As the Columbus Blue Jackets proceeded with an overhaul of the roster in 2021, no splashy free agent signings were expected. Instead, they went for a depth player with a good story. Sean Kuraly had been a solid but not spectacular fourth line center for the Boston Bruins. Over parts of five seasons, he put up 24/44/68 in 270 games. That’s a 7.3/13.4/20.7 pace over 82 games, at 13:09 minutes played per game. His style of play thrived in the playoffs, at least, with 9/10/19 over 57 games. He also scored four game winners, including two in a 4/6/10 campaign when the Bruins reached the Cup Final in 2019.
Kuraly got off to a slow start in Columbus, with just one point in the first month of play. Once he was partnered with Eric Robinson and Alexandre Texier, however, his game elevated. That line, despite having a fourth line profile, was sometimes playing second line minutes — and scoring like it. Kuraly ended up setting career highs in goals and points: he broke 10 goals for the first time, and hit the 30 point mark.
Kuraly’s line did it’s job on defense as well. Among regular Jackets forwards, Kuraly was third in both 5v5 GA/60 (2.98) and 5v5 xGA/60 (2.74). Not bad considering he had three times as many defensive zone starts as offensive zone starts.
His defense wasn’t as good on the penalty kill, despite being the most-used forward there. Among the six most popular killers (Texier, Nyquist, Jenner, Robinson, Roslovic), Kuraly was worst in CA/60 and FA/60 (though only third worst in SA/60 and xGA/60, and second worst in GA/60).
Kuraly had an impact off the ice as well, and that’s more difficult to quantify. In a locker room that had lost most of its leadership group, and was again the youngest in the league, Kuraly stood up as a leader and mentor despite not wearing a letter. His personality seemed to click with the core of the team instantly. He was also a face of the team, appearing in local car ads. Like Jack Roslovic, Kuraly grew up here, played for the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets and Miami University, and has promoted Columbus around the league, even when playing elsewhere.
Kuraly grew up idolizing Rick Nash and got to play with him briefly in Boston. When Nash’s number was retired, Kuraly was chosen to narrate a video about Nash’s influence on youth hockey in Columbus.
Kuraly got to join Roslovic and Meyer as three AAA alumni suited up at the same time for the Jackets.
Just three Ohioans living out their dream with their hometown team.— NHL (@NHL) April 4, 2022
Cc: @sean_kuraly, Jack Roslovic (@JRoslovic96), Carson Meyer (@72cmeys) pic.twitter.com/HSHw84pAnH
He and Roslovic along with Columbus-born Cole Sillinger got to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman during their first trip to New York (stay tuned later in the video for Roslovic playing a trick on Kuraly with the NHL social media team):
Games Played: 77
5v5 CF%: 47.4
5v5 FF%: 46.3
Kuraly signed a four year, $10 million contract last July. It included a full no-trade clause for this past season, and then a 10 team no-trade list for the remaining three years. At the time of the signing, the term seemed on the long side for a then-28 year-old depth forward. If he can stay productive, however, that $2.5M annual cap hit feels like a bargain.
In November, the Blue Jackets lost a close game at home to the Capitals, but Kuraly got to score his first goal as a Blue Jacket in front of his hometown fans. You’d have thought he scored one of his playoff winners based on how he celebrated it.
Later in the game, he and Nyquist scored within 22 seconds of each other to tie the game in the second period:
It took eleven games for Kuraly to get his first goal, and in those first ten games he had just one assist. The other low point is the foot injury suffered against Edmonton which ended his season three games early.
Based on exceeding expectations and for his off-ice impact, I have to give Kuraly an A for the season. If you’re grading him relative to his teammates, a B is reasonable for a solid depth forward.
How would you grade Sean Kuraly’s 2021-22 season?
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