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Blue Jackets make history by naming European as general manager

February 13, 2013|By Lisa Dillman
  • Finland's Jarmo Kekalainen will be the NHL's first European general manager.
Finland's Jarmo Kekalainen will be the NHL's first European… (Kimmo Mantyla / Associated…)

The Columbus Blue Jackets carved out a slice of NHL history Wednesday, naming Jarmo Kekalainen their new general manager. The 46-year-old Finn is the first European to be a GM in the NHL.

Kekalainen didn’t grow up wanting to make trades or find ways to manage the salary cup. But he was realistic enough to know what would secure his future in hockey.

“I think when I realized I wasn’t good enough to pursue the playing career,” he said of his 55-game NHL playing career. ““Second-best choice would be to use my brains.”

A proud and excited Kekalainen was on a conference call Wednesday morning. Visa issues will prevent him from joining the Blue Jackets in time for their next game, on Friday against the Kings in Los Angeles.

Since 2010, he had been the GM of the Finnish club Jokerit. That is the same organization responsible for the early development of the Ducks' Teemu Selanne, who started his professional career there.

“This is awesome news,” said Selanne, via email. “He is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the game.  He is going to be great for Columbus. Very happy for him!”

Although the name of Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall had surfaced as a possible candidate, that was simply speculation. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said Tuesday night that the Blue Jackets had not asked him about Hextall and Hextall confirmed that on Wednesday.

It is the first significant move by John Davidson, the Blue Jackets president of hockey operations. Davidson assumed the position in October and by hiring Kekalainen, he reached into his past. They worked together in St. Louis where Kekalainen was largely responsible for the decisions to draft the likes of T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, among others.

Kekalainen, who also worked for Ottawa for eight years, addressed the history-making aspect of his new assignment. His two daughters were born in the United States and he played college hockey at Clarkson University in Potsdam. N.Y.

"That is what America is all about: immigrants and people coming into the country and looking for the great opportunity the country has to offer,” he said, adding: "I’m going to try to let my work speak for me.”

The Blue Jackets will have three first-round draft picks in 2013, one of them from the Kings, another piece of last season's Jeff Carter trade.

Said Kekalainen: "When I see the three first-round picks, my eyes light up."

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