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Werenski absence would hinder Blue Jackets at camp, GM says: report

Restricted free agent defenseman remains unsigned

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Zach Werenski remains unsigned, and if that is the case when training camp opens it would become a significant issue for the Columbus Blue Jackets, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.

"The real frustration for me [is when a contract negotiation] drags on into training camp, because that's a time for 'team,' " Kekalainen told ESPN in an interview published Tuesday. "That's the time when the boys come here together. They start preparing and jelling and building that chemistry that we need as a team.

"When it goes to training camp time, it takes away from that preparation. It takes away from the team. That's what I'm concerned about."

The 22-year-old defenseman, who is a restricted free agent, had 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 82 regular-season games last season and six points (one goals, five assists) in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Kekalainen previously expressed belief that Werenski would agree to terms with the Blue Jackets before training camp begins Sept. 13, telling The Athletic in a story published Aug. 7, "I'm confident everything will get done and that he wants to be a part of the team right from the start [of training camp]."

Video: Zach Werenski lands at No. 20 on the list

On Tuesday, he reiterated Columbus' stance when it comes to contract negotiations.

"That's where we've drawn the hard line before: We don't believe in taking that preparation time away from the team," Kekalainen said. "We think it should be resolved before the team gets together and gets ready for the season."

Werenski is one of several prominent unsigned restricted free agents, a list that includes defensemen Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins, and forwards Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames.

"It's a bit of a waiting game by the agents' side," Kekalainen said earlier this month. "They're waiting for somebody else to go first (and set the market). That's the way it goes, I guess.

"We've been pretty firm with the way we've handled things in these situations. And we're going to be the same way -- consistent -- with Werenski as well."

The Blue Jackets (47-31-4) were the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference last season and swept the Lightning, who won the Presidents' Trophy, in the first round for their first playoff series victory. They lost in the second round in six games to the Bruins.

Columbus had several key free agent departures July 1. Forward Artemi Panarin agreed to a seven-year contract with the New York Rangers; goalie Sergei Bobrovsky agreed to a seven-year contract with the Florida Panthers; and forward Matt Duchene signed a seven-year contract with the Nashville Predators.

Kekalainen told ESPN he's hoping the Blue Jackets will be underestimated as a result.

"Yeah, I like that," he said. "Let's have all the people write us off. That's perfect motivation for our group."

Tweet from @wyshynski: Here's @BlueJacketsNHL GM Jarmo Kekalainen on Matt Duchene leaving for Nashville. Much, much more on the state of the CBJ after "all in" here: https://t.co/jfPYBMSTse pic.twitter.com/VIPkvJ1VmB

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