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Finland's Kekalainen becomes NHL's first European GM

Finnish manager Jarmo Kekalainen attends a news conference in Helsinki February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva
Finnish manager Jarmo Kekalainen attends a news conference in Helsinki February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva

(Reuters) - Finland's Jarmo Kekalainen became the National Hockey League's (NHL) first European general manager when the Columbus Blue Jackets entrusted him to run the struggling franchise on Wednesday.

Kekalainen, who has been the president and general manager of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League since 2010, was named to the position a day after Columbus fired Scott Howson.

"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," John Davidson, the Blue Jackets' director of hockey operations, said in a statement.

"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, who spent eight seasons with the NHL's St. Louis Blues from 2002-10 where he was involved in all facets of hockey operations, takes over a Columbus team that has not made the playoffs since 2009 and finished last overall in 2012.

Prior to working for the Blues, Kekalainen spent eight years with the Ottawa Senators as their top European scout and later as director of player personnel. He also played three seasons in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and Senators.

Columbus fired Howson after a 4-7-2 start to the current campaign left them in last place in the Western Conference's Central division, 13 points behind the first place Chicago Blackhawks.

"We have a great challenge before us, but I am confident through hard work, organization and commitment that we will achieve our goal of building a Stanley Cup contending team," Kekalainen said in a statement.

Until Kekalainen's immigration status is settled, assistant general manager Chris MacFarland will accompany the team on its upcoming six-game road trip, which starts Friday in Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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