There are 32 general managers in the NHL. There are 30 million people who think they are qualified. I am 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 a thing as an eighth round, it would be Saturday morning the Ocho†
This year’s design venue is the Bell Center in Montreal and miraculously, 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 perhaps third) year of a ‘reset’. The best way to “reset” is through the concept. That they had three first-round picks last year and have more first-rounders this year gives their “reset” a chance to set.
Kekalainen keeps the number 6 and the number 12 overall picks. He may never be so sweetly positioned again. A GM only gets so many “resets” before he has to re-introduce himself to his family and look for another job.
This is another critical design for the jackets. What must we do?
It’s a funny design. Although center Shane Wright has been considered the best candidate in his class for years, last season he had just 94 points in 63 games for his OHL team, the Kingston Frontenacs. This was experienced as a disappointment.
Now Slovakian left winger Juraj Slafkovsky, who scored five goals in Finland’s Liiga last season, is being seen as neck and neck with Wright in the race to become No.
Again, it’s a funny design. Wright and Slavfkovsky are not infallible, top-line forwards. That’s kind of how this design is: There may be a player at the board who has the advantage of being the next Patrice Bergeron, but it’s not quite clear yet.
Not only is there no consensus on the number 1 overall pick, but there seems to be a group of six that can be picked at the top — in any order.
What must we do?
Let’s play GM!
I do a “reset” as intelligently and systematically as I can and also manage a salary cap. The immediate goal is to get back into the play-offs next season. The long-term 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 number 1 center. There may not be one in this design, but if there is, Shane Wright is the best bet.
One day, if I can keep my job as a GM, I might be lucky and find Patrice Bergeron with the 45th overall pick. Those kind of things never happened with this franchise. This franchise has found and developed some late-round gems, such as Cam Atkinson, but never found a bonafide number 1 center. This franchise puts Gilbert Brule in place of Anze Kopitar.
Now is the chance.
If I can get Shane Wright, I’ll have him and Cole Sillinger as my two main centers for the foreseeable future. I must try to make that happen, if at all possible. And it can be.
There seems to be a consensus on the top six players in this draft: Wright, Slafkovsky, center Logan Cooley, right-shot defender Simon Nemec, center Cutter Gauthier and right-shot defender 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’ll be on the hunt for Wright. The New Jersey Devils have the #2 overall pick and they have Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes in the middle. They don’t need Wright. They can line up one of the defenders at number 2, or they can sell the pick. Remember that this is a design of preferences rather than a clear order.
If I’m Kekalainen I’ll offer my two first round picks to New Jersey and see what else it takes to move to #2, to get Wright. I’m trying to get that done. I may never get a chance like that again.
Then I’ll take everything I’ve got, a plethora of wingers and prospects and future draft picks, and I’m looking for a defender who can step right into the lineup. Preferably, I’m looking for a right-handed defender who can play alongside Zach Werenski and protect him.
A pretend GM is great fun. There’s no money in it. There is also no responsibility.
In reality, this year’s design is so unpredictable and so hard to project, that Kekalainen might get what he’s looking for just sticking to his two first-round picks. Who knows? It could be that the best player in the class of 2022 was No. 12 overall.
“Of course we are open-minded,” Kekalainen said on Friday. “We would move choices – probably not the 6, but you never say never. We got some calls. People are kicking the tires on our picks, but nothing (seriously yet). … We are open to swapping choices for immediate help. But it has to be a young player who can meet a need and also stay with us for a while.”
Anyway, I had already done the contract with Patrik Laine.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: NHL Draft: Can Columbus Blue Jackets Land Shane Wright?