Before getting into the importance of this year, I'm going to do a quick background briefing on the Jackets' entire history with drafting, for those unfamiliar with the debacle.
Columbus joined the league in 2000 as an expansion team. It has qualified for the playoffs just once since its inauguration, a berth in 2009 that resulted in a first-round exit.
That year marks the only time in franchise history that the team hasn't had a top-ten, first-round draft pick with one other exception in 2011, when it traded its No. 8 pick to Philadelphia.
The Blue Jackets' first-round draft picks have been as follows:
|2000 ||4th Overall ||
|2001 ||8th Overall ||Pascal LeClaire
|2002 ||1st Overall ||Rick Nash
|2003 ||4th Overall ||Nikolai Zherdev
|2004 ||8th Overall ||Alexandre Picard
|2005 ||6th Overall ||Gilbert Brule
|2006 ||6th Overall ||Derick Brassard
|2007 ||7th Overall ||
|2008 ||6th Overall ||Nikita Filatov
|2009 ||21st Overall ||John Moore
|2010 ||4th Overall ||Ryan Johansen
|2012 ||2nd Overall ||Ryan Murray
Of the 11 players listed above, disregarding John Moore, Ryan Johansen and Murray, it's safe to say that only Rick Nash developed into the kind of franchise player the team hoped for on draft day.
Unfortunately for Columbus, though, he gave up hope after a decade of service and was dealt this summer to the Rangers after he approached the team's management and asked to be traded
It's hard to believe that only one offseason ago, the very same Columbus team broke the bank on two expensive free agents and looked to be making a strong push for the postseason.
Those two players were of course, James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter.
The former remains with the club for now, however, Carter was moved to the Los Angeles Kings last season after an underwhelming year and obvious discontentment.
Despite landing some young talent, and a pair of first-round picks in those trades, the Jackets have holes all over their roster that will have to be filled through the draft, and that is why their focus must be on utilizing their impending opportunity.
With the three first-round selections they currently hold, the Blue Jackets have to be looking at landing some top-six talent, given how weak their current crop of forwards are.
In fact, if the season were to begin tomorrow, on paper the team could be icing a top line consisting of veteran Vinny Prospal, depth center Derick Brassard and sophomore Cam Atkinson. Needless to say, a last-place finish has never looked more attainable.
Their effort to restock could be wasted if a season can't be salvaged, though, since a lost season would cause next summer's draft order to be determined by a lottery system that would likely cost the team a look at a potential top-three draft choice.
This would be catastrophic given the fact that Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones both look to be franchise altering prospects and invaluable commodities for a struggling club like Columbus.
Then there's the fact that this is regarded as a very good year for prospects, with notable forwards like Curtis Lazar, Hunter Shinkaruk, Sasha Barkov, Sean Monahan and Jonathan Drouin available too.
It comes down to this, Columbus needs MacKinnon and at least one other top-six forward out of this draft to ensure that it can reverse its franchise woes and start trending in the right direction.
The Cole Harbour native has drawn comparisons to Sidney Crosby beyond their shared home town, and with good reason. He's a can't-miss top-end player that would instantly draw attention to the team and help it rebuild sooner rather than later.
If it boils down to trading one of the draft picks supplied by the Kings or Rangers to move up in the draft, that is something that the team's management should try and do.
MacKinnon's current line mate, center Drouin is also draft eligible and would be a good fit based off of the chemistry they've already shown together in Halifax. Perhaps that's asking for too many dominoes to fall together. Still, there's talent available and the Blue Jackets have options.
They need to capitalize.