There are 32 general managers in the NHL. There are 30 million people who think they are qualified. I’m in neither category.
Let’s play GM!
The first round of the draft is Thursday on ESPN and rounds 2-7 are Friday on ESPN+. If there was such thing as an eighth round, it’d be Saturday morning on The Ocho.
This year’s draft venue is the Bell Centre in Montreal and, wonder of wonders, the Canadiens won the lottery and have the No. 1 overall pick.
What would you do if you were Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen?
The Jackets are in the second (or maybe the third) year of a “reset.” The best way to “reset” is through the draft. That they had three first-round picks last year and have more first-rounders this year gives their “reset” a chance to set.
Kekalainen is holding the No. 6 and the No. 12 overall picks. He may never again be so sweetly positioned. A GM gets only so many “resets” before he has to reintroduce himself to his family and start looking for another job.
This is another critical draft for the Jackets. What to do?
It’s a funny draft. Although center Shane Wright has for years been considered the top prospect in his class, he only had 94 points in 63 games for his OHL team, the Kingston Frontenacs, last season. This was seen as something of a disappointment.
Now, Slovakian left winger Juraj Slafkovsky, who scored five goals in Finland’s Liiga last season, is seen as a neck-and-neck with Wright in the race to be No. 1.
Again, it’s a funny draft. Wright and Slavfkovsky aren’t surefire, top-line forwards. That’s kind of how this draft is: There may be a player down the board who has the upside to be the next Patrice Bergeron, but it’s not quite apparent yet.
Not only is there no consensus on the No. 1 overall pick, but there also seems to be a group of six who could be picked at the top – in any order.
What to do?
Let’s play GM!
I’m doing a “reset” as intelligently and systematically as I can and managing a salary cap besides. The immediate goal is to get back into the playoffs next season. The long-range goal is to build a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
I don’t have a bona fide No. 1 center. The team I work for has never had a bona fide No. 1 center. There might not be one in this draft, but if there is, the best bet is Shane Wright.
Someday, if I can hang onto my job as GM, I might luck out and find Patrice Bergeron with the 45th overall pick. That sort of thing has never happened with this franchise. This franchise has found and developed some late-round gems, such as Cam Atkinson, but it has never found a bona fide No. 1 center. This franchise drafts Gilbert Brule instead of Anze Kopitar.
Now is the chance.
If I can get Shane Wright, I have him and Cole Sillinger as my top two centers for the foreseeable future. I must try to make that happen, if it is at all possible. And it may be.
There seems to be a consensus on the top six players in this draft: Wright, Slafkovsky, center Logan Cooley, right-shot defenseman Simon Nemec, center Cutter Gauthier and right-shot defenseman David Juricek. But here’s the thing: There's no consensus on the order of the top six.
If Montreal takes Slafkovsky No. 1 overall, which is entirely possible, I’m going hunting for Wright. The New Jersey Devils have the No. 2 overall pick and they have Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes at center. They don't need Wright. They could draft one of the defensemen at No. 2, or they could sell the pick. Remember, this is a draft of preferences rather than a clear-cut order.
If I’m Kekalainen, I’m offering my two first-round picks to New Jersey and seeing what else it takes to move to No. 2, to get Wright. I’m trying to get that done. I may never have another chance like this.
Then, I’m taking whatever I have, a surfeit of wingers and prospects and future draft picks, and I’m shopping for a defenseman who can step right into the lineup. Preferably, I’m looking for a right-shot defenseman who can play next to, and protect, Zach Werenski.
Being a pretend GM is grand fun. There's no money in it. There's no accountability, either.
In reality, this year's draft is so unpredictable and so difficult to project, that Kekalainen might get what he's looking for by just hanging on to his two first-round picks. Who knows? It may turn out the best player in the class of 2022 was the No. 12 overall pick.
“Of course, we’re open-minded,” Kekalainen said Friday. “We’d move picks – probably not the 6, but you never say never. We’ve gotten some calls. People are kicking the tires on our picks, but nothing (serious) yet. ... We’re open to trading picks for immediate help. But it has to be a young player who can help fill a need and also stay with us for a while.”
Anyway, I would’ve had the Patrik Laine contract done already.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: NHL Draft: Can Columbus Blue Jackets land Shane Wright?