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.