When you saw this tweet from Elliotte Friedman:
Wow. I am also hearing there is a Panarin/Saad deal in the works.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 23, 2017
...It’s probably fair to say you didn’t look far beyond the two big names involved.
Of course, at that time, we only knew about Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad being part of a blockbuster swap between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it turned out to be a much larger deal.
One piece in the trade was Tyler Motte, a versatile young forward who can play center or the wing, but perhaps the only person who knew how important he was to the deal was Jarmo Kekalainen himself.
Motte, 22, was a fourth-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2013 out of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), and after two years there, went on to play three seasons for Red Berenson and the University of Michigan Wolverines. While in Ann Arbor, Motte was a Michigan teammate of current Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski.
Speaking in a sit-down interview with Bob McElligott, Kekalainen elaborated on how the Blue Jackets wanted a key piece like Motte in the deal with Chicago and what they think of the player's potential.
His response, which was candid, may be surprising to some.
“We needed a significant piece back, and Tyler Motte is a player that we’ve seen a lot,” Kekalainen said in the interview, which was featured on the club’s website. “We’re very familiar with his ability and potential. We kind of got lucky to see him a lot because Zach Werenski played on the same team at Michigan, and watching Zach Werenski every game, we got to see Tyler Motte a lot.
“That line with Motte, Kyle Connor and (J.T.) Compher was probably the best line in college hockey that year.”
"Significant piece" is something to chew on.
Motte enters this fall’s training camp on the outside looking in but there’s opportunity to grab a spot, particularly in the bottom six where the Blue Jackets have undergone significant changes this summer. Scott Hartnell (buyout) and Sam Gagner (free agency), two key parts of a possession-driving fourth line in 2016-17, have departed and Columbus will need similar depth to compete in the Metropolitan Division.
If Motte, who played 33 games with the Blackhawks last season, has a strong camp, it’s quite possible that he could find himself on the opening night roster.
Kekalainen and his staff think highly of Motte and though he hasn’t scored a ton at the professional level yet (16 points in 43 AHL games last year), his speed and ability to play multiple positions will give him a chance to find a home in the NHL with the Blue Jackets.
And as Kekalainen often says, it’s now up to the player to make his case and force management to make a decision.