Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke to the media this morning on the acquisition of defenseman Seth Jones.
Can you speak to the transformation that this has made on the Blue Jackets' roster?
JK: “It addresses our biggest need. Short term and long term. We’ve been looking for a d-man for a while, and to get a d-man of this caliber, obviously, you have to give up a lot. We gave up a good player in Ryan Johansen, but we feel our depth on the forwards side is good and we have a lot of good young players coming, and our biggest need right now and into the future was adding a real good defenseman. They’re not easy to get. There are not many available, and when a guy like Seth Jones became available, we decided to make this move.”
Does this now open a hole down the middle?
JK: “We have Boone Jenner on the wing who's played center all his life. He can move onto the center position. We have other options too, and we’ll look at our depth chart a little differently today and moving forward. We have our (pro) scouting meetings next week in Florida. We’ll be looking at all of our options. We’ll have our pro meetings first and then our amateur meetings, so those will be the two avenues that you can fill the needs that you have in your depth chart and we will be addressing them.”
You mentioned that you’ve been scouting Seth for a while and seeing what he can do, what is his upside defensively as well as offensively?
JK: “I think that he’s a very well-rounded young defenseman. He has played behind guys like Shea Weber and Roman Josi, two All-Stars, and there’s not going to be a lot of power play time left when you look at guys like that. Some of the best in the league in their position, and Seth Jones last year in the playoffs, for example, when Shea Weber got hurt, played over 26 minutes a game.
"He’s going to get a lot bigger role with our team. He’s going to get a lot more special teams with our team and defensemen, traditionally, they are a little slower to mature, so he’s 21 years old and he’s got the future ahead of him and a lot of room for growth and development there. We believe he’s a good two-way defenseman that can add some offense to our game, add a right-handed shot into our power play and also kill penalties and log a lot of ice time.
"So now, when we look into the future, we have Ryan Murray and Seth Jones and Jack Johnson, David Savard and we have Zach Werenski coming, who was just named the best defenseman in the World Junior Championships...I feel pretty good about our defensive depth moving into the future with the Blue Jackets.”
At what point in the season did you think it was a possibility or that it would become a reality that you would trade Johansen?
JK: “Well, the reality was yesterday, because these things take a lot of time and obviously there’s a lot of thinking involved on both sides. Like I said, we gave up a lot. They gave up a lot. We think about these things very in-depth when we make our analysis on how it’s going to change our depth chart or our team or our chemistry, all those things, so it took a while. But in the last few days after the roster freeze was lifted after Christmas, we started talking about it more and talks intensified in the last couple of days, but you can never be sure until both say the deal is done.”
The hope was that Brandon Saad and Ryan Johansen would pair to create an elite top line, where did the hope and reality not mesh?
JK: “I guess through the struggles of the team this fall. You can never, I guess, put a stamp on when and where exactly. There’s been some other good chemistries building with our team, Hartnell, Wennberg and Saad as a line has been really good for us in the last few games, so it’s hard to say when that would happen but we were hoping that would be the case, but we moved in a different direction.”
Did you trade low on Johansen, in other words, could you have waited until his game came back together again?
JK: "If you have a crystal ball, I could answer that. The only answer that I can give you on that one is that we felt, when a guy like Seth Jones became available, that’s the time for us to make a decision. If we wait, he might not be available. Obviously, people know what the upside to Ryan Johansen is, we know what the upside to Ryan Johansen is: he had 71 points last year, 33 goals the year before, so I don’t think that we’re selling low. People know what he can do, and like I just said, he’s the first one to admit that he could probably have done better this year, but he’s not the only one on our team that has under-performed. He’s been a good teammate, a good player for us through a lot of different periods, good hockey and not-so-good hockey, and we wish him nothing but the best. He’s a good guy.”
Seth Jones, at age 21, has a bright future. Where is he right now? Is he your top defenseman?
JK: “Well, that will get decided by the play on the ice. We have Ryan Murray, who’s a very good young defenseman, we have David Savard, who’s a good young defenseman, and Jack Johnson and many others. Everything is as you’ve seen with Torts, you’ve got to earn your role on the ice, it doesn’t matter your contract or name on the back of the jersey, you've got to earn it by your play and that’s the right way to do it.”
What was Ryan’s reaction when you told him?
JK: “I think Ryan could answer that better than I can. It’s a tough thing to tell a player (he's been traded). I’ve said this before, but it’s probably the least favorite part of my job is to tell a player that he’s been traded. Sometimes the player wants to get traded, so it’s not as bad, but I think he was in a bit of a shock at first. But like I said, he should answer that question, not me.”
What were Jones’ expectations or his reactions to the trade?
JK: “Well, I think he was a bit shocked too and when you get traded as a young player for the first time, it’s a bit of a shock, usually, and then life goes on. I talked to him on the phone last night, obviously, and welcomed him on board and talked to him this morning. He’s a good young man and very dedicated to the game of hockey.
"He’s got great work habits, character, and everybody that we’ve spoken to and who know him really well couldn’t speak highly enough of his character and dedication to hockey, so we’re very happy to have him and he seems to be ready for the new challenge and new opportunity. We're looking forward to it."