There has been plenty of discussion (or from what I have seen, more so dispair) regarding the reports that the Blue Jackets are shopping their potential first overall pick in the upcoming draft. With thirteen regular season games remaining, Columbus sits eight points back of 29th Edmonton, and thirteen points back of 28th place Montreal. While nothing is impossible, I am reasonably confident at this point that Columbus will finish 30th, and pending a disaster at the lottery, will own the 1st pick in the upcoming draft.
So why trade it? What real value does that pick hold for a team like Columbus, primed to 'rebuild' or 'reshape' this year? I think there are a couple very good reasons;
First, the Russian factor. Admittedly both Yakupov and Grigorenko are very different scenarios from former first round picks Zherdev and Filatov, but it doesn't open the door for comfort, at least from where I am standing. Yakupov is a great interview and has been suggested to have a tremendous work ethic, but recently suffered his second concussion of the season. He has also had his knee surgically repaired. Both of these injuries cause reason to be concerned about his long term health, and while they aren't going to plummet his draft value too much, will probably bring him a bit closer to the pack.
Grigorenko is an interesting option. He will have played a full year of Canadian junior hockey before entering the draft, and thus far has dominated with well over a point a game for the Remparts of the QMJHL. For as much value as playing in North America brings, I get concerned with players who come from the QMJHL because I find the OHL and the WHL to be more physical, with the WHL being the closest to the NHL style of play. With that in mind, I would still have concerns about Grigorenko's ability to transition to the NHL, and being that I have no idea what his work ethic is like, would need to get a greater knowledge of him before judging him in that regard.
The simple truth is that Columbus has been burned in the past. It is not news to anyone that treading lightly around any Russian player with a pick like this would be the smart thing to do, and if another team were willing to deal their top five pick and a current rostered player to get their hands on one, it may be the best option for the Jackets. This seems especially true considering players like Dumba, Murray, and Galchenyuk are the secondary options this year after the consensus 1 and 2 of Yakupov and Grigorenko.
From my perspective, if the 1-2 pick options were North American born, with a quality history of leadership and good health, I would be troubled by these rumours. Players like Toews, Crosby, Stamkos, and Tavares are recent top picks who have gone on to become major contributors both on and off the ice for their team. I do not remember thinking of any of them with the wildcard status I personally believe both Yakupov and Grigorenko to be, and I believe that as far as sure things go, they would not be my first choice. Kovalchuk and Ovechkin are the only two Russian born players to go first overall in the NHL draft, showing just how consistent the quality of selection is in favour of North American born players.
I want to also touch on these rumours spreading about the pick being shopped. It is probably true that Columbus is weighing the possible value of trading down, and it is also possible that they deal the pick, but try to avoid reading these rumours as "they WILL deal the pick." Just like with any asset, it is always a good idea to see what the value is, and if a team is willing to overpay to get a guy like Grigorenko or Yakupov but still provides a top 5-6 pick for the Jackets, management would be wise to consider and potentially make a trade to avoid another potential bust. Based on the experience with Russian born players in the past, can you really blame the organization for looking for other options?
What do you think? Is injury riddled Yakupov worth the risk? Do you respect Patrick and Howson's attempt to at least see what is out there?
Carry the Flag!