This is Jarmo Kekalainen as an Ottawa Senator. Kekalainen has had an interesting career dating back to his junior days. The Finn (he played LW) suited up in the Finnish league at 19 and 20 for Ilves Tampere, and then did what most Finn kids do: spent two seasons playing for Clarkson (NCAA).
His unusual career path also included free agent signings with Boston (1989) and Ottawa (1993). He would be a star for the Senators, but not on the ice. Kekalainen gained a reputation (after his playing career) for being a very capable judge of hockey talent.
During the time he was the Senators European scout the club drafted Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat. Once elevated to the scouting director’s job, Kekalainen’s three season output in the position netted the club names like Jason Spezza, Ray Emery, Brooks Laich, Antoine Vermette, Anton Volchenkov and Greg Zanon.
After moving over to St. Louis in fall 2002, Kekalainen was at the forefront of a strong amateur procurement department. Among the names announced by the team 2003-2009 were David Backes, Lee Stempniak, Roman Polak, TJ Oshie, Erik Johnson, Patrik Berglund, Lars Eller, Ian Cole, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and David Rundblad.
Kekalainen is leaving the Blues organization. The information is here. Kekalainen says all the right things and don’t doubt that family comes first for him (there’s a strong call home for the European players and there’s no reason to believe it would be any different for executives). Still, I do think that some of this is probably shrapnel from Kekalainen getting passed over for the GM job (Blues hired Doug Armstrong to replace Pleau).
Here’s what we know for sure: the opportunity came together quickly and Kekalainen gets out of his St. Louis deal a couple of years early. He’s GM of an SM-LIIGA team beginning this summer and that will no doubt take a great deal of attention for two or three years. He still expresses an interest in being an NHL General Manager and the new gig is something he’s done before (Kekalainen simultaneously served as Ottawa’s European draft guru IFK Helsinki’s general manager in the Finnish Elite League from 1995 to 1999, guiding the club to the league championship in 1998).
I think he’ll be back.