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Ground Floor: The 2012 NHL Draft and the 2012-13 Blue Jackets

By Tom

For the Dark Blue Jacket Plus component of the Ground Floor: The 2012-13 Columbus Blue Jackets series (click here for the related posts at the DBJ blog), I felt that the best thing to do to preview the upcoming season was to try to use the information gathered over the course of the off-season to answer the five core questions that I raised in “The Offseason Agenda.”  Today, we’re going to take a look at number four:

“Does the draft fit into the team’s 2012-13 season picture?  If so, how?”

I’ll readily admit my bias: I believe that, with very few exceptions, you can’t judge a team’s draft until about 2-3 years after the players are drafted and developed in major junior, college and professional minor league hockey.  History (and the statistics that help explain history) backs up my assertion.  And the personnel activity involving the 2012 Blue Jackets draft doesn’t seem to buck the march of history.

Here’s the list of draftees, listed by draft round, as well as where they’re at in the hockey world this season:

1. Ryan Murray (D)Signed a 3-year, entry level contract with the Blue Jackets worth $925,000 with upwards of $2.6 million in bonuses and a $92,500 signing bonus.  His annual salary cap hit is $3,525,000.  He has a $70,000 AHL salary if he plays with the Springfield Falcons, the Blue Jackets farm club, but current NHL-CHL (the major junior governing body) agreement forbids Murray from playing in the AHL next season because he’s not yet 20 years old.  More on Murray after the rundown.

2. Oscar Dansk (G)Signed to play for the OHL (major junior) Erie Otters in 2012-13 (team listing, such as it is…), meaning that we likely won’t see Dansk in Columbus this season.  Of course, an injury-plagued meltdown on a level of what we saw last season in goal for the Blue Jackets (where Allen York was brought up from the ECHL to play a few games) could change all that, so cross your fingers!  One more nugget on Dansk: It appears that he sprained both knees this offseason.

3. Joonas Korpisalo (G) – Was drafted by the WHL’s Prince George Cougars but will be playing 2012-13 in the Finnish SM-liiga (Finland’s top league).

4. Josh Anderson (RW) – Is on the London Knights (OHL) roster.  Here’s a nifty profile piece on the kid.

6. Daniel Zaar (RW) – Plays for Rogle in the Swedish J20 SuperElit league (major junior equivalent) last season.  Zaar was a fan favorite at the summer CBJ prospect camp, demonstrating a nice shooting touch.  Blue Jackets Buzz’s Eric Smith grabbed a little video time with Zaar during camp – check it out here.

7. Gianluca Curcuruto (D) - On the roster for the Plymouth Whalers (OHL).

Where does that leave us?  One player, Ryan Murray, appears to be in the training camp mix for the Blue Jackets and is a serious contender to make the 23-man roster as a bottom-pairing defenseman.  Another player, Oscar Dansk, will play in Columbus only in a disaster scenario.  The rest of the draftees are going back to their respective junior teams (and Dansk will also stick in juniors if all goes well).

Let’s return to the opening question, “Does the draft fit into the team’s 2012-13 season picture?  If so, how?”  The answer appears to be “Not all that much.”  Rather than cut it off at that point, however, let’s have some fun and check out Ryan Murray.  As opposed to every other player drafted, he has a chance to impact the team out of the gate.

The Blue Jackets’ early July prospect camp wrapped up on July 8th, and Murray signed his entry-level contract on the 24th.  That tells me that coach Todd Richards, general manager Scott Howson and the rest of the Blue Jackets brass saw enough over the long weekend to forego buying Murray a plane ticket back to Everett, Washington.  Perhaps they saw something resembling his draft profile:

A strong two-way defender, Murray brings a lot of elements to the table, including excellent skating and mobility, offensive ability, leadership skills and tremendous hockey sense and awareness on the ice. As a defender, Murray is highly responsible in his own end, reads and reacts to the play very effectively, and doesn’t shy away from physical engagement. His quick stick and sound positioning make him incredibly difficult to beat in one-on-one situations, and his low panic level and strong decision-making enable him to move the puck quickly out of the zone, whether with a strong first pass or by carrying it out himself. Murray’s high skill level, sharp passing skills and skating ability make him a threat in the offensive zone, as well.

What really stands out about Murray are his leadership skills and work ethic which, combined with his immense talent, make him the most well-rounded and complete rearguard among those eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.

In early August, Team Canada’s Under 20 team took on Team Russia’s top kids.  Of course, Ryan Murray was on the Canada roster…and made an impact with at least one writer:

He’s a highly mobile player, a graceful skater and a sound puck mover, though he doesn’t appear to be exceptional in any one of these areas.

Where Murray was most impressive was his handling of a Russian two-on-one break half-way through the second period, with Murray the last man back. Instead of over-playing the shooter, who was a bit low and not at the best angle to fire away, Murray gave up the shot to take away the more troublesome slot, backing up towards the open shooter in the danger zone. It was a heady, veteran move, a quick recognition of where the real danger lay on the play, and Murray deserves full credit for his strong defensive awareness there.

A few other times he was caught just a tad flat-footed on a few Russian attackers, but so were all of Team Canada’s young defencemen. …

Murray has some learning to do, but with his good head for hockey, it’s evident Columbus has a promising defender in him.

If you’re like me and can’t wait to see Murray in action, however, you’ll have to wait a little while.  You see, Murray is working out in Minnesota while waiting to see what happens with the NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining negotiations.  As he said in the Dispatch article:

“I’d like to get in there early, but it’s not really clear how this is going to go right now,” Murray said. “For now, I’m working out with guys in Minnesota. Guys like (Winnipeg’s) Dustin Byfuglien, (Tampa Bay’s) Ryan Malone and (Toronto’s) Jake Gardiner are there, and we’ve got a trainer who works for my agent who’s getting us ready to go.

“That’s where I’m going (back to Minnesota) when I’m done here. And I’m going to work out there and be as ready as I can be when training camp gets started, whenver that is. I hope it’s as scheduled.”

No need to move to Columbus if you’re not going to be playing in Columbus any time soon, I guess.  And this fan preview of the 2012-13 CBJ, in only its third installment, is forced to confront the ugly reality that the CBA talks are impacting every aspect of NHL life.

Still, Murray appears to be a promising rookie in the making – one who, with a little time and training, could be patrolling the Blue Jackets blue line for years to come as his fellow draftees filter up through the CBJ prospect development system.

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