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Jarmo Kekalainen takes the helm in Columbus, becomes first European NHL GM

Harrison Mooney
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One could make the case for July 3 being named a Finnish national holiday. Not only is it the birthday of Teemu Selanne, the greatest human alive Finnish hockey player to ever play, but as it turns out, it's also the birthday of the first European General Manager in NHL history, Finnish-born Jarmo Kekalainen.

The Columbus Blue Jackets named Kekalainen as their replacement for the departing Scott Howson on Wednesday.

Kekalainen joins the Blue Jackets after three years as the GM of Jokerit (best known around these parts as the team that employs the puckish Jarkko Ruutu), but he does have some very pertinent NHL experience. He played 55 NHL games as a left winger, then transitioned into front-office work, spending five years as the director of player personnel for the Ottawa Senators.

More pertinent to this hiring, he worked closely with Columbus's President of hockey operations, John Davidson, when Davidson was the president in St. Louis. From the Jackets:

“Hockey is a truly global game and there are very few people whose knowledge of the game in North America and abroad surpasses that of Jarmo Kekalainen,” said Davidson. “He is intelligent, hard-working and a tremendous evaluator of talent. He is a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets family and will play an important role in our efforts to move our organization forward in the coming years.”

Kekalainen (pronounced kehk-uh-LIE-nehn) spent eight seasons with the St. Louis Blues from 2002-10 before joining Jokerit. He most recently served as the club’s assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting and was involved in all facets of hockey operations, including professional scouting efforts and overseeing the club’s amateur scouting and draft preparations. During his eight years in St. Louis, the Blues drafted players such as David Backes, Roman Polak, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo.

The Blue Jackets have had all sorts of issues since they arrived in the NHL, but the most glaring one has been the drafting and development of their prospects.

Rick Nash is the only Columbus draft pick to ever play in an All-Star Game. Despite 11 top 10 draft picks in the club's history, Columbus has only drafted 5 players that reached 100 NHL points; only one, Derick Brassard, is still with the club. Worse, none of Columbus's fab five were drafted after the first round.

The Jackets have struggled with their can't-miss prospects and struggled even more to find the diamonds in the rough that are the mark of a successful long-term franchise, so it's easy to see why Davidson would select a General Manager with a proven, reliable draft record, especially as Columbus approaches the strong 2014 NHL entry draft with three first-round picks, one of which could be another lottery selection.

"We know how important the draft is," he said in the team's introductory presser, "especially with a deep draft, and this one is a deep draft. As an organization, we've had a number of meetings already trying to set up how we're zeroing in on the draft itself and this is going to give Jarmo some time to jump into this."

Davidson stressed that this wasn't a knock against Scott Howson -- just a change in course. "Change was necessary," he said. "[The decision' comes from the gut. Jarmo is a driven man. He's going to help us in a lot of ways."

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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