Jarmo Kekalainen Breaks Down the New-look Roster for the Blue Jackets

By Ben Jandrain on July 1, 2019 at 8:46 pm
Jarmo Kekalainen talks to the press about free agency for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019
YOUTUBE/ Columbus Blue Jackets
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There were no major surprises on the first day of free agency for the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

After the dust settled on Monday, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen had a chance to speak to the media regarding 2019 free agency and what had transpired thus far. A main point of interest was how he felt about the franchise's roster – which underwent significant change in a span of a few hours – moving forward toward training camp.

"We assumed the risk that they (Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) could be walking and we're comfortable where we are," Kekalainen said. "Our core is strong. (It's) only going to get stronger with the age that they have. We have some really good young players coming, which is the reason why we could trade some of the futures and former draft picks. We kept all our best prospects that are now pushing to make our team and are gonna get great opportunities to make our team.

"We still have Seth Jones. We have Zach Werenski. We have Nick Foligno. We have Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson. That’s a strong core and we’re gonna have a good team."

Perhaps the biggest loss in free agency was left winger Artemi Panarin. To help replace his production, Columbus signed Gustav Nyquist to a four-year contract worth a reported $22 million. Nyquist had a career-high 60 points in 2018-19, a season he split between Detroit and San Jose.

"He can play right side or left side and he's a left-handed shot," Kekalainen said of Nyquist.  "I think that fills a need for us. We like the player – A lot."

“I think he’s versatile. He’s got the speed required in today’s game. He’s a very durable player; (he) played 82 games many seasons in a row and is coming off a great season."

The defense continues to be the bright spot on a team that has more questions than it did heading into last season, and re-signing Ryan Murray for two years only backed that notion up.

However, goaltending could be what makes or breaks the Blue Jackets as far as playoff hopes in the 2019-20 season. 

"I'm sure that (the goalie situation) can qualify as a question mark," Kekalainen said. "We feel that we have two young goaltenders that have great potential. Korpisalo, when he played the stretches where he got consistent sort of No. 1 role when Bobrovsky was hurt, was .920 save percentage through that stretch," Kekalainen said. "He’s a very talented young goalie – now, he’s gonna get an opportunity to prove that he can play No. 1."

Kekalainen also sees potential in Merzlikins.

"Elvis Merzlikins is a very, very talented goalie who has played excellent in Europe and in the World Championships playing against the NHL players – now, let’s see if he can do it in the NHL," he said.

The club is getting younger with the departures of Duchene, Panarin, and Bobrovsky and the infusion of young players with a chance to show whether or not they have what it takes to be a starter at the pro level. 

With the Blue Jackets coming off three consecutive postseason appearances, it's only fair to see product on the ice before making preconceived notions about how good this team can be.  

"I feel very confident about our team, and we're not gonna be done again for the team of 19-20 until the (trade) deadline," Kekalainen said. "I don't believe in one individual or two individuals, whether they're coming or going – they're (not) gonna be the only difference maker in how the team does.

"I believe in a team. I really do, and I always say that hockey's such a team sport.I do believe that the teams win championships."

As for now, the coaches will have their hands full; trying to piece together a cohesive and effective lineup going forward. There's still a long ways to go in the 2019 offseason.

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