When Jarmo Kekalainen was hired as General Manager, one of the things we knew he would bring with him was a keen understanding of "who's who" in the European leagues, in addition to his experience as the Blues' draft guru. He, along with the European scouts in the organization, reached out and grabbed one of the top European free agents available in Simon Hjalmarsson.
From the team's press release:
Last season, Hjalmarsson tallied 27-30-57 in 55 games with Linkoping, finishing tied for third in the league in both goals and points. He added 5-4-9 in 14 playoff games. In 2012-13, he collected 12-31-43, 10 PIM and was +21 in 55 games during the regular season and 5-6-11 with eight PIM in 10 playoff games.
Hjalmarsson, 25, was originally a second round pick, 39th overall, of the St. Louis Blues in the 2007 NHL Draft. The Varnamo, Sweden, native has represented his country at several international tournaments, including the past two IIHF World Championships (2014- Bronze, 2013- Gold). He won a silver medal with Team Sweden at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and captured bronze at the 2007 IIHW World U-18 Championships in Tampere, Finland, where he led the Swedes in scoring with 4-5-9 in six games played.
He's an offensive forward who scored over a point-per-game in the SHL last year- no small feat. The Jackets need scoring, and Hjalmarsson fits the bill. His willingness to battle, according to Elite Prospect's profile on him, would fit right in with the culture and style the Jackets have developed over the past two seasons.
Jarmo is very familiar with him, as he was the one to draft him into the NHL back in 2007, though this is his first time making the trek to North America.
Columbus' top pick in last year's draft, Alexander Wennberg, is also making the jump to North America next year, and Hjalmarsson could serve double duty as a mentor for his young countryman.
This signing doesn't guarantee anything. Last year the Jackets went to Europe to sign Ilari Melart, a rugged defenseman who played a North American style. Melart went on to split the season between the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, and Yugra of the KHL. His tenure with the Jackets is now over.
It remains to be seen what kind of impact he will make with the organization, but the fact a top European free agent chose to sign with the Jackets shows the the franchise is moving in the right direction.