New Jersey Devils' Jon Merrill, left, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson fight for a loose puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete
March 02, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Blue Jackets traded away one of their most productive defensemen. But general manager Jarmo Kekalainen says younger replacements are already on the roster.

The club dealt power-play specialist James Wisniewski and a third-round pick in 2015 to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday for left wing Rene Bourque, center William Karlsson and a second-round pick this summer.

Kekalainen said there was a simple reason why he made the deal.

''(Because of) the long-term plans for our defense,'' he said. ''We have some really good defensemen emerging into a similar role that James filled with our team.''

He was referring to the injured Ryan Murray, a former No. 2 overall pick, along with current defenseman David Savard and 2011 fourth-round pick Mike Reilly, playing at the University of Minnesota.

Earlier in the day, Kekalainen dealt seldom-used defenseman Jordan Leopold for a younger blue-liner and a draft pick and also signed forward Cam Atkinson, heading into his final year under contract, to a three-year, $10.5-million deal.

Wisniewski, who just turned 31, is an offensive-minded blue-liner with 8 goals and 21 assists this season. Over his NHL career with Chicago, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Montreal and Columbus, he has 53 goals and 216 assists in 538 games.

Bourque, a 33-year-old, had been placed on waivers by the Ducks on Sunday after being acquired from Montreal in November. Kekalainen pointed out that Bourque, who had two goals and six assists in 30 games with the Ducks, scored 27 goals in 2008-09 and 2009-10 for Calgary.

The Blue Jackets consider the 22-year-old Karlsson a promising player. He played 18 games with the Ducks in his rookie season this year, totaling two goals and an assist. He was Anaheim's second-round pick in 2011, the 53rd pick overall.

They also like the picks they collected in the deals.

''We got a great prospect in William Karlsson,'' Kekalainen said. ''He's a smart, two-way player. And we're well set for the draft which is supposed to be one of the best in recent history. We've got a first-round pick, three seconds and two thirds now.''

Wisniewski had fallen into disfavor recently with the Blue Jackets. He was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career last week.

The Blue Jackets locked up Atkinson, one of their most energetic forwards.

''We just can't let players walk into unrestricted free agency without getting anything for them,'' Kekalainen said. ''Cam's been a big part of our team and he's a good player for us and a great teammate.''

Atkinson's agent, George Bazos at Edge Sports Management, confirmed Monday his client had signed a new contract worth $2.5 million next year, $3.5 million in 2016-17 and $4.5 million in 2017-18.

Atkinson, 25, has 13 goals and 12 assists in 58 games this season, including three power-play and five game-winning goals. In 199 NHL games, all with Columbus, he has 50 goals and 47 assists.

Earlier in the day, the Blue Jackets united a family by sending Leopold home.

Leopold went to his home-state Minnesota Wild for defenseman Justin Falk and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft.

The 34-year-old Leopold, an unrestricted free agent this summer, has been separated from his family since he was acquired on Nov. 15 from the St. Louis Blues for a fifth-round pick in 2016.

Leopold has played 13 years in the NHL for Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus.

Falk, 26, who requested a trade, is a restricted free agent this summer. He was scoreless in 13 games with the Wild this season and has a goal and 16 assists in 142 NHL games. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft by Minnesota.

Kekalainen said Falk would join the Blue Jackets immediately and that Bourque and Karlsson would go to the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the time being.

''I don't much like the `rebuild' word to be honest with you,'' he said. ''We have a young hockey team. Our plan is to win a championship, not just to make the playoffs. Everything we did, everything we're going to do, from now on is about the big picture.''

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