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Blue Jackets GM has eye on Finnish players

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is quietly doing extra work away from his day job scouting players who are on the bubble for Finland's Olympic team.

Kekalainen was named Finland's assistant general manager in late October. The Finns have won the silver medal (2006) and two bronze medals (1998 and 2010) since NHL players started participating in the Olympics in 1998.

"I've gone to see the players we need to see," Kekalainen told "We obviously don't have the deep depth chart of Canada or Team USA. We only have four defensemen that play in the NHL now. It's not like we have to scout 50 NHL players to make a decision on who is going to play. There are going to be a certain number of guys that we're pretty sure that they're going to be on the team and then there are a handful of guys that we have to make decisions on. We're concentrating on those guys, watching those guys more. I watch a lot of video, but I've seen everybody live too."

Kekalainen said he spent an off day during a road trip last month in Edmonton to scout Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Joensuu. He went to see a Winnipeg Jets game on that same road trip to check in with forward Olli Jokinen.

The Blue Jackets recently played the Minnesota Wild, so he caught up with Mikko Koivu but didn't have a chance to see Mikael Granlund, who is out with an injury. He also got an in-person look at Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta on Monday, and will again see him Dec. 29 when the Blue Jackets play at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Barkov is an interesting case for Finland because he's 18 years old, but has proven he can play at the NHL level so far. Kekalainen was reserved in talking about Barkov's chances to make the Olympic team.

"He's one of those guys that I think will be a big part of the Finnish national team for many years to come in the future," Kekalainen said. "Olympics is the best on best. It's up to the general manager and head coach to decide if he'll be ready this time, but he's certainly in the group of players we are considering."


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