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Blue Jackets’ newest defenseman eager to expand his game, showcase his talent in Columbus

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets
James Wisniewski drove home to Canton, Mich., on Thursday after one of the most pivotal conversations of his career with agent Bill Zito.

To read the press release on the Blue Jackets signing of James Wisniewski to a six-year contract, click here

The 27-year-old defenseman drove into Columbus after the Blue Jackets acquired his exclusive negotiating rights from the Montreal Canadiens, and along with Zito, were given a birds-eye view of the organization on all levels. General manager Scott Howson and head coach Scott Arniel led the tour, which included an encompassing look at facilities, the city and even a couple of teammates.

For a player that has been on one-year tryouts with four clubs in his National Hockey League career – and wasn’t offered a contract by the Canadiens after a stellar offensive campaign – the chance to obtain security and expand his role with a “team going in the right direction” became even more appealing.

Wisniewski and the Blue Jackets agreed to terms on a six-year contract with roughly an hour left before unrestricted free agency opened, and all parties involved agreed this was the right move for the player and for the club.

“After (the Blue Jackets) traded for my rights and traded for Jeff Carter, I got the feeling this club is on the right path,” Wisniewski said. “This is what I wanted – I wanted to be part of this organization going forward.”

And in that talk with his agent, Wisniewski leveraged two things: how impressed he was with the Blue Jackets and his visit to Columbus, versus testing the waters of free agency just hours later. In the end, he opted to commit to the club that made him feel at home right away.

“I do like poker, but I’m not that big of a gambler,” Wisniewski admitted. “I was part of (the Chicago Blackhawks) when they were on the rise, and with Anaheim when they went to the conference final and saw how cities rally around the team. “This is a great city, a great place to live. It’s a place to start a family. I want to be a part of that here.”

Howson had Wisniewski targeted long before signing the deal today, as well. The Blue Jackets’ GM said that trade conversations to acquire Wisniewski’s negotiating rights began in earnest at last week’s entry draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and once the market for defensemen began to pick up, he wanted to make a good first impression.

And with a flurry of activity preceding the finalization of Wisniewski’s contract – trading for All-Star center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers – Howson said adding a high-end player like Carter helped “sell” the idea of joining the Blue Jackets.

“Jeff Carter certainly helped James Wisniewski, there’s absolutely no doubt about that,” Howson said. “I certainly think a lot of players saw our club as a good fit.”

The club’s hockey operations staff had two elite-rated defensemen available in this year’s free agent class – Wisniewski and Christian Ehrhoff, the latter signing a multi-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres before the UFA period. Without reservation, Howson reiterated his belief in Wisniewski’s ability to play a top-four role on the Columbus blue line and contribute not solely on the scoresheet (Wisniewski contributed a career-high 51 points last season, one of the top defenseman totals in the NHL) but in all situations.

“(Wisniewski) is a top-pair defenseman for us,” Howson said. “We think that he’s going to continue (to produce offense) given the role he’s going to have here.

“He’s going to help our power play, and his shot is one of the tops in the game. We’ve just never had that here.”

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