GM Jarmo Kekalainen: Blue Jackets Will Look to Add a Sniper This Offseason

By Jeff Svoboda on May 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm
Oliver Bjorkstrand is tasked with having a big offseason.

When the Blue Jackets lost in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, some observers surmised the difference between the now-Finals-bound Penguins and the Blue Jackets was the presence of game-breaking stars on the Pittsburgh roster.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and even the young Jake Guentzel made it so that even if the Blue Jackets controlled play for large stretches of time, all it took was one chance going the other way for the Penguins to score – and that that was the difference in a 4-1 series in which Columbus put in good minutes but failed to score enough to advance.

"We're out in five games, but every single one of the games except one we outpossessed the opponent, outshot and outchanced," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters in Columbus after the season. "That's something that we believe in the long run will produce results.

"When you look at the big picture, if you can be a team that outpossesses, outchances and outshoots the opponent, you're going to win a lot of hockey games. In a sample size of five games, it doesn't always happen and with the opponent having the top snipers in the game it doesn't always happen."

Kekalainen expanded a bit on those observations and talked about the team's offseason plans this past weekend. In an interview with SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman, the CBJ boss said the Jackets would be looking for someone who could put the puck in the net this offseason.

“A sniper in the key moments,” Kekalainen told Friedman when asked what the team is looking for. “You’re always looking for a No. 1 centre. Collectively we score enough, we’ve got firepower through all four lines. Cam Atkinson is our best scorer, but we need to finish with a better percentage. We’re going to look internally and externally.”

Columbus did score 249 goals this year, good for sixth among the NHL's 30 teams. But as the general manager noted, it was more of a team effort; after Atkinson's 35 goals, no Blue Jacket had more than 27. Only Nick Foligno (26) and Brandon Saad (24) were above 20, though 12 different Jackets did score at least 10 goals.

So where might the help come from? Internally, there's Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored six goals in 26 games but showed the kind of offensive ability that projects well at just 21 years old. 

“We haven’t forgotten, but this has to be the best summer he’s ever had," Kekalainen told Friedman. "Well, the next couple have to be. We need him to be more explosive. He’s definitely a sniper, one of those guys I was talking about. He’s a big-moment player, and he showed that when he won the Calder Cup (in 2016). He scored important goals, including the deciding goal in the final game.”

There were two other Jackets youngsters mentioned in Friedman's piece. There's Keegan Kolesar, the 20-year-old power forward and 2015 third-round pick who had a 12-19-31 line in 19 playoff games while leading Seattle to the WHL title and a Memorial Cup bid. And, of course, there's last year's No. 3 overall pick, Pierre-Luc Dubois, who got of to a slow start last year but came on near the end of the campaign as an 18-year-old with Blainville-Boisbriand of the QMJHL. 

“I watched him pretty much every game," Kelalainen told Friedman of Dubois. "He is getting better and has a good chance to be here.” 


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