Monday, May 24, 2010

Kekalainen to leave Blues for Jokerit HC

Team's director of amateur scouting/assistant GM
to take president/GM post in native Finland

ST. LOUIS -- Jarmo Kekalainen called his return to his native Finland "impossible to refuse."

Kekalainen, the Blues' assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting, will officially resign his post effective June 30 after eight seasons with the club. Kekalainen will stay on with the Blues through this summer's NHL Entry Draft. The draft will take place June 25-26 in Los Angeles.

The Blues announced on Monday that Kekalainen, 43, will become the president and general manager of Jokerit Hockey Club of the Finnish Elite League effective August 15, according to the Jokerit team website, signing a five-year contract.

"I see a really great opportunity with Jokerit," Kekalainen said in a press conference Monday in Finland. "My fingers are itching already.

"It was just too good to pass up. ... We want to grow the world's top young players."

Kekalainen has been the driving force in the Blues' drafting since 2002 and is responsible for the team's selection of players such as Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, Roman Polak, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Lars Eller and Ian Cole.

"Jarmo has been a good, solid citizen for the Blues," Blues President John Davidson said. "It's not easy for a European to come over and get into the NHL ranks (in management), but he's done a good job. He represented the club well."

Kekalainen has made it known in the past his desire to one day run a team of his own. When he was given the title of assistant general manager a couple years ago and with current GM Larry Pleau's intentions of retiring in the near future at that time, there was speculation that Kekalainen was being groomed to become the team's next general manager. However, the Blues have since hired Doug Armstrong, opting for someone with more experience.

"Doug Armstrong came to the Blues with a ton of experience, very well respected," Davidson said. "Not any disrespect to Jarmo, but we needed Jarmo to help us (with the draft). If the draft hadn't worked, where would we be?"

Prior to joining the Blues, Kekalainen served in many of the same capacities with the Ottawa Senators for seven seasons, which included director of player personnel for three years.

While in Ottawa, Kekalainen simultaneously served as IFK Helsinki's general manager from 1995-99. His decision speaks for itself that his ultimate goal is to be a GM, preferably the NHL one day.

"Those decisions are out of my hands," Kekalainen said. "I've always been a guy who lets his work speak for itself and the rest will follow. ... Everybody makes decisions they think are the best for the organization, and I'm respectful for that."

After the draft, the Tampere, Finland native will begin his new venture. And he's ready to roll up his sleeves and go to work.

"I know the league I'm going into is not the NHL, but the only thing that gets me back to the NHL as a GM is to do a remarkable job with Jokerit," Kekalainen said.

There was no immediate announcement as to who the Blues will announce as Kekalainen's replacement. But it is an important decision for this franchise moving forward.

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