Kekelainen Hiring Long Overdue
It’s quite an honor to be named the first European NHL General Manager in history. No one is more deserving than Jarmo Kekelainen and most thought if a European was to ever be given the opportunity he would get the first crack at it.
Those who know him feel the honor is long overdue. He’s done everything there is to do in hockey from player, agent, scout, to holding such titles as Director of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manger.
I know it creates a cute story to take the European angle and I’m not suggesting it should be ignored but just how European is he? I mean he’s worked in the NHL for most of the last 15 years, played more NHL games than the last four General Managers to win the Stanley Cup combined. This obviously includes Dean Lombardi, Peter Chiarelli, Stan Bowman, and Ray Shero.
Kekelainen played college hockey at Clarkson University so again while the European angle is great, step back and take it out of the equation and you’ll see he’s more than qualified to run an NHL club.
Let’s take a look at Kekelainen’s resume….
He assembled arguably the best team in the history of European hockey back in 1998 with HIFK Helsinki. This roster included the likes of Tim Thomas, Brian Rafalski, Olli Jokinen, Kimmo Timonen, and Jarkko Ruuttu among others. All in all you had close to 15 players move on to play in the NHL.
Most recently he took over a middle of the pack Jokerit team that currently sits in first place in the Finnish Elite League.
Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson is hiring Kekelainen to help build the organization through the draft. They currently hold three first round picks just as they did with St. Louis in 2007. As much as they want to compete this season they would also love nothing more than to make the first overall selection at the NHL draft in June.
Kekelainen’s draft record is unparallel. In Ottawa he brought in players such as Jason Spezza, Tim Gleason, Ray Emery, Brooks Laich (6th rd.), Marian Hossa, Matin Havlat, Chris Kelly (3rd rd.), Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette, and Greg Zanon (5th rd.)
In St. Louis the team afforded him the luxury of one first round pick after another and he made the most of it finding gems T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron late in the first round. As well as selecting David Backes in the 2nd, Lee Stempniak in the 5th, and Roman Polak in the 6th.
Other picks include KHL star and future Blue Jori Lehtera, Ian Cole, Ben Bishop, Ryan Reaves, Nikita Nikitin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz.
Under Kekelainen the Blues took Erik Johnson first overall who Doug Armstrong traded for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. He also drafted Lars Eller who Armstrong moved for goaltender Jaro Halak.
Future Norris Trophy candidate Alex Pietrangelo was taken fourth overall in 2008 in what could possibly be the deepest draft class for D-men ever.
Talking to scouts who have either worked under Kekelainen or know him personally will tell you he has a gift of identifying talent. It’s much like hockey sense with a player, you either have it or you don’t. His training in the NHL has been above and beyond and he has the skills necessary to take the next step.
Kekelainen earning his way to become an NHL GM is quite an honor not just for him but for Finnish hockey. He’s as experienced as anyone out there and I give Davidson credit for making a wise decision here.
This guy has helped a lot of people throughout his time in the NHL and probably faced more media pressure in Jokerit than he’ll see in Columbus, Ohio.
Sure history was made with the announcement yesterday but he’s paid his dues and has earned the opportunity.
It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to pluck any of his former staff still under contract with the Blues. European scout Ville Siren is highly regarded and is very close with Kekelainen. Siren is also responsible for drafting many of the players currently with the Blues organization.
Kekelainen will look to prove he’s more than just a draft guru. He struggled shedding that label during his time in St. Louis and now is finally given the opportunity to show he can construct an NHL roster and compete for a Stanley Cup.
More to come,
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