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European scouting director has the 411 on Kekalainen

by Mike G. Morreale

Don't let the Finnish name fool you.

Jarmo Kekalainen, who was named the first European general manager in NHL history on Wednesday by Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, is more privy to the North American culture and game than some might think.

He played two years at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., in the late 1980s, spent three seasons in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators in the early 1990s, and even finished the Boston Marathon in under three hours.


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"Running the marathon is one of his hobbies," NHL Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb, told "He has a great time for an amateur."

Stubb, who is based out of Finland, has known Kekalainen for many years. Most recently, he was the GM of Jokerit in Finland's top league. Despite signing a five-year contract with the team in 2010, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the deal included an NHL "out" clause.

The position with the Blue Jackets was too good to pass up.

"In my opinion, Jarmo is easy to get along with," Stubb said. "He is honest, fair and a 100-percent professional in the world of hockey.

"He is highly respected in Finland and I'm sure he will do a great job as a GM in the NHL."

Following Kekalainen's playing career and retirement in 1995, he served for eight seasons as the Ottawa Senators' chief European scout and director of player personnel, also landing a position as sports manager for Helsinki's other major club, HIFK.

"The team was struggling and the only wish they had was to make HIFK champions after several lean years," Stubb said. "Jarmo did that and stayed with the club two or three years until he left for North America [to become director of amateur scouting for the St. Louis Blues from 2002-10].

"Those years with HIFK brought him a lot of respect in Finland."

He provided the same energy and enthusiasm for Jokerit the past two-plus seasons.

"Jokerit was in the same position as HIFK," Stubb said. "The team needed a title badly since they last won the Finnish championship in 2002. He's done a great job turning that club around. The team will probably win the regular season crown this year and is the favorite to win the title."

As the scouting director for the Blues, Kekalainen was responsible for drafting many top players, including current Blues captain David Backes, along with T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo.

"Jarmo has an excellent feeling for players and knows how to put the puzzle together," Stubb said. "I have never worked under him, so I do not know if he is hard or not. But understand, both players and management have a lot of respect for him and his inside knowledge of hockey."

It's also interesting to note that Kekalainen is also a popular and highly respected hockey color-commentator on Finnish television.


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