Jarmo Kekalainen Speaks to Media Ahead of NHL Draft

By Coby Maeir on June 28, 2023 at 1:48 pm
Jarmo Kekalainen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ahead of Wednesday's NHL Draft, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen spoke to the media on Tuesday. The Blue Jackets have the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, their only selection in the first round after trading the No. 22 pick to the Flyers for Ivan Provorov.

The full availability can be accessed below:

Here's what Kekalainen had to say:

Could the player you select change your post-draft plans?

Kekalainen: "I think that I've always said the same thing about 18-year-olds that you don't ever count on making your team or making any impact on your team. [On] very rare occasions you can count on it, but normally, we don't. If they surprise us pleasantly and make our team and make an impact and at the age of 18, so be it, and that's great. But, that's not something we're counting on. So, we're making our plans with the NHL players with the needs that we have and hope to add a future player, a big piece through the draft, and develop him properly,"

Thoughts on Matvei Michkov?

Kekalainen: "Talented player. I've said that many times he's been seen as an underage and he's been watched on video a lot and obviously been hard to get to see him live but he's a great talent and he's got a bright future ahead of him."

Was it good to get a chance to chat with him?

Kekalainen: "We did not."

Will you before [Wednesday]?

Kekalainen: "No."

You said at the combine that there wasn't an offer close to the third pick. Has that changed?

Kekalainen: "We had a few phone calls from teams that wanted to either move up or try to trade a real good NHL player for the third pick, but nothing's been even close to what would make us trade that pick and I doubt there will be so I'm 99.9% sure that we'll make that pick."

What about trading up to No. 2?

Kekalainen: "I think that it's a pretty close call there right after the first pick. I think we all know who the first pick's gonna be or have a very, very good guess with a high percentage. So, at No. 3 we're confident that we're gonna get a great player as well. But, if there's a reasonable price to move up from No. 3 to No. 2 to make certain who we're getting, I guess we would entertain that. But, I think you'd have to ask Anaheim. I think they're pretty comfortable at No. 2 as well."

Have teams called about the No. 34 pick?

Kekalainen: "No, not really. But I think that happens usually closer to the draft. If somebody's willing to give you a roster player for the 34th Pick, then they probably will make those calls and see if that would make us make a decision. But, I would expect that there's going to be a lot of calls from teams that would want to move up to No. 34. Then we'll have to see what's available on our list when the time of the pick and make a decision whether we want to keep the pick or move back. Or we could also try to package something together and try to move and get another second or first-round pick [by] adding something to No. 34. But, teams are reluctant to get out of the first round. There are some teams that have multiple firsts, so that could happen where they get more ammunition a little bit later in the draft, but we'll see."

How fortunate do you feel that you are in a position to draft a center this year?

Kekalainen: "Yeah, it's definitely a reward after the terrible season that we had. So something good about finishing where we finished, we don't want to be in this situation anymore. So I think it's going to be an important piece for us moving forward and building forward, and whether we have to wait for a year or not, [it] doesn't matter. I think at the end of the day, you always have to have that focus [on] whoever we think is going to have the best career, [and that] is the one that we're going to take."

Is it tough to put stock in the World Championship where Leo Carlsson was Sweden's No. 1 center and Adam Fantilli started out on the fourth line?

Kekalainen: "No, because if first of all, I think it's really hard for an 18-year-old to play on that level, and then second of all Fantilli ended up in the tournament much higher than the fourth line at the end when it started counting the most. That's the way it works in pro hockey though. They were coached by an NHL coach and if you're a young player going on Team Canada, you have to earn your way, you're not gonna get put on the first line. That's the way the NHL coaches work. And obviously, Sweden operated differently. And I'm sure they had a good reason why they did it that way. Carlsson's a great talent, but NHL coaches operate in a different manner. And I've seen that before many times and [had a] few arguments about that too. And the young players always have to earn their way up. Sometimes they've earned the right before that, too. So that's an ongoing argument between the management [and] the coaching staff."

Do you have a log jam on defense and have teams called about certain defensemen?

Kekalainen: "Yeah, and they have, but I think that right now we have a luxury that we can keep all of them, and [let's] say that [David] Jiricek's not ready then we don't have to rush him and we can bring him in slowly. But, if he comes to the camp and he's our best defenseman, then we might have to do something. But we can still wait a little bit on that and have the patience to make the right move. So we're not in a rush to do anything. I think we're flexible as far as there's an opportunity to make our team better and another area. That's when it's never a bad problem to have good defensemen that can play in the league and we've had some of those conversations already. We'll see what happens."

How much of a desire do you have to try and sign Kent Johnson to an extension starting on July 1? Is that something the franchise prioritizes?

Kekalainen: "Well, we're gonna have those talks and we're gonna see where we are cap-wise and moving into the future and what makes the best sense for us. I've always believed that players got to earn their long-term contracts and their long-term money, and he's had a great first season and now we want him to do it again. And whether we lock him up earlier or a little bit later, [we'll] weigh in on what we need to do as far as our future goes with the salary cap and all that and I'm sure their side's gonna do the same thing. But we know that Kent Johnson is going to be a big part of our future. And we're gonna make sure that he feels that way too, that he's appreciated."

What will the Blue Jackets do over the next few weeks starting with the draft?