Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets draft, and their biggest boom and bust.
Columbus Blue Jackets Draft Boom and Bust
Cam Atkinson is the pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets draft booms due to his consistent improvement in potency. Selected 157th in the sixth round in 2008, Atkinson’s best hope, at the time of the draft, was a bottom-six role as a grinder. But Atkinson has continued to elevate his skill, and his progression is astonishing.
At junior level, he went from a 43-point season to a 63-point season in three years. After the draft, he played for Boston College. His meagre 7 goals and 19-point freshman year was followed up with 30 goals and 53 points and 31 goals and 52 points. In three years of college, he won a Frozen Four, two Hockey East Tournaments, the Beanpot Tournament, and an MVP. At this stage, his senior year was out of the question. The NHL now beckoned.
Atkinson is the one of fourteen Blue Jacket draftees to play 500+ games. He is only the eighth to have managed the feat, outside of the first round. Additionally, of this list of fourteen, only Atkinson and David Savard have played their entire careers as Blue Jackets.
Atkinson has been on an upward trend since 2012-13. He finished that year with 18 points from 35 games. Last season, Atkinson cracked 40 goals and 69 points, his highest tally to date. He’s been a 20-goal scorer six times. His goals come fast and free flowing. His trademarks are either a ripped one-timer from the circles or a quick transition play against the rush, finished off with gusto and finesse. Atkinson is one of the most dominating scoring threats in the league, when healthy.
Hopefully, after a derailed season in 2019-20, he can rediscover his pop and continue to surge the Columbus Blue Jackets above and beyond middling mediocrity.
Other Notable Booms
Matt Calvert was drafted a round earlier than Atkinson at 127th overall. Having a reputation as an agitated customer, Calvert hasn’t often done himself any favours in popularity contests. See his hideous cross check across Tom Kuhnhackl’s back in 2017 for reference.
However, he does bring a raw consistency to his game, which is invaluable in a bottom-six role. You know he is going to score double-digit goals and put up 20 points every year. And spend some time in the box. His 10-year career reaping 200 points to date, beautifully illustrates this.
David Savard makes it on to the list of notables for his sheer grit and endurance. The grizzly, stay-at-home defenceman holds the Jackets’ unofficial franchise record in shots blocked (869). The title is ‘unofficial’ in the sense that, the NHL only started recording blocked shots in 2005-06.
Nevertheless, Savard was selected 94th overall in 2009 and since then has played 557 NHL games. He defends on a team that doesn’t give up goals and chips in with 15-20 points along the way.
Nikita Filatov was the buzz around Europe coming into the 2008 NHL Draft in what was a good, but by no means, great, prospect pool. He was ranked first among all European skaters and assessed as the second-best forward prospect that year. He was behind only the unanimous first overall selection, Steven Stamkos.
In the two-year lead up to this draft, Filatov had people taking notice, as he started garnering international attention. He won gold at the U-18 World Juniors in 2007 and followed that up with silver in 2008. He also took home bronze with the U-20s in between. In those three tournaments, Filatov scored 11 goals and 16 assists in 20 games. He backed up these international performances with stellar point production in Russia’s third domestic league, scoring 51 goals in 63 games between 2006-2008.
Filatov’s NHL career got off to the worst possible start when an early rift appeared between himself and management. After the draft, Blue Jacket’s GM Scott Howson implied in a statement that Filatov wouldn’t be guaranteed minutes and would have to work for them. This didn’t sit well with the fresh Russian talent and friction was apparent from the off.
Blue Jackets coach, Ken Hitchcock had compared Nikita Filatov to a young Pavel Bure. He was imposing a strict regime to help the Russian talent develop in all aspects of his game. Unfortunately, Filatov wasn’t responding to his game assignments. He was benched in his third and fourth games in the NHL for his attitude. After his fourth game he was sent down to the AHL to play with the Syracuse Crunch for two months.
Filatov returned to play for a brief stint in January 2009. He pulled a hattrick out of the bag in his sixth game as the Blue Jackets beat the Minnesota Wild. Regrettably, this would turn out to be half of his NHL career goals.
Filatov played eight NHL games in his first year. He made the Blue Jackets’ starting roster in the 2009-10 season but soon requested a move back to Russia. The Blue Jackets granted this wish with a loan deal.
After an average year in the KHL (22 points in 26 games), he returned to Columbus and bounced between the AHL and NHL. Columbus turfed Filatov to the Ottawa Senators for a third-round pick in June 2011 after a horrid third season in North America. Filatov would be back in Russia by December 2011. He never returned to the NHL. Filatov finished with 53 games played, scoring 6 NHL goals; the biggest disappointment of the Columbus Blue Jackets draft history.
Other Notable Busts
Alexandre Picard was selected eighth overall in a draft that had so far offered Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Blake Wheeler. Central Scouting rankings had Picard third among North Americans. He had lit up the QMJHL, the season before he was drafted, with 80 points, good enough for 14th among league skaters.
When the time came to step up, however, Picard was unable to make the jump. He struggled to take his shot as he spent brief stints in the NHL for five straight seasons. Each time, he showed no reason to be retained in the squad and was forced to continue carving out a respectable AHL career. Overall, he managed just 67 games and he didn’t score a single NHL goal.
The final Blue Jackets’ bust is Sonny Milano. Although he could still make big strides in his career, he never materialised as the top-six forward the Blue Jackets were banking on. He had two good stretches in the AHL and 22 points in 55 games during the 2017-18 NHL season. All in all, this still didn’t justify his number 16 spot in the 2014 NHL Draft. His coveted traits remain his speed and puck handling abilities, though.
Finally, Milano was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward, Devin Shore at the 2020 NHL Trade deadline. Milano has had an encouraging start to life in California, posting five points in nine games before the pause.