Jarmo Kekalainen Expects Much More from Alexander Wennberg in the 2019-'20 Season

By Jacob Nitzberg on June 8, 2019 at 8:05 am
Mar 16, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg (10) and Boston Bruins center Joakim Nordstrom (20) battle for control of the puck during the first period of a game at the TD Garden.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

To say that Alexander Wennberg's 2018-19 season was disappointing would be an understatement.

The Blue Jackets' center registered just two goals and 25 points on the year, two years removed from a 13-goal, 59-point season in which he was the number one center for Columbus. 

He averaged the lowest time-on-ice of his career (15:05) and was scratched many times near the end of the year and in the playoffs. 

That being said, the past is the past. With a likely UFA exodus from the Blue Jackets, Wennberg has the opportunity to reclaim his former spot and remind Blue Jackets management and fans why he averaged nearly 19 minutes per game in 2016-'17.

The Athletic's Aaron Portzline recently sat down with Blue Jackets' GM Jarmo Kekalainen to discuss the club's free agency plans and early tactics for shaping the 2019-'20 roster. 

When asked about potentially losing Duchene in free agency, Kekalainen responded with an immense amount of trust in the skaters currently on the roster. 

"We still have Pierre-Luc Dubois. We have (Alexander) Wennberg. We have (Boone) Jenner. Nick (Foligno) can play in the middle. We have Riley Nash, who I think is going to have a lot better start with (coach John) Tortorella and the whole group of guys. It’s not like we have a huge hole there. I went to the World Championships (earlier this month in Slovakia). I saw Wennberg play there, and he played great."

Prompted further about Wennberg, Kekalainen was quite blunt: 

"He has to bounce back. He had two goals. He had a shitty year. Now it’s time for him to bounce back. He played great at the Worlds, and I know it’s not the same, but it’s playing against NHL players. I saw him play against Russia, which was loaded with great NHL players. He was great. Now do it here."

Finally, Kekalainen spoke on his expectations for Wennberg next season:

"He played hard (at Worlds). He played good. I have no issues with the way he played over there. Now he’s got to do it over here...I don’t know what the issue is. But he doesn’t lack skill. He doesn’t lack hockey sense. He doesn’t lack speed. He should have all the ingredients to play better than he did last year. That’s what we expect from him next season."

Strong words from the Blue Jackets' GM, who is not known to beat around the bush. It's time for Wennberg to return to his prior form, or he'll remain in head coach John Tortorella's doghouse.

Wennberg is signed through the 2022-'23 season.