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Kekalainen: Jackets mulling multiple options

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As these words were written, the Blue Jackets held the No. 8 pick in tomorrow night’s NHL Draft.

But as we should know by now, this time of year often lends itself to unpredictability and, at times, gripping drama.

With NHL GMs and team personnel filtering into south Florida following the NHL Awards and Board of Governors Meeting, the fun really starts now. There will be no dearth of trade speculation with big names finding their way into the rumor mill, and the sometimes obvious and deliberate misdirection by those who want no one to know their thinking going into the draft.

The Blue Jackets have options. They are considered one of the more well-equipped teams to make noise this weekend, given that they have a few key items in their arsenal: salary cap space, a surplus of forwards under contract at the NHL level, and multiple picks to work with.

As of Thursday afternoon, GM Jarmo Kekalainen has six of the first 69 picks, including three second-rounders and two third-rounders.

“It seems to always heat up and the frequency of phone calls gets a little higher the closer you get to the draft,” Kekalainen said. “We’re about 24 hours away, a little more than that, and it’s starting to get there. We’ve been up since 7 (a.m.) this morning trying to figure out what we need to do, and how we need to get it done.”

Needless to say, plenty of folks will be watching the Blue Jackets – but don’t count on the GM to give any of his secrets away. Regarding speculation that he’s in discussions with the Arizona Coyotes to move up to No. 3 overall, Kekalainen smiled and politely declined comment.

“We’re working on all kinds of different scenarios,” Kekalainen said, diplomatically. “I’ve talked to every other team ahead of us to see if there’s a chance, what the chance might be, and what it would take. I think we’re in a good situation with what we have. We have a lot of forwards on our reserve list right now, too. It’s an exciting time for us.”

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Kekalainen did say, however, that while moving up in the draft order appeared to be a tall task before this week, that’s not exactly the case now. There’s at least the possibility of getting a higher pick, and the Blue Jackets are willing to explore it.

One thing Kekalainen isn’t keen on doing, he said today, is spending multiple picks and assets to move up a few spots. The hockey operations mantra has remained concrete: they do not want to sacrifice the long-term health of the organization.

“We’re not going to be going crazy,” he said. “There’s a reason why we’ve acquired six picks in the first 69. It’s to stockpile young assets, and if we give up too many of those to move up a few spots, we might get top quality but it takes away from the depth of the organization.”

So as the clock ticks away and the first round of the NHL Draft approaches (7 p.m. ET Friday night, live on NBC Sports Network), Kekalainen and his staff will remain at work, trying to find something that makes sense for his team in both the present and the big picture.

What that solution is remains to be seen, but they’ve been an active lot.

“There could be something done before (Friday), too,” Kekalainen said. “But I think the optimal situation would be, in our case, we see what’s available at (No. 8) and then get to 5 or 6 and see if it’s there anymore or if we have to move to 6 to get him. But at the end of the day, 6 might not be available at that time anymore.

“Maybe somebody will be willing to pull the trigger today, and if not, we might have to wait until draft day and see if it’s still available.”

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