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NHL Draft "a great opportunity" for Blue Jackets

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen knows the situation all too well: armed with valuable assets and an innate knowledge of the NHL Draft class, he is once again in a strong position to improve his club.

In 2007, the NHL Draft was held at Nationwide Arena in Columbus and Kekalainen was running the amateur scouting and draft efforts for the St. Louis Blues under current Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson. Ironically enough, the Blues held three first-round selections and were very aggressive in trying to move up the draft order, targeting high-end players in the top five.

While he doesn't have a firm grasp on exactly where the Blue Jackets will turn once the draft begins on Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, Kekalainen knows he has the ammunition to make some noise and make his team better.

Be it using those three first-round choices, a trade for immediate help or dealing for additional picks, Kekalainen likes the spot he's in with less than a week before the draft.

"It looks like things are heating up (around the league)," Kekalainen said. "We had the GM meetings last week, and had some conversations prior to heading there and met with some people when I got there. It seems like now going into this week, there will be some more action and also in the (coming days)."

As one of two teams with three picks in the first round, Kekalainen doesn't want people to assume the Blue Jackets are guaranteed to wheel and deal using those picks. This year's draft class is considered strong and deep - not quite like 2003, but close - and moving any picks will require a significant piece coming back to Columbus.

"It would have to be a very good deal for our organization to trade one of those picks," Kekalainen said. "It would have to be something that makes a lot of sense...it's a good draft, a deep draft like people have said.

"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."

The future is the focus this week, Kekalainen reiterated, and the Blue Jackets' goal will be to augment as many areas of the organization as possible. Columbus owns four picks in the top 44 selections and has three more in the later rounds, so one possibility is trading back to acquire more picks, but it's not a certainty, he said.

But the objective and primary area of need is clear: the Blue Jackets want to boost their offense and improve goal-scoring, which was an issue at times during the 2012-13 campaign.

Kekalainen said if they can find a way to avoid an abundance of 2-1 games, i.e. either drafting offense or trading for it, they will explore any and all avenues.

"I think we need a little more scoring," Kelalainen said. "But I always say this: when you go to the draft and say you're going to address needs...those players might take three to six years before they're ready to (make an impact). That doesn't take anything away from the player, either. You just have to let the players develop at the pace they're in with their physical and psychological elements.

"I don't think you can really go into the draft and talk about needs now; to me, it's about building a balanced depth chart for your organization where you have depth in goaltender, defensemen, same thing with forwards, role players, skilled players and speed. When you have a balanced depth chart and even if you lose players, you can always count on those guys maturing within the next couple of years and say, 'we've done a pretty good job.'"

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