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UNFINNISHED BUSINESS: A story of the NHL's only Euro GM and his Cup quest

Jarmo Kekalainen remains undeterred in his pursuit of two things in Columbus ... a championship and a good sauna.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

The sounds of a gameday afternoon are audible over his shoulder, as Jarmo Kekalainen sits at a large, wooden table in his office.

It's two hours before puck-drop at Nationwide Arena, during the Blue Jackets' final push to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and their general manager has just been asked about his favorite part of the job.

A flat screen at the far end of the table is tuned to NHL Network, with the sound muted. A deep, thumping bass rattles the walls. The smell of popcorn fills a nearby hallway.

"I just like coming to the game, like today … a game day," said Kekalainen, who's from Tampere, Finland and is still the NHL's first-and-only European-born GM. "Just getting ready for a game, it's exciting. Today's going to be sold out, full of people and hopefully a great atmosphere. If we can come up with a win, great."

If not, the sting will feel the same as his playing days.

"That's what I enjoy the most," he said. "It's the emotional attachment to the team, the ups and the downs … just hockey games in general. Hockey has been a big part of my life and I love playing and competing. I can't do that anymore as a player, so this is the closest thing to it that I can do."

His tone is matter-of-fact. His voice low and measured. His sincerity is genuine.

Kekalainen, who signed a multi-year contract extension in September, has his dream job. Entering his sixth season in that role, his fingerprints are all over the Blue Jackets' success.

They've qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three of his first five years, including the past two - when the eventual Stanley Cup champions eliminated them. They're ready for their own Cup run now, led by an unwavering GM with a stringent draft-and-develop philosophy, but now he's facing two of the toughest decisions he might ever need to make.

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Stenlund, Davidsson looking to build on camp performances

Swedish forwards cut Monday but left good impression on Blue Jackets.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

One headed off to the airport for a long flight home to Sweden, the other headed off to Cleveland on I-71.

It didn't quite work out during this Blue Jackets training camp for Swedish rookie forwards Jonathan Davidsson and Kevin Stenlund, but their time in Columbus last month wasn't a wash. Each one took steps in their development paths and gave the Jackets a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

"This was a totally new experience for me, to practice with all those NHL [players]," said Davidsson, 21, who showed his high-end speed and skating throughout camp. "It was totally awesome. Being at the games and at the rink here [at Nationwide Arena], it's great for me to learn and see how they work, see how professional everyone is, and see how small details can be improved and how important it is."

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Murray on the mend, back to practicing: 'I feel pretty fortunate'

Defenseman placed on IR Monday but is now 'day-to-day' in recovery from groin injury.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

Practice was winding down as Ryan Murray wound up.

Standing at the top of the right circle Monday at OhioHealth Ice Haus, the Blue Jackets' defenseman launched a shot during power-play work that beat goalie Joonas Korpisalo high to the glove side.

The puck ripped into the net, under the crossbar, and Murray's teammates cheered loudly. It was a nice capper to a practice that also included Murray being clipped in the head by the puck and officially being placed on injured reserve for a groin injury that happened Sept. 18 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"He moved [around], got hit in the head and I thought he was going to go down, but he stood in there, didn't miss any type of repetition," coach John Tortorella said. "I thought he practiced well. We did a defensive-zone drill [and] he was trying to play tired - [and] he was tired because he's been off for a little bit. But he's in good shape."

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Jackets fall to Blackhawks in final preseason game

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

Those looking for evidence the Blue Jackets will be deeper up front only needed to look at three guys in their final preseason game Saturday at United Center.

Mark Letestu, Lukas Sedlak and Markus Hannikainen each have NHL experience, including xx seasons for Letestu, but all three were among a playing group that featured mostly players who will either start out with the Cleveland Monsters or scrapping for playing time in Columbus.

It's not so much a reflection on them as much as it's a sign that coach John Tortorella could be better equipped to play his fourth line more often this season.

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Decisions, Decisions: Jackets 'bubble' guys get another chance to impress

Lineup, roster spots 'up in the air' heading to Chicago for final preseason tilt.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

When a team plays eight preseasons games, that allows for plenty of opportunities to take an extra look at certain players.

That's especially true for the eighth game, which the Blue Jackets will use as another measuring stick against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at United Center (8 p.m., Fox Sports Go, 1460 ESPN Radio).

Chicago will have captain Jonathan Toews, star right wing Patrick Kane and former Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad in a lineup featuring mostly NHL players. Columbus will bring mostly players recalled Friday from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League, along with a handful of NHL players that includes center Alexander Wennberg, forwards Lukas Sedlak and Markus Hannikainen and goalie Joonas Korpisalo.

"We can still give some Cleveland guys that have not played a game an NHL exhibition game, still look at some of the guys that we did send down, but also give them another game to look at 'em and see where they still fit," said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who used a full lineup of NHL players Friday in a 7-6 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "We're going to have to make a decision here shortly, just because we've got a lot of people. We still have too many people, but the guys that are [still] here have played well."

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Werenski dishes out four assists in first game back from injury

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

It was a preseason dress rehearsal, it was another crazy game between the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins and it was really entertaining - for a preseason game.

The Blue Jackets' 7-6 victory Friday at Nationwide Arena was also something else.

"It was a slopfest, that's what it was," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "It certainly gives both teams tape, as far as to look at, as we get ready. And it's really what I wanted, quite honestly. There [were] a lot of special teams. So, it gives us some things that we can work with, and at the end of preseason that's what you want."

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PREGAME READ: Tortorella keeping watchful eye on forwards vs Penguins

Looming roster cutdown creating tight race up front for roles, roster spots.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

With great depth comes great responsibility.

Or, in other words, it's up to Blue Jackets forwards to keep themselves in the active lineup now that coach John Tortorella feels there are more legitimate options in the talent pool.

Columbus hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Go, 1460 ESPN Radio), in a dress rehearsal of sorts for both teams, and Tortorella is looking forward to seeing things play out.

"I'm not sure what the lines are going to be yet [for the start of the season]," he said, after the Jackets' morning skate. "I'm still trying to make decisions on what the lines are. We're going to let it play out here. A lot of these guys won't play in Chicago [on Saturday], but I want to see 'em play tonight and we'll make more decisions on the lines then."

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ONE DOWN, ONE UP: Werenski set to return as Jones leaves lineup

Jackets' All-Star defensemen flip-flop on injuries, as Werenski prepares to play vs Penguins.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

As the Blue Jackets deal with bad news about one All-Star defenseman, Seth Jones, they're getting good news about another, Zach Werenski.

Jones is expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with an MCL sprain in his right knee, but Werenski is expected to return from offseason shoulder surgery Friday at Nationwide Arena against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m., Fox Sports Go, 1460 ESPN Radio) - the first of the Jackets' final two preseason games this weekend.

Werenski underwent surgery May 3 to repair a torn labrum and "clean up" the rotator cuff in his left shoulder, after playing all but the first 12 games last season with pain and a shoulder harness.

"I'm coming off shoulder surgery, so I don't want to do too much," said Werenski, who scored 16 goals despite the injury, tying Jones for the single-season franchise record by a defenseman. "I worked hard this summer, I've rehabbed it a long time and it's finally coming together. If anything is still bothering me [Friday] and I need some more time I'll take it, but I'm feeling really good right now."

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Jones 'thankful' injury isn't worse, disappointed to miss extended time

All-Star defenseman says 4-6 week recovery from MCL sprain is tough to swallow: 'It's just a freak accident.'

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

It could've been worse.

Seth Jones acknowledged that fact Thursday, begrudgingly, in the Blue Jackets' locker room at Nationwide Arena - two days after spraining his knee during a preseason game and one day after an MRI showed it was a Grade 2 MCL tear.

He'll be sidelined for the start of the regular season, expected to be out 4-to-6 weeks, but it could've been much longer.

"It could've been worse, yeah, so I'm thankful it's not as bad as it could've been," said Jones, who had a breakout in 2017-18 that generated a buzz heading into this year. "Still, it sucks that I'm going to miss the start of the season with the guys - not able to be around."

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Blue Jackets leaning on defensive depth after Jones injury

Columbus down three defenseman after sprained knee sidelines all-star 4-6 weeks; group of defensemen could get opportunities.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

Every hockey season presents adversity, but the Blue Jackets are suddenly dealing with a heap of it before the regular season even begins.

Already down defensemen Ryan Murray (groin injury) and Zach Werenski (repaired shoulder), the Jackets will also have to overcome the loss of All-Star defenseman Seth Jones, who will miss an estimated 4-to-6 weeks with a sprained knee.

Jones, 24, was injured Tuesday in the second period of the Blue Jackets' 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Clinton Arena, in Clinton, N.Y. - the nationally televised 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA game.

"It's certainly not day-to-day," Columbus coach John Tortorella said Wednesday, during a guest appearance on 97.1 FM's Carpenter and Rothman afternoon sportstalk show. "It's going to be a little while for him."

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