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Talking Memorial Cup, NHL Draft with Jarmo Kekalainen

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Rob Mixer of recently chatted with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on a variety of topics leading up to this year's NHL Draft, to be held June 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The following is the transcript of that conversation. Kekalainen is currently in Saskatoon, Sask. watching the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

People have talked about the head-to-head competition between some of the projected top picks in this draft class at the Memorial Cup – but it’s a lot more than just 2-3 guys, is it not?

KEKALAINEN: “I don’t ever remember seeing as many top prospects in the Memorial Cup as in this year’s. Our amateur guys – led by Tyler Wright and Paul Castron – have done a lot of the leg work and know these guys inside and out.”

Does a tight, exciting Memorial Cup like this year’s tournament give you a better look at players, or is the sample size too small?

JK: “For me, this is sort of like a bonus round opportunity to see these guys play. The scouts have done the work, will continue to do the work and put the lists together as we move forward. They’ve seen these guys play all year long, so this is just another chance to see these kids play in a pressure situation and in meaningful games. You see if the character rises to the top, where some guys take charge and make a difference. It’s another look at them, and with me joining in February, half the season’s already been played if not more…but this gives me an extended period to see what the scouts have been working for all year.”

The team has three first-round picks in this draft and it’s considered a talented class…after the Memorial Cup ends, what is the amateur scouting staff’s game plan in terms of pre-draft preparation?

JK: “Well, next week is the Scouting Combine in Toronto and that’s very important. They will be doing interviews all week and the physical testing takes place on Friday and Saturday. After that, we’re doing to be getting together for our final amateur scouting meetings and put the list together. We have to get to know them as people and as teammates, and that’s a responsibility of every scout to get to the bottom of.”

You once had three first-round picks (at a draft held here in Columbus) as the assistant GM in St. Louis. Are the situations similar in terms of building this team, or do you try not to think that way?

Most believe Seth Jones (left), Nathan MacKinnon (center) and Jonathan Drouin (right) will be this year's top three selections.

JK: “I’m not thinking of the St. Louis situation at all, really. Something you can take out of it is that you learn something from different drafts and situations that you’ve been in, and that amounts to your experience. This is a different situation and though I’m in charge of the draft as the GM, I’m going to rely on the scouts who have done their work and they’ll help put the list together. I’m going to bring in some of my own ideas as far as things we could do with the picks, the possibilities of moving up or back. There was a lot action at that (2007) draft in Columbus, too, where we had a lot of different options on the table that we were looking at. That’s what we’re going to do this time, too; we’re going to provide the best possible opportunity to show what they can do with their list and the work they’ve put in with their scouting all winter long. I don’t believe in super-scouts – there are no such things in my opinion – but there are scouts who do their due diligence and focus on getting the evaluation right. That’s what they’ve been hired for and you have to trust them to do their job.”

Do you approach this draft differently because it’s your first draft and you have three first-round picks, or is this business as usual with more opportunities?

JK: “I think we just have to be excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for our franchise and also a great opportunity for our scouting staff to make a name for themselves and the organization. That’s the way I’m looking at it: that it’s a great opportunity for all of us.”

What excites you most about this draft class and what potential players could bring to the Blue Jackets?

JK: “Where we’re picking right now (it could change), it’s really hard to say. In my experience, after about the five or six top players the draft scatters all over the place. We might think we have an idea about who’s going to be there at No. 14, but it may end up being completely different by the time we’re up there. We might move up if we see an opportunity to get a player we like…it’s hard to say, but there are always impact players in the draft and it’s the same case this year. From what I’ve seen, there are some very good players in this draft sooner rather than later in the NHL. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed and do our best to make different moves to get one, two or maybe three of those players.”

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