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Jackets deal Leclaire, draft pick for Vermette @NHLdotcom

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -The Columbus Blue Jackets traded goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday for center Antoine Vermette.

The 26-year-old Vermette had been pursued by the Blue Jackets for some time. He is seen as their center of the future and will be positioned on the first line between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius as Columbus makes its first playoff push in the franchise's eight seasons.

Leclaire had lost his job to rookie sensation Steve Mason. The 26-year-old goaltender had eight shutouts a year ago while compiling a 24-17-6 record, but he has been sidelined by an ankle injury that required surgery. He is expected to be full-go within a few weeks.

Columbus general manager Scott Howson said Tuesday night that he had one player in his sights before the 3 p.m. Wednesday trade deadline. Howson also said that a long-term solution at center was his priority.

Vermette has nine goals and 19 assists in 62 games this season. In five full seasons, all with the Senators, he has 80 goals and 87 assists in 359 games.

He was Ottawa's second pick, and the 55th overall selection, in the 2000 entry draft. Last season was his best in the NHL, when he totaled 53 points on 24 goals and 29 assists in 81 games.

In 12 games this season, Leclaire is 4-6-1 with a 3.83 goals-against average and a save percentage of .867. He began the year as the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goaltender but was placed on the injured reserve list Oct. 27.

Mason, called up as insurance behind backup Fredrik Norrena, quickly established himself and now is considered the front-runner to be the NHL's rookie of the year. He is 25-15-3 with a league-best eight shutouts.

Norrena was later put on waivers. The trade of Leclaire leaves veteran Wade Dubielewicz as Mason's backup.

Leclaire, the eighth overall pick in the 2001 draft, has a career mark of 45-55-12, all with the Blue Jackets, with a goals-against average of 2.82 and a save percentage of .907.

Columbus came into Wednesday in sixth place in the Western Conference with 70 points. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are just four points behind fifth-place Vancouver - and just six points ahead of 12th-place St. Louis.

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