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Undeniable strides for Jackets' young players in 2013-14

by Alex Busch / Columbus Blue Jackets

When Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen joined the organization, they had a clearly-defined vision for what they wanted to build.

Making the playoffs this season was a strong compliment to that vision (the GM acknowledged yesterday that the young Jackets may be slightly ahead of schedule), but Kekalainen says that it's hard to set specific expectations for a team that at times this season boasted the youngest roster in the NHL.

"With a young group, you don't really want to set any expectations whether they're too high, or some people call them unrealistic," Kekalainen said. "You watch them, you evaluate them, and you let them take the proper steps in their development."

The coaching staff and players have worked hard to forge a relentless, never-say-die attitude and it started to really take hold in 2013-14, a season which included numerous comebacks and seemingly improbable wins (just look at the first-round series against Pittsburgh). This is one of many characteristics that has made Kekalainen, along with others in the organization, confident and optimistic that the young Blue Jackets are on track and perhaps ahead of schedule.

"I'm really proud about the effort in our team, and the identity that we established," Kekalainen said. "Now I think the Blue Jackets are well-known around the league for the identity that we have, which is hard-working, hard to play against, never quit, blue-collared team."

Todd Richards just finished his second full season as head coach of the Blue Jackets, but he said that this team is different than either of the past two Columbus squads he has been a part of in his tenure. As many of the players said earlier this week, the Blue Jackets have become a brotherhood and they can only get better as they grow together in the coming years.

The Jackets' growth potential has left both Richards and his players unsatisfied with merely a playoff appearance. They want to be back in front of a sold out Nationwide Arena in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the fans are chanting "C-B-J" so loud that you can't think and high-tech speakers need replaced because of the volume.

"I've been here when there was a lot of negativity around the team, and it's nice to have a lot of nice things being said," Richards said. "Quite frankly, I think the players have earned it, I think everyone involved in the organization has earned it. Those are the steps that we want to take, the city and the fans ... you want more of it, and for me, it's addictive.

"It was a great step (this season), but we can't just stop here and say we've arrived, because there's still a lot more ahead of us."

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