The Blue Jackets have been a team in flux since the trade that sent center Ryan Johansen to Nashville in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones. The rift between Johansen and the front office was never a secret but it was an issue that had seemed to have been solved until the trade was completed. Losing a true number one quality center is never something a team wants to lose but in Seth Jones, they got what could be considered fair value as Jones looks to be a true number one defenseman, something that actually may be more difficult to find. The Blue Jackets finished the season last in the Metropolitan Division and won the third overall selection in the lottery. As a rebuilding team who did little to add any immediate help during the draft or free agency, it’s not hard to imagine the Blue Jackets again looking at a lottery selection in the 2017 NHL Draft.
3rd Overall – Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/W
The consensus for the 2016 Draft broke down as some form of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi as the Top three since about the turn of the year. At the draft however, things broke a little bit differently as Kekelainen went against conventional wisdom, passing on countryman Puljujarvi and instead selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Dubois likely has the most well rounded game in the entire 2016 NHL Draft class and more than a few scouts compared his 200-foot play to Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar. Although some saw his selection as a surprise, it does not mean it was unwarranted as NHL Central Scouting had Dubois ranked as the number one North American Prospect in the draft.
Dubois projects as an elite-level number one Center talent. After putting up 42 goals and 57 assists for Cape Breton last season, Dubois has the offensive game that would suggest he might make the jump to Columbus as early as next season. The 6-2 Center/Wing has an NHL ready build at 200 pounds but likely will go back to juniors for another year of seasoning with no reason to rush him to the NHL. Many fans may have been upset when Columbus passed on Puljujarvi but there is no reason to believe that got any less of a talent with Pierre-Luc Dubois.
34th Overall – Andrew Peeke, D
With their second selection of the 2016 NHL Draft the Blue Jackets again went a bit off the board, selecting defenseman Andrew Peeke from Green Bay of the USHL. Peeke spent two years with the Selects Hockey Academy before moving on to play with the Gamblers. Already possessing an impressive frame at 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs, Peeke skates very well for a player his size. Currently, Peeke plays more of two-way style game and does well jumping in to the rush and possesses a cannon of a shot from the point but likely projects as more of shut-down type defender at the pro level.
Peeke will move on to the NCAA Division I ranks next season with Notre Dame. It is very likely Peeke will play a minimum of three seasons in South Bend before he looks to make the jump to the pro level and may need a year or two in the AHL with Lake Erie before pushing for a spot in Columbus
64thth Overall – Vitali Abramov, RW/LW
With their 3rd Round pick, 65th overall, the Blue Jackets likely were surprised seeing their selection Vitali Abramov still on the board. Slightly undersized at 5-9 and 175 pounds, Abramov possess elite speed, skill and vision. Ranked by some as a late 1st round talent, Abramov’s size likely scared some teams off but his play on the ice certainly shows him a capable talent. Finishing the season with 38 goals and 55 assists for 93 points in 63 games, Abramov was named QMJHL Rookie of the Year and has the potential to be a contributor and the pro level sooner rather than later.
Abramov will return Gatineau of the QMJHL next season and will likely play at least two more years of Junior Hockey before turning pro. Although he isn’t the biggest player, his speed and talent is undeniable and it’s easy to see Abramov playing in Erie after his next two junior seasons are complete.
155th Overall – Peter Thome, G
The Blue Jackets were light on picks this year with no 4th or 5th round picks but used their 6th round pick on goaltender Peter Thome from the Aberdeen Wings of the NAHL. Thome, a Minneapolis native, played two seasons with the Chicago Fury before moving on the Junior Hockey with the Wings and already possesses the prototypical goaltender frame standing 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs.
Thome saw action with Omaha of the USHL last year and will be a permanent fixture for the Lancers with the upcoming 2016-2017 season. Thome is committed to play NCAA Division I Hockey at the University of North Dakota beginning with the 2017-2018 NHL season.
185th Overall – Calvin Thurkauf C/LW
With their last pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Columbus Blue Jackets made their first CHL selection since taking Dubois 3rd overall when they selected Calvin Thurkauf of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. Thurkauf, a Zug, Switzerland native was a 1st Round selection by Kelowna in last year’s CHGL Import Draft. The 6-foot-1 205 pound Thurkauf put up respectable numbers in his first year in CHL potting 18 goals and adding 27 assists for 45 points over 61 games.
Thurkauf will return to junior hockey next year and will likely play two seasons in the WHL before he should be looking for Columbus to offer a pro contract.
There isn’t much to say about the Blue Jackets off-season except that they didn’t really do anything of note to improve the team or their farm system. If anything their organization took a step back with the loss of Kerby Rychel after he was moved to Toronto for former Penguins 2nd Round pick Scott Harrington and a conditional 5th round pick. Harrington, who came to Toronto as part of the Phil Kessel trade, was unimpressive during 32 games between the AHL Marlies and the Maple Leafs last season before a shoulder injury ended his season early. It was widely known that Rychel, like Johansen before him, had become disenchanted with both former coach Todd Richards and the organization itself, something he made as much known in his post trade comments. The Blue Jackets were silent on July 1st and have yet to sign any free agents of note. They did however re-sign promising goaltender Anton Forsberg to a one year extension and the biggest, and most expected move, of the offseason came with the club inking Seth Jones to a six-year, $32.4 million extension. The team also allowed defenseman Justin Falk, and forwards Rene Bourque and Jared Boll become unrestricted free agents. Falk split time last season between Columbus and Lake Erie and the once promising Bourque, who put up 27 goal and 50 plus point seasons back-to-back from 2009-2011 was disappointing during his time with the Blue Jackets, posting just 3 goals and 5 assists in 49 games this season. Boll, one of the last true enforcers, and long-time fan favorite, was signed to a two-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks following the opening of free agency.
Two time undrafted OHL forward Dante Salituro who passed through both the 2015 and 2016 NHL Drafts unselected was an invitee to the Columnus Development Camp last year and nearly received a contract after being the last player cut from training camp. The Jackets have signed him to his entry level contract and the Ottawa 67's star will make his pro debut in the AHL,