Matt Duchene Was the "No. 1 Guy We Targeted" In a Deadline Deal, According to Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen

By Rob Mixer on February 22, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Jarmo Kekalainen is a huge fan of Matt Duchene.

When Duchene was high atop the pre-draft rankings in 2009, Kekalainen was heading up the St. Louis Blues' amateur scouting operation and identified him as one of the game-breakers. 

John Tavares went No. 1 overall to the New York Islanders followed by Victor Hedman to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Duchene fell to the Colorado Avalanche in the third spot. He was a great fit for an uptempo Colorado team under Patrick Roy, but was eventually traded the Ottawa Senators in 2017.

Now, he's a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets after a big-time deal ahead of Monday's NHL trade deadline. Kekalainen sent prospects Jonathan Davidsson and Vitaly Abramov to the Senators along with a 2019 first-round pick (top-3 lottery protected) and a conditional 2020 first-round pick, which Ottawa receives if Duchene signs an extension in Columbus.

For Kekalainen, the multi-asset price was "the cost of doing business" when you're acquiring a top-end center, one like Duchene who will instantly boost their offensive depth and make them a more formidable opponent down the stretch.

"That's why we're willing to take the risk that it could just be a rental," Kekalainen told reporters in Ottawa. "We had to give up two good prospects to get him. Sometimes a trade is good for both franchises, and I think that's the case (here)."

There was plenty of discussion around the hockey world about the Blue Jackets' decision to go "all in" and acquire Duchene given the uncertainty of their situations with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. But Kekalainen sounded like a GM who's ready to push his chips into the middle and give the Blue Jackets a chance at a legitimate playoff run.

"There's always risk involved – we're not afraid of risks," he said. "We don't make decisions on being afraid of taking risks, and that's our philosophy. We want to go for it. We want to give this team a chance to compete for a playoff spot first and then go as deep as we can in the playoffs. I think Matt's excited about that.

"He wants to have a deep run in the spring time here, so he's committed to that and we're happy to have him."

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