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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Scott Howson...

You know it's a good day when you go to NHL.com and see your General Managers picture and under the picture it says "There's something about Howson." I seriously love this guy and what he brings to the Blue Jackets organization. While I feel some of the blogs and main stream media are shafting us Blue Jackets, it honestly made my day to see Howson right on the front page. I'm going to post only a bit of the article but truthfully go check out the entire thing. It's well worth the read.

One of the first things Howson did for Columbus was the draft. He had prepared for his part in Edmonton’s draft and on the eve of the first round on June 22, Scott thought about trying to make his first move one for the ages -- sort of like those four goals in three games to start his NHL career. This time it would be at center stage for all Blue Jackets’ fans to see at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

His target was Halifax Mooseheads right winger Jakub Voracek, who had 23 goals and 63 assists in 59 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. To Howson, Voracek should be one of the first four picks in the draft. The problem: Columbus had the seventh pick. When it became apparent to Howson that there were plenty of differing opinions on a lot of players, his first dilemma as GM was should he trade up or gamble that Voracek might slip to the Jackets. Ironically, that was one pick behind Howson’s former Edmonton Oilers friends, so there was more intrigue, because the Oilers knew of Howson’s interest in Jakub.

"We thought long and hard about moving up," Howson said. "Finally, we decided to roll the dice and hope that he'd still be there. No matter what anyone tells you, this is still a building job here in Columbus and we wanted to keep the extra pick it would have cost to move up."

The equation is simple in Columbus. No matter how you look at it, the Blue Jackets are still the only one of 30 NHL teams never to make the playoffs -- and that represents a course in Building 101, even beyond if the Blue Jackets are already young and have seen the skills of youngsters like Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and Co.

Lo and behold. Voracek slipped ... but not passed Columbus.

"I saw Jakub play four times in March alone," Howson said of the 6-foot-1, 187-pounder from Kladno, Czech Republic. "Every time I saw him I was impressed with how he sees the ice. He’s a powerful, quick skater and playmaker. But it's his vision that makes him special."Smart. Quick-thinking. Makes things happen. In talking about Voracek, Howson sounded for an instant like Al Arbour some 22 years earlier. And that’s a compliment.
"This team has the potential to be big, competitive and hard to play against," Howson said. "That's always been the style I tend to gravitate toward. You can't win without skill. You have to have skill. And there is some skill on this team, but one of the things I became excited about when I looked at this team closer is it's learning to be more competitive under (coach) Ken Hitchcock."

On draft day, Hitchcock laughed when he was told of that comment.

"We’re both from the same beliefs that everyone serves the team," Hitchcock said. "That's the way we were brought up, what we were taught. We love the players, but we love the team more.

"Scott and I are different -- I'm the salesman and he's the roll-up-the-sleeves guy -- but one thing we've both learned is the importance of our role. Thoroughness, attention to detail and being prepared go a long way."

Howson said he comes from an organization where input in all decisions comes from the coach.

"Coaching is absolutely critical in this business and Ken Hitchcock is one of the true assets in this organization," Scott added. "I can’t count the number of times when Craig MacTavish made a comment about a player or a need that neither Kevin nor I really hadn’t thought about in Edmonton."

Oh, yeah, Howson laughed, saying he’d gladly leave the humor and story-telling to Hitch.

"I want to underpromise and over-achieve," Howson added with a wink.

Promises from Howson include a fresh start for the franchise and clean slate for the players. He plans to lean on the leadership of defenseman Adam Foote and forwards Sergei Fedorov and Fredrik Modin, three players who have won a combined five Stanley Cups. Nash, who didn’t have a Nash-like start to last season, seems motivated to working under Hitchcock. Leading scorer David Vyborny is a steady presence. Zherdev’s improvement is a wild card in the equation -- and Howson says the disappointing winger has a clean slate. Meanwhile, the goaltending of veteran first-year import Fredrik Norrena was a God-send in a season of injuries in goal for the Jackets.

Howson didn’t follow the blueprint of his mentor Kevin Lowe and go out and sign a couple restricted free agents to lucrative offer sheets. He did sign former Buffalo and Washington center Jiri Novotny to compete for second-line center with a handful of others and former Edmonton defenseman Jan Hejda. Otherwise, it’s one-step-at-a-time for the Blue Jackets. Voracek will be given a shot to make the team in training camp, but he won’t be pushed. But you can expect some youngsters to bring their hunger to training camp. Just like a young Scott Howson did with the Islanders many years ago.

"This is all about having the right players -- on and off the ice," Howson said. "We want players who are passionate, talented, disciplined, unselfish and have outstanding character. And we won't stop until we get this done."

Scott Howson doesn’t sound like a lawyer does he? He sounds more like a former hungry hockey player, passionate about the game after learning a little something from a franchise that earned the dynasty tag with four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83?

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