When Dean Kukan made his debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets, in March 2016, his defensive partner was Cody Goloubef, and other teammates that night included Dalton Prout and Rene Bourque. My point is, this was a LONG time ago. And yet, for a variety of reasons, in the seven years since then, Kukan has played only 153 games. On the other hand, for an undrafted player signed as a 22 year old out of Switzerland, 153 NHL games is a pretty good accomplishment.
For much of his tenure here, it felt like Kukan was a placeholder. He was constantly passed by by younger, higher drafted players. Think Zach Werenski and Markus Nutivaara in fall 2016, or Vladislav Gavrikov in 2019, or a group that included Andrew Peeke, Adam Boqvist, and Jake Bean this season. Whenever he did finally get an extended chance to stay in the lineup, it was almost inevitable that he would get hurt.
In October, Kukan played in the opener then not again for two weeks. During that second game, against Dallas, he injured his wrist and didn’t play again until early January. From there, he actually saw the most action in his career: a high of 41 games, and 11 points. As far as 5v5 fancy stats, he was solidly in the middle of the pack among the 11 defensemen to play for Columbus. He was 7th in CF% (47.42), 3rd in GF% (50.00), and 9th in xGF (43.60). He benefited from good puck luck, with an on-ice shooting percentage of 10.63 and save percentage of 91.06.
Games Played: 41
5v5 CF%: 47.6%
5v5 FF%: 47.1%
Kukan made $2,000,000 in salary this season, on a $1,650,000 cap hit. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. With the number of defensemen already under contract for next season, it seems unlikely that he will return. Will he stay in the NHL or return to Europe? I think he’s shown enough that he deserves another opportunity in the NHL.
Kukan had never scored more than one goal in a season, then managed to score two goals in a single game against Buffalo in February. He also added an assist, for three points in a 7-3 Columbus win.
NHL Video Highlight - Dean Kukan scores against the Buffalo Sabres to make it 1-0. pic.twitter.com/WFNLSkQXtO— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) February 20, 2022
NHL Video Highlight - Dean Kukan scores against the Buffalo Sabres to make it 3-2. pic.twitter.com/H1kyQvuxhc— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) February 21, 2022
Kukan saw a lot of the press box as he was scratched for most of April, as the newly arrived Nick Blankenburg got to play in his stead. Even Gabriel Carlsson and Gavin Bayreuther got to play over him in some of those games.
Feels like a C to me. He never struck me as a liability when he did play, but was also never exceptional when he played. I also don’t feel I can grade him much higher given that he didn’t play much relative to his teammates with similar age or experience.
How would you grade Dean Kukan’s 2021-22 season?
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