Blue Jackets' GM hedges on Finn-ished products in NHL draft
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) When it comes to the NHL draft, Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is team first, nation second.
Though he's from Finland, Kekalainen has never been a member of an NHL team's scouting staff that has selected a Finnish-born player in the first round. And that trend might extend to Friday, when the Blue Jackets have the third pick in a draft class that's headed by Arizona-born center Auston Matthews, followed by Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.
''Everybody keeps assuming, everybody keeps asking me the same question,'' Kekalainen said Thursday, of the possibility he'll select a Finn. ''For me, it's the excitement of picking the best possible player for the Blue Jackets that counts.''
Kekalainen hasn't ruled out trading out the No. 3 spot, depending on which two players are selected first.
And it doesn't matter to him how passing over one of the Finns might make it difficult for him on his next trip home.
''It doesn't bother me one bit,'' said Kekalainen, who previously worked as a top scout for Ottawa and St. Louis. ''I'll go to my cottage and nobody will find me.''
A glance of the some of the draft's top-ranked prospects:
C Auston Matthews, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, from Scottsdale, Arizona: Was born on Sept. 17, 1997, two days past being eligible for the draft last year. Passed on opportunity to spend a year playing at college or the Canadian Junior ranks to play professionally for Zurich. Finished second in the Swiss Elite League MVP voting leading the Marc Crawford-coach Lions with 24 goals, while adding 22 assists in 36 games. Despite a two-month layoff after Zurich was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in March, Matthews led the United States with six goals, while adding three assists at the world championships.
Said NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr: ''Matthews is an extraordinary prospect with NHL size, speed and smarts. He is the ultimate package.''
RW Patrik Laine, 6-4, 206 pounds, from Tampere, Finland: Led Finnish Elite League rookies with 17 goals and 33 points in 46 games. Was named league's playoff MVP after scoring 10 goals and 15 points in helping Tappara win league championship.
Said Marr: ''He is a natural scorer who possesses an NHL-caliber shot.''
RW Jesse Puljujarvi, 6-4, 203 pounds, from Tornio, Finland: Helped Finland win world junior championships in January with tournament-leading 17 points (five goals, 12 assists). Had 13 goals, 15 assists in 50 games for Karpat of Finnish Elite League.
Said Marr: Puljujarvi is the ultimate power forward package. He is big, mobile, highly skilled, well-rounded winger who is both a scorer and a playmaker.''
LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, 6-2, 201 pounds, from Rimouski, Quebec: Finished third in the QMJHL in scoring with 99 points (42 goals, 57 assists). His father, Eric, was selected by the Quebec Nordiques with 76th pick in 1989 draft, but never played in NHL.
Said Marr: ''He can play all three forward positions. He excels at utilizing his size and strength to his advantage, and can play with an edge.''
LW Matthew Tkachuk, 6-2, 200 pounds, from St. Louis: Was born in Scottsdale, Arizona, while his father Keith Tkachuk played for the Coyotes. Overcame a lower-body injury to lead Ontario Hockey League London Knights to win Canadian Junior Memorial Cup. Led London in OHL playoffs with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) and in Memorial Cup with eight points (five goals, three assists), including OT goal in final.
Said Marr: ''One of the best puck protection players eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft. He is difficult to check and willing to go to the hard areas to score goals.''