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Blue Jackets GM Kekalainen: Zach Werenski is ‘the real deal’

It may have been overshadowed by some red-hot rookie forwards, but Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Zach Werenski‘s first NHL season made a big impact.

Perhaps no one was more impressed than his general manager.

In an interview on Hockey Central at Noon on Friday, GM Jarmo Kekalainen sang his young blue liner’s praises.

“He’s the real deal, there’s no question about it,” Kekalainen said. “He had a great season last year.”

Werenski’s 11 goals and 47 points ranked him 13th in overall scoring among defencemen in 2016-17 and earned him a Calder Trophy nod as one of three finalists alongside Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. He set a team record for most points by a rookie, and was just four points shy of tying James Wisniewski’s club record for most points by a D-man (51 points, set in 2013-14).

Kekalainen believes Werenski’s chemistry with fellow young rearguard Seth Jones gives Columbus a dynamic duo fans can get excited about.

“Him and Seth Jones are a pairing that we can be proud of hopefully for many, many, many years to come,” he said. “They’re both mobile, they both can move the puck by passing or skating it out of the zone. They’re both smart defenders, they’re hard to beat one-on-one when they’re defending. They have the reach, they have the mobility, they have the quickness, all those things that you’re looking for in a modern-day defenceman.”

All signs point to the 20-year-old Werenski, who was selected by Columbus eighth overall in 2015, putting together an even better performance in 2017-18 as the Blue Jackets try to get back to the post-season, beginning Friday night against the New York Islanders.

“He’s just getting started,” said Kekalainen, adding that he sees Werenski carving out a leadership role on the team some day soon. “I don’t think that he can be slowed down.”

Listen to the interview in its entirety here: