Finding a permanent job in the NHL is tough.
Any player that has made it in the league knows that. Keeping and maintaining that job can be even more difficult. It makes the work from Columbus Blue Jackets defensemen Dean Kukan and Vladislav Gavrikov all the more impressive.
While only scoring one goal in the playoffs, Kukan made an impact by displaying both his skating and his passing work. Likewise, Gavrikov showed that his poise is on a level that many weren't anticipating. It made the defense stout and able to skate with the Boston Bruins.
Out of the pair, Kukan was the player that impressed more.
“It's huge. I don't think we missed a beat with Kukan becoming a full-time player in the top six for us," said general manager Jarmo Kekalainen after the team's exit interviews. "On the contrary, and this is no disrespect to anybody who was playing before – I thought Ryan Murray was playing his best hockey when he got injured; he was awesome for us – but Dean Kukan was great."
Having a player like Kukan came from great scouting and making sure that development in the American Hockey League was prioritized. Kukan came in seasoned and ready to contribute.
"He (Kukan) brought an element with his skating and ability to skate the puck out of the defensive zone to his ability to join the rushes," said Kekalainen. "I told him today, ‘Where was that bomb hiding that he scored on in Boston? Don't be afraid to use it more often.’ That was one heck of a shot and he beat Tuukka Rask with that and you saw how good he played all series. No goalie in the world is going to stop that shot from where he took it and how hard it hit the spot.”
Comfortability for Kukan was never much of an issue but for someone like Gavrikov, he transitioned into the role of top defenseman quickly and with ease. Going from the KHL to the NHL is never easy. Not everything was going to be given to Gavrikov. He had to sit for multiple games before getting his chance.
“And then obviously Gavrikov," Kekalainen said. "I've said this before in our internal conversations that I think he could have played for us all year this year in our top six. I think if he can step into the playoff games and play like that, he probably could have played for us all year and be a big part of it. I'm excited about his potential and really happy that he's on our team next year.”
It doesn't get any more glowing than that. It may even allow the Blue Jackets to pursue moving a piece with the log jam they have on defense. Who comes in and who comes out from there? It is part of the puzzle the team will have to solve over the summer.
Regardless, Kukan and Gavrikov have shown that they provide value that many weren't anticipating. Not a bad spot for a team that will need to maneuver its roster this summer.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery