Waddelll intro presser

Don Waddell has been here before.

In 2018, he took over as general manager of a Carolina organization that was sick of missing the playoffs, and there was a group of talented, young players ready to lead the Hurricanes to taking the next step.

Such names as Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce already had been drafted, while Teuvo Teravainen had been added in a trade. Andrei Svechnikov would soon become Waddell’s first draft pick, and with that Carolina had the core of a team that would go on to make the playoffs all six years of Waddell’s tenure, not to mention place third in the NHL in wins in that time span.

And as he looks at the Blue Jackets roster, the new president of hockey operations and general manager of the squad sees some parallels as he takes over in Columbus.

“When we took over in Carolina, same as here – we had some pieces,” Waddell said Wednesday during his introductory press conference at Nationwide Arena. “It wasn’t like we had to blow it all up. We had some pieces. We had to draft good and sign some key free agents. I thought about that the last couple of days, from when we took over in Carolina, there’s five or six guys left after six years. There was turnover, but those five or six guys that we had were core guys, and I see the same thing here.”

Don Waddell meets with the media for the first time after joining the Blue Jackets as the club's new president of hockey operations, general manager, and alternate governor.

And if there was one message Waddell drove home on his first day on the job, it was that he views Columbus as a team on the rise. The Blue Jackets have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, but with six first-round picks taken in the last three years – and the No. 4 overall pick in the team's possession for June’s amateur draft – Columbus has restocked the farm system into one of the best in the NHL.

Some of those players have already graduated to the NHL and started to learn what it takes to win at the highest level. Add in a core of veterans and Waddell sees an opportunity to make an impact as he goes about building this squad.

READ MORE: Five things to know about Don Waddell

“I wouldn’t take this kind of opportunity at this point in my career unless I felt like we could make a difference,” he said. “There’s a lot of good pieces here. The previous management has done a good job with drafting.

“We have some challenges, of course – that's why they’re bringing me in – but it’s not like this is an organization that is going to take a long time to fix. ... We’ll get this figured out and make everybody here in Columbus proud of the Blue Jackets.”

To do that, he’ll learn on more than four decades as a player, coach, scout and front-office figure, including being on a staff that won a Stanley Cup in Detroit, his tenure building the Atlanta Thrashers from scratch as well as the past six years in Carolina. The Hurricanes had missed the playoffs for nine straight years when Waddel took over, but the team has become a perennial winner with three division titles, three 50-win seasons and two appearances in the Eastern Conference Final in his tenure.

“Culture is an overused word,” Waddell said. “It’s important and critical, but you can’t just say, ‘We’re gonna have this culture.’ It doesn’t work that way. It takes time, and everybody has to be on board. You get everybody on board – the trainers, the equipment managers, obviously the coaches, the players and the staff that’s surrounding the team, if you’re not on the same page, it’s not gonna work. If you’re on the same page, it just builds. That’s critical to our success, I can tell you that right now. I think about that all the time.”

When it comes to specific questions about what comes next, Waddell said much of his job in the coming weeks will be to evaluate what’s here and then make decisions on the best course of action. Specifically, he hopes to meet with head coach Pascal Vincent, who took over the squad just before training camp last season, over the coming days before making any decisions about his future.

That will be the process as he gets to know many of the people around the Blue Jackets, but two things he did confirm are that he will retain both the president of hockey operations and general manager titles, and that he left Carolina with no restrictions on him taking part in preparations for the upcoming draft.

With that in mind, Waddell has a plan he’ll follow to start getting to know those around the organization.

“I’ve mapped out since I knew this was going to happen a road map of how things have to happen,” he said. “I’ll be here the rest of the summer. It’s not over tasking. It’s (just) time. It’s time. I am going to spend a lot of time with the staff here.

"You come into a new situation, and I see what I see from the outside, but what I think are our strengths, maybe they’re weaknesses. I could be completely wrong until I get down and meet with everybody. That’s gonna be the fun part for me is getting to know everybody. And if we have to make some changes in some places, we’ll make those decisions and move on.”

While Waddell felt confident the Blue Jackets are headed in the right direction, he declined to make any predictions as to when fans might see a winner. Instead, he’s focused on taking in information and starting the process on what’s to come.

“Expectations are something that we will talk about at some point,” he said. “Right now, we want to talk about how we’re gonna build this thing through the next few months. The fans, I’ve watched it here. The support that this community has shown, all I can say is with our team here that we have going on, we’re going to continue to build.

“We are going to be a better team. Ask me that same question in three months and I’ll tell you how much better we’ll be.”

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