TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones issued a mission statement last week about winning the Stanley Cup this season, and his words didn't go unnoticed by the Blue Jackets' front office.
"We want to win the Stanley Cup right now," Jones told NHL.com at the NHL Player Media Tour at the League offices in New York last Wednesday.
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Columbus' leadership group heard those words and agrees with Jones.
"It speaks to the confidence of our group, and in our group," said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, who attended the 2017 Traverse City Prospects Tournament this weekend. "That's your goal. I don't think you should be afraid to say it. It's not something that we're going to be broadcasting everywhere, but we know what to expect from our team. We know what's expected of our team. We know what to expect, and we're confident about it. He wants to say it out loud? I respect that, but it doesn't mean anything comes easy for our team."
A year after finishing last in the Metropolitan Division, the Blue Jackets set single-season franchise records with 50 wins and 108 points last season. They lost in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the regular season still provided a strong foothold.
The Blue Jackets roster is filled with young, talented players, and more prospects are on the cusp including forwards Vitaly Abramov and Pierre-Luc Dubois, each off to strong starts in the Traverse City tournament. The Blue Jackets also acquired left wing Artemi Panarin as part of a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brandon Saad on June 23.
Why not state publicly that winning the Cup is the goal now in Columbus?
"It's everybody's goal," Kekalainen said. "There's no question about it. Every team in this league is here to win the Cup. There's no other reason to play in the National Hockey League. We know that we're going to have to earn it every step of the way, but we had 108 points in the regular season, and I think we're in that group that has a chance to say it out loud, that we can do it."
John Davidson, the Blue Jackets' president of hockey operations, is happy to hear that sort of confidence from his general manager and Jones, a 22-year-old top-pair defenseman.
"I look at it in a sense that I want to get into the playoffs, and that's hard," Davidson said. "It's really hard. So, if we get in, I think that we're going to have a chance, depending on how you are at that point in time. But I like [Jones'] attitude, knowing that, you know, 'We're not the old Blue Jackets,' or just the Blue Jackets. We're now the Blue Jackets, a pretty good hockey club with room for a lot of growth."
That maturation process will continue Friday, when players take the ice for the start of training camp. One of the biggest storylines will be where to put Panarin, who scored 30 goals in each of his first two seasons with the Blackhawks and 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) in his first 162 NHL games.
"We've talked about it a lot [with coach John Tortorella], but we have the whole training camp and the whole preseason to figure out the chemistry between different players," Kekalainen said. "That's obviously something that coaches decide. We talk about it and have talked about it a lot, but we'll let the training camp decide. We're excited to have Artemi, and I think everybody's excited to see him in our uniform."