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Jackets' skill on display in Traverse City

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Watching the Blue Jackets during this year’s NHL Prospects Tournament, it’s almost impossible to ignore the amount of skill in their lineup.

Over the last few years, the organization has added several high-end players through the NHL Draft. Some have been high picks (Columbus did have three first-rounders in 2013) and some have come in the later rounds, and this week, they’re all pulling the same rope.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is known as a terrific talent evaluator and made his mark in amateur scouting with Ottawa and St. Louis before arriving in Columbus. It doesn't take him long to tell you what he's looking forward to with this group — and through two games of the tournament, it’s easy to see why.

“We have a lot of skill, and that’s what makes me most excited about our future,” Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. “I want to see these skilled players contribute here and put the puck in the net…a lot.”

But he's not looking for these kids to dazzle and dangle to get his attention. He knows they’re talented and knows they can make skilled plays, but what’s most important is for them to learn what the Blue Jackets identity is all about, and what it’s going to take to be an NHL player in Columbus one day.

“I want to see them play Blue Jackets hockey,” Kekalainen said. “I want to see them play with heart, play with desire and a really good work ethic. That’s what we want from these players. But also, we have some skilled players so you want to see them execute and make plays.

“You want to see their courage, poise and all those things. Whatever your strengths are, let’s see them.”

Their education begins in development camp with mostly off-ice work, and in Traverse City, they get to work on the competitive side of things.

It’s high-level hockey with eight teams bringing their best prospects, and Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets are no different from any other team, in that their goal is to get on the plane Tuesday night with a trophy.

After a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, the Blue Jackets are 2-0-0 with a pair of regulation wins — good enough for a spot in Tuesday’s championship game at Centre Ice Arena.

Marko Dano has scored three goals in two games (including a highlight-reel tally vs. Detroit), as has Josh Anderson. Kerby Rychel is finding the net, Alexander Wennberg is getting chances and Oliver Bjorkstrand has also looked dangerous whenever he has the puck.

If you’re looking for a reason to be excited about what’s to come for the Blue Jackets, this tournament has given fans quite a tantalizing glimpse.

“You watch the games here and see the compete level - it’s high, and perhaps too high for their own good at the start when everyone’s going 100 miles an hour,” Kekalainen said. “Everyone wants to show the people watching what they’re capable of and what they have.

“The competition is great, there’s a lot of energy and it’s exciting to watch what our prospects can do.”

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