NOTE: This is the first part of a transcript from Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's pre-draft media session on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena.
Q: “Are you making more phone calls or receiving more phone calls?”
JK: “I don’t keep count but it looks like it’s heating up a little bit. We had the GM meetings last week and had some conversations prior to going there and got together with some people there and some more conversations after the meetings, during the meetings, and then phone calls to follow up after but it seems like now going into this week there is going to be a little more action and I’m sure it’ll heat up before the days.”
Q: “If you don’t go to the podium and take the 14, 19 or 27 pick, will you be surprised or, second question, will you be disappointed?"
JK: “Actually, I'd say we would have to be very excited not to go there because it would have to be a very good deal for our organization to trade one of those picks. It would have to be something that makes a lot of sense because it is a good draft, it’s a deep draft like everyone has talked about, so if we’re going to trade away a first round pick it’s going to have to be a player that makes a lot of sense for us now and going into the future.
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Q: "If you had the number one overall who would you take?"
JK: (laughs) "Those questions I never answer. I don’t think it’s ethical for me to make selections that I can’t make. I have my firm opinion, maybe I’ll tell you later on over a beer or something.”
Q: “How much is the Bobrovsky situation, not having him signed, how much does it count going forward this week heading into the draft? Is it maybe the launch point for a lot of different things going into this week?"
JK: “Obviously it’s a big piece of the puzzle and he’s a great player, a great goaltender, and we want to have him back and we’re working hard to get him back and we’re optimistic that we’re going to have him back and signed into a contract and that’s a work in progress. We have had some good conversations with his agent and we’re optimistic like I said. But now we have to focus on the draft too, and that’s very important for our franchise, so we can’t take any focus away from that, but I think that we can manage with the two contracts we have left to sign and that’s Bobrovsky and Anisimov. We’re pretty close with Anisimov I'm, again, optimistic there that we’ll get a deal done here sooner rather than later. With Bobrovsky, we’re working on it and we’re hoping that it’ll get done.”
Q: “You’ve learned a lot about the guys in the room during the last two months of the season. Is there anyone that you view as untouchable? Is there anyone that you wouldn’t listen to any offer whatsoever if that name pops up?”
JK: “I always say that Wayne Gretzky got traded so I don’t know who should be untouchable that way. I think we have a good group of guys, good chemistry in the room, the team had some success with this chemistry and this lineup that we had here so I think that’s something you don’t want to really touch or tinker or fix if it’s not broken. I think we have to respect the chemistry that we had in the room and how the guys like working with each other and the comraderie they developed. I think that’s something that we take very seriously and whatever we have to consider, that’s something we’re going to always think about. But again, Wayne Gretzky got traded, so I don’t want to declare anyone untouchable.”
Q: “Generally speaking, from the organizational standpoint, what are the position groups, what are the biggest needs going into the weekend?”
JK: “I think we need a little bit more scoring. But I always say this: that when you go to the draft and you think that 'okay, we’re going to address our needs, and those guys will be ready to make an impact in the NHL.' It might take three to six years before they are ever even able to do that. And that doesn’t take anything away from the player; he might still become a star in the NHL, but might just not come to that level until he’s 24 years old. Then he might still play 16 years in the league and be a great star. You just have to let the players develop at the pace that they’re in with their physical elements and psychological elements. I don’t think you can go into the draft and talk about your needs now. I think it’s about building a balanced depth chart for your organization, where you have a depth in goaltending, depth in size strength defensemen, depth in skill defensemen. Same with the forwards. You have size strength forwards, role players, skill players, speed, and then we have a column that we call “special” where you have tough guys, some small guys that are not your prototypical NHL players that bring something special to your team. When you have a balanced depth chart and you know that even if you lose players into free agency or a trade, that you can always count on those guys maturing within the next couple years, then you can look at your depth chart and say ‘we’ve done a pretty good job and we have players coming even if we can make a trade there and still think that in the next little while we can have our own guys being ready to play and contribute,' so that’s what we’re aiming at.”
Q: “In terms of Bobrovsky, are you negotiating years and money for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the NHL, or are you negotiating against Russia? Is that what you’re up against? Because they’re willing to do about anything to get this guy back.”
JK: “I don’t know anything about the real process with the KHL. I’ve been in the situation before where I was working in Finland where it was always if you heard KHL it was like ‘okay thanks for coming, and see you later’ because it was just a different ball game with their salary structure. I think the NHL is a lot closer to it, but some of the things you hear from them it’s like we can’t compete with that. We have our own structure here with this league, with our own team, and that’s something that we have to respect and that’s what our work is based on: the comparables that we have within the NHL, the salaries and the contracts that have been agreed to in this league. I respect the KHL and the way they do business, that’s their business, but we have to do whats best for our franchise and what’s best for our league and respect that process.”
Q: “Is that what you are worried about--that he wants to go home?”
JK: “Nobody wants to lose the Vezina winner goalie, that would be foolish to say. Obviously we want him back but we have said before that we want players who want to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets and that’s our main focus and that’s all we can worry about. I’m very optimistic about Sergei Bobrovsky wanting to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He won the Vezina trophy last year, had success in the NHL and was a big part of our success. I’m hoping that he wants to continue on that path and grow with our team.”
Q: “With the way the team finished the season and with the draft picks, the excitement is very high for this draft. How much pressure is it on you and your team to do the right thing for this organization? A lot of fans have been talking about how we have three first round draft picks and the way the team finished, we almost made the playoffs, how much pressure does that put on you to do the right thing?”
JK: “I think it’s exciting. I think it’s a great opportunity for our franchise. I think it’s a great opportunity for our scouts to make a big difference for us. But again, I am cautious about thinking that with these three first round picks that we are going to bring in a player that’s going to help us right away and make an impact on our team right away. That rarely ever happens unless you are at the top of the draft, you know top five maybe this year those guys can come in and maybe play next year. And there’s going to be somebody from the later picks that’s going to surprise people and come in and make the team and be more mature than you probably thought he was. I think you have to let the players show where they are in that process before jumping into that conclusion or even the optimistic hope that they are going to come in and make an impact. If we pick three players, we’re going to let them come to training camp. We're going to evaluate where they’re at and put them into a situation where they belong and where they can succeed rather than rushing them into our lineup and trying to make them into NHL players if they’re not ready for it.”
Q: “And the pressure on you and your team, do you feel that pressure?”
JK: “Again, I think it’s a great opportunity. I don’t think of it as pressure. I think of it as an opportunity for us to get better.”
Q: “What did you learn watching the playoffs this year in terms of helping your team make the changes to get there?”
JK: “I thought we played some pretty good games against the Chicago Blackhawks this year. Obviously it wasn’t the playoffs and it heats up a little bit when you go into the playoffs and the tempo and the intensity goes up a notch. But we played some great games against the Chicago Blackhawks this year and I think that our team can be proud of those games. It’s a physical, it’s an intense, it’s a fast, high tempo game and those are the ingredients that we talk about every day. We did pretty well in the regular season, it wasn’t good enough to make it into the playoffs, we have to be better, and then if and when we make it, we have to be a notch better yet to be able to compete in the playoffs. That’s what we’re aiming at. Every time you watch a game, an intense game like last night or a playoff game--I was at the fifth game in Chicago--it’s a great game. It’s fast and furious. It’s entertaining and it’s physical. We’ve got to get players that can play on that level and as a team we have to be disciplined and the special teams and all those ingredients—we have a lot of those things we have to get better and we’re going to get better.”
Q: “You’ve talked about building depth. Where do you think this organization stands in terms of its depth?”
JK: “We showed some excellent depth last year with our defense for example. We had a lot of guys come in from [AHL] Springfield [Falcons] and played really well. Dalton Prout came in and stayed and earned his spot and it was impossible to even consider him going back in the middle of last year with the way he played. He was a contributor and an impact player when he came up here. I think that’s a great testament to the depth of our defense. I think that we can always get better with the depth. I don’t think you can ever say ‘oh we’ve got too much depth’ so you can always keep working at it and get better. I think the scoring part again is something that we’re going to emphasize that we need scorers because that’s what decides the games. You play good defense, you have good goaltending; well, we have pretty good quality in those areas and now we want to get a little more scoring that we don’t always have to win games 2-1.”