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Blue Jackets GM says Johansen 'did nothing wrong'

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The genesis of the trade that sent Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Seth Jones on Wednesday happened long before coach John Tortorella arrived in Columbus and sparred several times with the young and talented center.

That's how Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen framed the move in a radio interview afterward.

"This has nothing to do with John Tortorella or his relationship with Ryan Johansen," Kekalainen told WBNS-FM. "Ryan Johansen did nothing wrong. He's a good player. He's a good teammate.

"This is something we felt we needed to address. We've been looking for a defenseman for a long time. [Jones] is defenseman that can be a No. 1, No. 2 defenseman."

It's been no secret the Blue Jackets have needed help defensively for a long time, but Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson did not bolster the position in the offseason. Columbus lost is first seven games before Todd Richards was fired and replaced by Tortorella on Oct. 21.

Tortorella benched Johansen in his first game as coach for what he felt was a lack of conditioning. Johansen was a healthy scratch Dec. 17 at the Arizona Coyotes and was benched the final 10 minutes at the Florida Panthers 10 days later.

Since then, Johansen, the 2015 NHL All-Star Game MVP, has been skating on the Blue Jackets' third line.

Johansen, 23, the fourth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, had 79 goals and 114 assists for 193 points in 309 games for Columbus, including 26 points (six goals) in 38 games this season. Last season, he was second on the Blue Jackets in points (71) and third in goals (26).

"It's hard to give up someone as good as Ryan Johansen, but if you want to get a player of this magnitude you have to do that," Kekalainen said of Jones.

Before the trade was made, Tortorella took some of the blame for Johansen's struggles.

"The greatest thing about him is just his ability," Tortorella said Wednesday. "He has more ability than a lot of players in the League. It's trying to get him to get there all the time, to use that ability. And that's a process. That's a maturity level. And he hasn't totally matured yet. The onus falls on us to try to get that out of him.

"I like the kid. I think certain days we have great progression, some days it's a step backwards. He's [23]. The greatest part is there's a ton there, and we're going to try to get it out of him."

Now that falls on Nashville.

"Me and coach got along fine," Johansen said. "He definitely had a couple of disagreements with me, but that's part of the game. I think he was looking out for my best interests and wanted me to be the best I could be. I'm not sure what happened behind closed doors or whatever on that side of it. That's nothing I should worry about or can worry about. It's just part of the game, I guess."

Kekalainen said he anticipates Jones, the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, to assume a bigger role with the Blue Jackets than what he had with the Predators; he averaged 19:38 per game this season.

"He's one heck of a young defenseman," Kekalainen said. "Big (6-foot-4, 208 pounds), mobile, fast and skilled. He can play power play, penalty kill. He's a good character guy."

Jones has one goal and 10 assists in 40 games this season. In 199 NHL games, he has 15 goals and 63 points.

Kekalainen said the added responsibilities were expected when Columbus traded for forward Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason, and the 23-year-old on Wednesday was named to the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

Kekalainen said he sees the Blue Jackets' top four defensemen as Jones, Ryan Murray (age 22), David Savard (25) and Jack Johnson (28).

Zach Werenski, the eighth pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was named the top defenseman at the World Junior Championship on Wednesday. He is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, the 29th selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, played for Sweden in the tournament.

"Our future looks really good on the defense," Kekalainen said.

As for replacing Johansen, Boone Jenner, 22, was drafted as a center but has been playing left wing and is third on the Blue Jackets with 14 goals in 41 games.

"This is probably one of those trades both teams have a fit and both teams can benefit from," Kekalainen said. "They're in desperate need of a [center]. We have more depth at forward. They have probably the best [defensemen] in the League so they can give up a guy like Seth Jones.

"We can add a [defenseman] that can be on our team the next 10, 15 years."

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