a cup of coffee or a handful of call-ups. It gets better; 13 have played in at least 500 games, and 9 have hit the 600 contest mark.
A majority of that group helped Ottawa reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. This is what you hope for when you have high draft picks.
After leaving Ottawa, Kekalainen moved on to St. Louis, where he was director of amateur scouting, and placed in charge of the Blues’ draft efforts.
Once again, I scoured through those drafts (2003 through 2010) to see what he had mined for the Blue Notes.
In that 8 season span, St. Louis selected 69 players, 30 of which have seen time in the NHL (43.5%). Those players have appeared in 3,301 games, scoring 605 goals and 955 assists (1,560 points).
To compare apples to apples, I surveyed the Blue Jackets’ picks from the same time frame (2003-10). Columbus chose 70 players with the same number (30) with a NHL career game played (42.8%). That group has 4,052 games played (more than St. Louis), but fewer production, with 455 goals scored and 785 assists (1,240 points).
St. Louis tied for second overall in the NHL last season, and have been a sexy pick to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals, with some predicting a parade under the Arch.
The reason is simple…the group of players drafted by St. Louis from 2003 through 2010. Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Lars Eller (since traded for Jaroslav Halak), Ian Cole, David Perron, Erik Johnson (since traded for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk), Patrik Burglund and T.J. Oshie are all first round picks. All have been vital contributors…and that doesn’t include David Backes and Roman Polak, who were chosen in later rounds.
It won’t happen overnight, but if the Blue Jackets can start hitting on the same rate of success that Ottawa and St. Louis have enjoyed, the future will be much, much brighter in Columbus.
It will be up to a Fin to finish the process.