The Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t historically been one of the best teams at the NHL Entry Draft. Actually, I would bet that if there was a tournament of all the top players by team, they may actually be one of the worst. Things seem to be changing in that respect under general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, but there were definitely some lean years on the draft floor early on.
With the draft coming up, it’s worth taking a look back at some of the times when teams really got their pick right. Today we will dive into the Blue Jackets’ draft history and when they really nailed it in the later rounds of the selection process. A draft gem is a player who is selected later on and performs at a level that far exceeds the expectations associated with that position. For the sake of this article, we’ll be counting a gem as someone drafted in the second half of the overall selections – that means players drafted in the fourth round and later.
Before we dive in, it’s worth looking at some other late-round picks that managed to make a dent in the NHL in some form. It’s definitely not a Hall of Fame class, but worth a look at the players who didn’t make the top five and still made an impact at the NHL level.
- Andrew Murray – 2001 NHL Draft – 8th round, 242nd overall
- Grant Clitsome – 2004 NHL Draft – 9th round, 271st overall
- Jared Boll – 2005 NHL Draft – 4th round, 101st overall
- Derek Dorsett – 2006 NHL Draft – 7th round, 189th overall
- Matt Calvert – 2008 NHL Draft – 5th round, 127th overall
- Anton Forsberg – 2011 NHL Draft – 7th round, 188th overall
- Markus Nutivaara – 2015 NHL Draft – 7th round, 189th overall
Marc Methot – 2003 NHL Draft – 6th Round, 168th Overall
The only draft choice of the first half-century of the Blue Jackets’ existence to make this list was a defensive stalwart on the blue line. Although Marc Methot’s best years didn’t come in Columbus, he was a gem nonetheless.
After he was drafted, Methot spent another two years with his London Knights team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He was a key piece to their Memorial Cup win in 2005, which he springboarded into an NHL contract. He then became an everyday NHLer with the Blue Jackets, spending his first four full seasons with the team.
Methot’s true legacy with Columbus may be that he was dealt in a one-for-one swap to his hometown Ottawa Senators for all-time great Blue Jacket Nick Foligno. The trade benefitted both of their careers, as Foligno broke out as a two-way threat and became the beloved captain of the Jackets, and Methot turned into a top-pairing defenseman for the Senators. His shutdown style became the perfect counterpart to the best defenseman in the world at the time in Erik Karlsson. Not bad for 168th overall.
Vladislav Gavrikov – 2015 NHL Draft – 6th Round, 159th Overall
Vladislav Gavrikov is another rock-solid, heavy defensive addition. The only current Jacket on this list, he is still developing his legacy in Columbus, as he’s become an indispensable part of the defense corps as the second most reliable defenseman behind Zach Werenski.
In an era where the Blue Jackets are begging for big, physical pieces, the Russian has a big frame and a personality to match. At 6-foot-3, he’s one of the harder players to push around on the ice and one of the most defensively responsible players on the roster.
Gavrikov came to North America after playing five years in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He developed into a professional and jumped directly onto the NHL roster in the second round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs. He is the only one on this list that did not need any seasoning in the American Hockey League (AHL) before becoming an everyday NHLer.
Despite being in his mid-20s and pretty new to the NHL, Gavrikov has still been counted on as a veteran presence as one of the oldest defensemen on the roster. Defensively, he finished third in total hits and second in blocked shots. He has also shown value off the ice. In any behind-the-scenes footage, it’s clear that Gavrikov is beloved by his teammates.
The 2022-23 season will be a key one for Gavrikov. It’s a contract year, so we will see if he decides to sign long-term in Ohio. It’ll also be an insight into if his added offense in 2021-22 was a mirage or if he is capable of scoring 30-plus points a year. If he signs with the team long-term and continues on the path that he’s on, offensively and physically, he will firmly implant himself on the list of best draft gems for years to come.
Josh Anderson – 2012 NHL Draft – 4th Round, 95th Overall
Although his relationship with Blue Jackets management was not always the smoothest, Josh Anderson showed a lot of promise. He too is a product of the London Knights in the OHL, where he sowed the expectations that he could become the power forward that had been missing since the departure of Rick Nash.
Anderson spent a couple of seasons developing in the AHL and was a key part of the Cleveland Monsters’ Calder Cup championship in 2016. He became an NHL regular in 2016-17 and was a physical piece that could score, as his first full years in Columbus saw goal totals of 17 and 19 before he broke out with a career-high 27 goals in 2018-19.
While he was a valued piece on the ice, there was seemingly a cloud over Anderson after a lover’s quarrel with Blue Jackets management in contract negotiations. He’s a case study in favour of nipping restricted free agent (RFA) negotiations in the bud because things got pretty messy. So messy, in fact, that he was a holdout through training camp in 2017 with rumours swirling that he had requested a trade. They managed to put a deal together in time for the season, but it seemed like a temporary patch for a long-term issue.
Three years later, Anderson reached RFA status again, and instead of dealing with another round of negotiations, Kekalainen made the call to trade him to the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi and a draft pick. He landed in Montreal and instantly signed a mammoth 7-year, $38.5 million contract. Anderson was a big piece in the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021.
David Savard – 2009 NHL Draft – 4th Round, 94th Overall
One of the purest defensive defensemen of the last decade, David Savard was a stabilizing force for the Blue Jackets and brought a level of physicality to the back end that was greatly needed.
Throughout his tenure with the team, Savard blocked more shots than anyone ever has, as his 958 blocks top second place Jack Johnson by almost 200. He also has the third most amount of takeaways among team defensemen of all time, only trailing Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. He was relied upon in defensive situations, playing the third most time shorthanded of any Jacket. All of this to say, the guy was a defensive beast in Ohio.
Savard’s farewell, though anticipated, was not easy for a lot of Blue Jackets fans. He was shipped out for some pieces at the 2021 Trade Deadline to the Tampa Bay Lightning – where he became a Stanley Cup winner. The return for him was a first-round pick, which the Jackets flipped in the Seth Jones trade that land Cole Sillinger, Adam Boqvist, and more, as well as a third-round pick in this upcoming draft. So with their fourth-round pick in 2009, they got a top four defenseman for a decade and all those future assets. That’s value right there.
Cam Atkinson – 2008 NHL Draft – 6th Round – 157th Overall
Not only did Cam Atkinson get passed over 156 times in the 2008 NHL Draft, but he was also looked over entirely in his first year of eligibility in 2007. Unlike everyone else on this list, Atkinson’s physicality is not his claim to fame, as his 5-foot-8 frame scared a lot of scouts away. He proved his haters wrong, though, becoming a superstar with Boston College in the NCAA, scoring 30 goals in two straight years. He then signed with the Blue Jackets after his junior year in college and never looked back.
Atkinson split time with the Jackets and their AHL affiliate in Springfield for two seasons, before becoming a mainstay in the NHL. He was a major piece of the core in the most successful era in team history and has also been one of the most productive Blue Jackets of all time. He tied Nash for most goals in a season with 41 and sits second in goals with 213 and points with 402. He is also the most productive Jacket in playoff stats, leading the way with 26 points through 35 postseason games. Furthermore, his career numbers are good enough for third in goals and 10th in points among anyone drafted in 2008.
Atkinson was one of the players who bought into the Columbus community as a frequent face in events around town. He was even at the team’s draft party the night before they traded him in a shocking move to bring back former Jacket Jakub Voracek. Whether or not he ever dons a Blue Jacket sweater again is yet to be known, but what is known is that he is the best draft gem to ever be selected by Columbus.
More Blue Jacket Gems to Come
There’s no arguing that the Blue Jackets’ scouting has not been among the most elite in the NHL through the early years of their existence. While they did manage to hit on a few gems, it’s quite possible that the best gems in Blue Jackets’ history could be yet to come.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.