Note to self: when a GM says something is "close," it's probably really close.
Sitting in Jarmo Kekalainen's pre-draft media session yesterday, the topic of restricted free agents was brought up on a couple of occasions. The first being goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (you can read more about those contracts talks here), but also center Artem Anisimov, due to be RFA on July 5.
Kekalainen said on Tuesday that the club was "very close" to getting Anisimov re-signed. It's almost like he knew something we didn't.
Over the past few weeks, Kekalainen has been very frank in stating his confidence of reaching a deal with Anisimov in the near term. Today, it was made official: Anisimov re-upped with a three-year extension that will keep him in Columbus through the 2015-16 NHL season. Anisimov will be 28 years old and an unrestricted free agent when the deal expires.
"It was a lengthy negotiation, but he's a good player and he deserves the right to negotiate his contract," Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. "He's a very versatile, skilled player with long reach and he's hard to play against. He has the hockey sense and he's also a good playmaker, a guy that can finish.
"It's hard to find a guy who's 6-foot-4 and can play very well defensively and positionally. It's a combination that's pretty rare."
Acquired from the Rangers in a July 23 deal that sent Rick Nash to New York, Anisimov fit in right away with what the Blue Jackets are trying to build. He's a competitive, skilled player that plays all 200 feet of the ice, and showed growth in important areas of the game this season that gives Kekalainen and his staff confidence in the extension.
"I've watched him since he was draft-eligible so I've known him for a long time," Kekalainen said. "When you get closer you appreciate the qualities that he brings even more. He's very dependable; coaches trust him and use him a lot in different situations and often against the best players of the other team.
"You realize his importance to the team and therefore, you want to make sure you keep the asset and that's what we did."
Anisimov battled injuries in 2012-13 but managed to play 35 of the Blue Jackets' 48 games, racking up 11 goals and 18 points. He led the team in 5-on-5 goals scored (10), shootout goals (4... and how about that backhand move?), and shooting percentage (16.2).
"He always fought back (from the injuries) and contributed," Kekalainen said. "He's always been a durable player in his career, so hopefully this year was just some bad luck and he'll get back to playing healthy all year next year."
For a player that has shown flashes of brilliance and still has room to grow, just how good can Anisimov be? Kekalainen said only one person can answer that question.
"I think it depends on him, I really do," Kekalainen said. "How bad does he want to be on the next level, how badly does he want to be an elite player in the NHL? How hard does he want to work at it? Those are questions only he can answer. He's only 25 years old and has played some really good hockey in the NHL, and I think his potential is a lot higher.
"It's going to require hard work, and the one area he can improve on is getting stronger. We talked to him about that, and now the next step is all under his control."