Armed with three first-round picks in this year's NHL draft and expressing a desire to build the Blue Jackets through player development, it should come as no surprise that John Davidson hired a general manager who fits the bill almost perfectly.
During a six-year tenure in St. Louis, Davidson worked hand-in-hand with Jarmo Kekalainen, who was named as the third general manager in Blue Jackets history this morning. The 46-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, is a somewhat historic hire in that he's the first full-time European-born GM in NHL history.
Kekalainen played 55 NHL games with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators between 1989-1994 before retiring and jumping into front office work. He was a natural, and many around the league believe he's one of the top talent evaluators in the business. Alongside Davidson in St. Louis (and working with the Blues beginning in 2002), Kekalainen helped rebuild an organization which had a dry talent pipeline and turned it into one brimming with bright young talent, with names like David Perron, David Backes, TJ Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo forming the Blues' nucleus.
In Columbus, Kekalainen will be taking on a similar task and it's almost fitting to be doing so with his former boss in St. Louis. This upcoming draft has been described as "huge" and "crucial" for the Blue Jackets by Davidson, and with what is considered to be a deep draft class, the opportunity is there for Kekalainen and staff to build considerable depth.
“Hockey is a truly global game and there are very few people whose knowledge of the game in North America and abroad surpasses that of Jarmo Kekalainen,” Davidson said in a statement. “He is intelligent, hard-working and a tremendous evaluator of talent. He is a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets family and will play an important role in our efforts to move our organization forward in the coming years.”
After retirement from pro hockey in 1995, Kekalainen returned to his native Finland to serve as GM of IFK Helsinki until 1999. He was hired by the Senators as player personnel director and is credited with recommendations to draft Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa, two of Ottawa's cornerstone players in the mid-2000s.
Before accepting the job as Blue Jackets GM, Kekalainen held the same position was Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League and had the club in a solid first-place standing.
Through an inconsistent three-week stretch to begin the season, the Blue Jackets seemed to be a club in need of a spark. A player, a line, a game...just something to get them going.
Coach Todd Richards had seen flashes of play from his team that show what they're capable of on a nightly basis, but they have also been guilty of subpar periods which have put them behind the eight-ball. Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski summed it up last night when he said the team can't get hung up on individual wins and losses because the race is so tight; they simply have to keep improving with every game.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Edmonton Oilers, Richards made significant line changes in an effort to jump-start the Blue Jackets offense. Though it was a disappointing 3-1 loss, the Blue Jackets did much of what they set out to do: they put 40 shots on Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk and had more than enough opportunities to win the game, and the only thing lacking was finish.
The catalyst ended up being Brandon Dubinsky's line with Matt Calvert and Nick Foligno -- a combination of three of Columbus' most consistent forwards so far. They weren't rewarded on the scoresheet on Sunday, but 24 hours later against the San Jose Sharks, the pucks that weren't going in and the bounces they weren't getting suddenly showed up.
Right from the first shift, that line set the tone, Richards said. Dubinsky scored the first goal (his first as a Blue Jacket) only 43 seconds into the game, which was a deserved reward for a guy who has been as reliable as they come and embodies what the coaching and management staff wants from its veteran players.Read the full story on Dubinsky's line inside this blog post.
We're gonna need a bigger boat.
(Okay, that's my second shark/"Jaws" reference of the night and I promise I'm done.) Moving along.
After an optional morning skate today at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets talked about "emptying the tanks" tonight against the San Jose Sharks -- which is another pretty good shark pun, but I digress. They played a reliable and aggressive game on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers and didn't get the result they were looking for, but they did not let it deter them.
Make no bones about it: this was an important game for the Blue Jackets tonight. They really wanted to win this one before heading out on the road for a lengthy trip, and they pretty much did what they wanted to do.
The stats don't lie, either. A total of 14 different Blue Jackets checked in on the scoresheet tonight and six different players scored goals. Among them were Brandon Dubinsky with his first goal in the union blue sweater, and young blue liner Cody Goloubef, who has filled in admirably on defense and tallied his first career goal this evening.
Matt Calvert (two assists), Dubinsky (goal and assist), and Nick Foligno (two assists) all recorded multi-point games for Columbus, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that those three guys play on the same line. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards put the trio together prior to Sunday's game and they seemed to click right away, so why break them up? They rewarded their coach with a terrific performance that catalyzed the team's biggest offensive output of the season.
Get the full post-game breakdown inside this blog post.
Watching games with an empty, helpless feeling is getting pretty old for Cam Atkinson.
On injured reserve since Jan. 27 (and retroactive to Jan. 23) with a lower body injury, the 23-year-old forward is aching to get back in the lineup and help a Blue Jackets offense that has been struggling to score goals.
Before his injury, Atkinson had scored one goal in Columbus' first three games -- a beautiful breakaway goal in the home opener against Detroit -- after scoring 17 goals and 38 points in 33 games with Springfield (AHL). His goal-scoring presence has been missed in recent weeks, but with some patient rehabbing and constant monitoring of his injury, Atkinson is optimistic that he will be back on the ice soon.
Along with two other injured Blue Jackets, John Moore and Adrian Aucoin, Atkinson took part in his first team practice today since the injury. All three hope to be on the Blue Jackets' upcoming road trip to California, but Atkinson in particular has the Feb. 15 game in Los Angeles circled as a potential return date.
Read the full update on Atkinson's injury inside this blog post.
10:15 A.M. -- We're back at Nationwide Arena for today's morning skate, which is an optional skate beginning in about 15 minutes. The players have started to filer on the ice for the skate, and there are some notable new faces that we'll tell you about shortly.
Stay tuned to this blog throughout the day for the absolute latest from practice, including player interviews, lineup news and more.
Every now and then, you need your goaltender to steal one. The Oilers, playing on back-to-back nights, received such a performance from Devan Dubnyk tonight.
He was spectacular for Edmonton and made 39 saves in the winning effort, his fifth win against the Blue Jackets in the last six tries. The 6-foot-6 former first-round pick (2004) made it seem like everything was hitting him square in the logo, and it befuddled the Blue Jackets who never relented.
It was a hellacious third period spent mostly in the Oilers end, and the Blue Jackets had the gas pedal down the whole way. Check the puck back, transition quickly and get right back in on the forecheck: they did this over and over and over, generated 40 shots on the game and were dominating for the majority of the game. This game hung in the balance until its 57th minute, and it came down to execution.
Magnus Paajarvi scored a huuuuge goal for the Oilers, a shorthanded tally with just 3:10 left on the clock when all the momentum was turned against them.
Let's break it down with full post-game analysis, which can be found inside this blog post.
Last year's season series between the Blue Jackets and Oilers was fairly lopsided, with Edmonton winning three of the four games. For whatever reason, the Oilers didn't appear to be a good match-up for Columbus and especially so at Rexall Place, where skilled players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall could really get their skating game going.
The Oilers are a year older and a year wiser, and if you can believe it, are more skilled than they were a season ago. Top pick Nail Yakupov made the squad out of the six-day training camp and is currently playing on coach Ralph Kreuger's third line, a switch made prior to yesterday's matinee in Detroit.
It's hard to find a more dynamic top six in the league, and part of the credit goes to Krueger for getting veterans like Shawn Horcoff (Edmonton's captain) and longtime Oiler Ryan Smyth to buy into lesser roles. The road has been paved for the Oilers' bright future, and with Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner holding down the top two center spots, there's a ton of potential with this group.James Wisniewski draws back into the lineup eight days after a scary collision into the end boards. He said he's feeling good, and aside from general hockey soreness, there are no ill effects. David Savard was assigned to Springfield yesterday to relieve some of the logjam on defense.
Read the "three keys" to success for today's game inside this blog post.
GETTING STARTED: Good morning, Blue Jackets fans, and another happy game day to all of you and thanks for checking in with the game day blog. The morning skate is slated to start a bit normal than usual (probably around 9:45 a.m.) due to today's 6 p.m. puck drop at Nationwide Arena.
An important and should-be entertaining game on tap today, one would think. The Oilers dropped a 2-1 decision yesterday in Detroit, while the Blue Jackets are eager to make amends for a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. One of these teams is going to break out of a losing streak today; the Oilers have lost five straight, and the Blue Jackets have dropped back-to-back contests after beating the Red Wings last weekend.
We're expecting Devan Dubnyk to start in net for Edmonton today, and we should get word soon regarding the Blue Jackets' starting netminder. Stay tuned to the blog for all the latest, as we'll have more updates, photos, player/coach interviews and more throughout the day.Follow along for the latest by clicking inside this blog post.
Todd Richards has had a pretty clear message the past couple of days: he wants the Blue Jackets to win more puck battles and to do so expeditiously.
It's an issue that has affected several areas of their game, too; they aren't winning as many battles which means they're chasing the play, more players are having to come in and support the puck, and their shifts are getting longer. Much of that was evident during Thursday's game against the Calgary Flames, when the Blue Jackets got backed up into their own zone for much of the second period.
Richards pointed to teams like the Flames and Los Angeles Kings who have big, strong forwards that like to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. If those players are first on the puck and are winning the initial battle, they're settling into their game and doing most of the dictating.
After an hour-plus of energetic practice this morning at the OhioHealth Ice Haus, Richards said he's looking for his team to get more focused and determined on puck battles and shutting down offensive chances before they can even get started.Read the full story from today's practice inside this blog post.
James Wisniewski sat in his locker stall this afternoon and candidly admitted that he doesn't remember much about that violent collision into the boards last weekend.
In the days since, his teammates have told him about the deafening silence that took over within Nationwide Arena, how "you could hear a pin drop" while he lay in severe pain on the ice and how Blue Jackets and Red Wings players nervously looked on before he got to his feet and left with assistance.
It was a scary moment for Wisniewski the hockey player, but equally (if not more so) scary for Wisniewski the soon-to-be father, whose wife Nicole is expecting to deliver the couple's first child any day now.
When he watched the accident on replay, he said he thought about how lucky he was to not sustain any long-term or serious injuries but was startled by how fast everything happened. It was a top-speed sequence of events and Wisniewski said he was in the "dangerous area," with about four feet separating his body and the boards when he lost his footing.
The general body soreness he experienced in the days after the injury has started to subside, and Wisniewski said he will undergo further testing tomorrow to hopefully inch closer to getting the "green light."
Read the full story on Wisniewski's return to practice inside this blog post.