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NHL Draft: 1-on-1 with Jarmo Kekalainen

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

If you're an NHL general manager (I'm not, but I know one!), this is one of your busiest times of the year.

Make sure you have a Mophie or a portable charger handy. Be ready to cut your lunch short if someone wants to talk and be prepared to spend some time in meetings. Not only is the NHL Draft an important date on the calendar for the future of an organization, it's also the official start of hockey's "silly season," so you can expect a handful of trades, a large shipment of rumors and endless speculation.

I caught up with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen before heading to Buffalo for this year's draft. He's in a pretty good spot, armed with the No. 3 overall pick after jumping up in the lottery order back in April. There are some very talented players available at the top of the class, and Kekalainen's amateur scouting staff has spent the entire season working toward this weekend.

Here's what he had to say about it...

You got some good news at the Draft Lottery and you’re now in the top three. Do you like where you sit and the options you have?

JK: Yeah, we do. I think it’s a great spot. It’s a good draft and the higher you get, the better it gets. You can decide your own destiny. Obviously you want to be No. 1 and you can take (the consensus top player), but if you’re No. 2 you get the second-best and if you’re picking third, so on and so forth. It sounds silly, but that’s exactly the way it goes; we were able to move up and we’re extremely happy about it, and we’ll see where it goes from here.

Were you happy with how your amateur scouting season ended, as far as having your meetings, the discussions, and then putting the final list together?

JK: Our amateur scouts are the ones who do all the work. They watch the games and the prospects all year long, and you have to believe in them and support them in their decision-making process. Five years from now, we’ll be able to tell if we were right or if we were wrong. It’s a tough business; scouting is one of the toughest parts of the hockey business when you have to decide which guys - who are 17 years old - are going to be the best players for the next 15 years. We want to be more right than wrong, of course, but everyone is going to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. The way I look at it is the scouts scout, they put together the list and I help them out with my experience. I want to see the top guys every year so I can decide what the value of the top picks is. For me, that’s it. I’m not going to go tell our scouts that this is how it should be after watching the top guys a couple of times – that’s their job.

For me, it’s important to know if we’re sitting at No. 3, what’s the value of that pick? I’ve seen the players enough to have a pretty good idea of the value of a top-three pick in this year’s draft, and I have a pretty good idea what the value of a top-10 pick is because I’ve seen most of those guys. I think we have a very good amateur scouting staff in place. They work hard, they’re thorough and prepared, and they’ve done their homework. I have 100 percent confidence in the list they’ve put together.

This is the time of year when your phone rings a little more than normal, isn’t it?

JK: Oh yeah. But it’s good, it’s an interesting time of the year. I really enjoy this part of my job. Before (in previous jobs as an amateur scouting director and assistant GM) I had a lot of freedom from my GMs to do the amateur scouting work, and that’s why I want to pass that along to my guys here and now; I was fortunate to work with GMs who put a lot of trust into what we did on the scouting side with the amateur staff.

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