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Blue Jackets management thinking big picture

Despite early playoff exit, reasons for optimism are abound

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

There's no question that you'd be hard pressed to find a member of the Blue Jackets organization who wasn't disappointed with how the team's season ended. But Jackets' management must always challenge themselves to look at the bigger picture of what the team is trying to do and if they are on track towards those goals.

While the promise of the future doesn't lessen the disappointment of an early playoff exit, there are very real reasons for optimism when it comes to the future of the Blue Jackets.


"Nothing ever goes exactly to plan," John Davidson said. "But I like our big picture for sure. This is a group where we're starting to the fruits of drafting, the fruits of development, the fruits of the coaching staff."

As general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has said, the window for this team is just starting to open and there are concrete guideposts to point to.

Video: Jackets' management speaks to wrap up the season

Taking back the room.

When Davidson and Kekalainen joined the organization, they wanted to see a group with the proper culture, a winning culture. They wanted to see a team that approached each game with a business-like attitude and held one another accountable.

Under the guidance of head coach John Tortorella and the coaching staff, the players took on the work of changing the culture in the room. This season, the team proved they were on the right path. They enjoyed the rewards of a 50-win, 108-point season, and, when it ended, the group knew before anyone had to tell them that there is more work to do.

"Going through exit meetings with each player individually, it was really gratifying to hear players talk about business, talk about what they want to do in the summer, how their season went, how the room was," Davidson said. "In other words, the self-evaluation was very strong. We didn't have to suggest 'you guys have to stop doing this,' or 'try to do this.' It was them telling us. And that means we're over the hump. I can't tell you how good I feel about that with this group of players."

Video: JD sits down with Bobby & Jody as the season ends

A stocked cupboard.

After a disappointing finish last season, Jackets leadership could have chosen to make moves to reconfigure the team; but, they chose to stay the course based on their knowledge of the capacity of this group of players. This season saw that strategy pay off not only with veterans performing up to or exceeding expectations, but also with the youth in the organization drawing attention at all levels.

Lukas Sedlak, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski, Markus Nutivaara and Joonas Korpisalo all found permanent spots in the Jackets' lineup. Gabriel Carlsson went from playing in the Swedish Hockey League to the AHL to the NHL in two short weeks and never looked out of place. And players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Vitaly Abramov, Calvin Thurkauf, and Keegan Kolesar are drawing notice in Major Junior hockey.


So much depth at all levels of the organization allows for success to come from within. It also can provide a cushion for the upcoming expansion draft, in which the Jackets will lose one player to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, or give options for trades that help make the team better.

"We can grow from within again," Kekalainen said. "Our biggest strength is our depth and balance. We have a lot of young guys that aren't even close to where they can be in their prime. I'm really excited about the potential of our team and our group."

Video: Jarmo sits down with Bob & Jody to wrap up the season

Consistent, continuous improvement.

The pain of this season's end still lingers in the halls of Nationwide Arena, but there are many lessons to be taken from the year. Including the positive progression that players like Alexander Wennberg, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and Cam Atkinson, among others, showed in their play.

"I think a year ago when we sat here we thought we had taken a step back," Kekalainen said. "I think right now we can all feel, despite the result in the playoffs, we took two steps forward, maybe three, as a team. A lot of our elements to our team are young and are going to get better."

This Jackets team never lost more than two games in a row until the very end of the year, a nod to the consistency in the group's play. And from the postseason this group learned that you need to be at your best when it matters most.

"I feel strongly about this being a great learning experience for our team and we'll be better next year," Kekalainen said. "We fell short so you want to get back at it as quickly as possible."

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