Blue Jackets draft plenty of size, but GM Don Waddell says he focused on another area

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It wasn’t so much a defining characteristic as a coincidence, Columbus Blue Jackets president and general manager Don Waddell said.

But watching the Blue Jackets’ newest additions at this weekend NHL draft in Las Vegas made it easy to leap to conclusions. Is Waddell, who just left a Carolina Hurricanes organization renowned for its speed, suddenly obsessed with size?

On Friday, the Blue Jackets drafted Cayden Lindstrom with the No. 4 overall pick. He’s a 6-foot-4, 215-pound center, the type of player who can help redefine how the Jackets’ look and play up front.

That trend continued on Saturday, when the Blue Jackets drafted four defensemen who stand 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot 7. Keep in mind, these are 18-year-old prospects. In some cases, they may keep growing for a couple of seasons.

“Somebody just texted me that we drafted a basketball team, nobody under 6-foot-2,” Waddell said. “We always talk about size, but I didn’t realize it was that much.”

Because none of it was  intentional, Waddell said.

The Blue Jackets could certainly stand to get bigger, but his emphasis on the draft floor is something completely different. It won’t surprise you, given his long connection with the Hurricanes, one of the speediest clubs in the league.

“Size is important, obviously,” Waddell said. “But skating is the key. I don’t care if you’re 5-foot-8 or 6-foot-7, if you can’t skate, you’re not going to play in the league.

“With all of these guys (that we drafted), the first thing I always asked (our scouts) about was the skating, and all of these guys came away with either good skating or exceptionally good skating.”

Waddell’s first draft with the Blue Jackets marked the first time since 2015 that they didn’t draft a player under 6-foot tall. It also marked the only time in franchise history that the Blue Jackets — with five Canadians and an American — drafted only North American-born players.

The Blue Jackets were one of the first clubs to the podium on Saturday, owning the fourth pick in the second round, No. 36 overall. They spent it on defenseman Charlie Elick, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder who plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League.

Waddell then made his second trade of the weekend when he saw a run on goaltenders getting started in the second round, shortly after Elick was drafted. He traded back into the second round, shipping a third-round pick (No. 69) and a fifth-round pick (No. 133) to Carolina for the No. 60 pick.

With that pick, the Blue Jackets drafted goaltender Evan Gardner out of the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. Gardner is 6-1 1/2, Waddell said, which is actually on the small side for most modern NHL goaltenders, but the Blue Jackets were wowed by his athleticism and flexibility.

“We had him second on our goalie list, goalies were starting to go, and we wanted him, so we said ‘Let’s see if we can move up.’” Waddell said. “(Goaltending coach Nick Backstrom) said he has great hockey sense, which you don’t hear a lot about a goalie.

“We were very comfortable making a play to go get him.”

The Blue Jackets finished the day by drafting:

  • 6-foot-2 defenseman Luca Marrelli from OHL Oshawa in the third round (No. 86 overall)
  • 6-foot-4 defenseman Tanner Henricks from Lincoln of the United States Hockey League in the fourth round (No. 133  overall). He’s headed to St. Cloud State beginning with the 2025-26 season.
  • 6-foot-7 defenseman Luke Ashton from Langley of the British Columbia Junior League, who is headed to Minnesota State in the fall.

(Photo of Luca Marrelli: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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