Swiss defenseman Dean Kukan has had a career of fits and starts in his time with the Blue Jackets. Every time he shows some promise, he ends up finding himself back out of the lineup. After signing with the Jackets in 2015 and spending most of the season with the Monsters, he got an eight game tryout with the big club in spring 2016 and looked like he had a future here. Unfortunately for him, the arrival of Zack Werenski and Markus Nutivaara meant he never got a call-up in 2016-17. Again in spring 2018 Kukan got a cup of coffee and showed promise, but the acquisition of Ian Cole sidelined him again. With the departure of Cole and Jack Johnson - and a new two year, one way contract in hand - Kukan finally had a place in the starting lineup. If he could beat Scott Harrington, that is. And for the first half of the season, he could not.
Through January 31, Kukan appeared in only 10 games. He recorded no points and a -2 rating in just under 13 minutes of ice time per game. In the final two months of the season, however, he played in 15 games with 5 assists, a +8 rating and almost 14 minutes of ice time. He proved to be a better partner for Adam McQuaid than Harrington was (but when McQuaid got hurt, the Kukan/Harrington pair was not as good).
At the start of the playoffs, the 14/4 pairing played just 10 minutes a game. Typical bottom pair stuff in the postseason. At the end of game 2 of the Lightning series, however, Markus Nutivaara was victim of a cheap shot that ended his season. This thrust Kukan into a second pair role for the remainder of the Jackets’ playoff run. I won’t say he excelled, but he certainly did not look out of place. He positioned himself well and each time he got possession of the puck in the defensive zone, I felt confident he would find a way to either pass or carry it out of the zone.
Here’s a play from late in the season that shows Kukan’s potential: he shows great awareness in intercepting a pass, speed in carrying the puck through the neutral zone, then delivers a great pass of his own to BJORKSTRAND for the goal.
What does the future hold in store for Kukan? Can he finally write his name onto the lineup card in pen?
Dean Kukan 2018-19 Stats
Games played: 25
Time on ice: 13:28
Penalty minutes: 6
Corsi For (Even strength): 53.2%
Games played: 10
Time on ice: 15:10
Penalty minutes: 2
Corsi for (even strength): 49.1%
Kukan enters his age 26 season with one year remaining on his contract, which carries a cap hit of $725,000. Next summer he will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
With the Boston series tied at two games a piece, the Jackets mounted a third period comeback to erase a three goal deficit. The tying goal came off Kukan’s stick for the first NHL goal of his career. Good timing, right? I forget everything that happened in the series after this goal. I assume the Jackets won the game, the series, and the Cup. I will be taking no further questions at this time.
As nice as that goal was, Kukan probably should not have been playing in Game 5. This elbow to the head of David Backes in Game 4 earned a penalty but not further discipline. If we’re being consistent in calling for a suspension of Charlie McAvoy for his hit on Josh Anderson in Game 6 (which we got), then Kukan deserved one as well.
How would you grade Dean Kukan’s 2018-19 season?
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