Dean Kukan seems to have earned himself a shot in a full-time role for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After playing sparingly for three regular seasons in a row with the club, Kukan played in all ten postseason games for the Blue Jackets in 2019, and with a banged-up blueline, his presence was immensely valuable.
Kukan started out in the Blue Jackets' organization with the Cleveland Monsters in 2015-16 - after the team signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Switzerland.
That same season, he played in eight regular season games for Columbus. His first point with the team came the following season when he put up four points in 11 games, leading us to the 2018-2019 season where the majority of his contribution was laid.
So, in his 35 total games this season, how did Kukan do?
Kukan played in 25 regular-season games for the Blue Jackets this past year, not including ten playoff games. With a preseason Seth Jones injury, Kukan drew into the lineup as the alternate captain's replacement.
In his six games to start the year, Kukan recorded zero points and a -1 rating. When Jones returned, it seemed Kukan hadn't done enough to put himself back into consideration for drawing into the lineup for injuries in the months of November and December, as Adam Clendening and Scott Harrington had done.
When Ryan Murray was taken out of the lineup in January indefinitely, though, Kukan's name was called again, and he made his mark. In the remaining 19 games of the season, Kukan put up five 5 points and a +7 rating in almost 14 minutes of ice time per game.
This gave him the right to continue his play into the playoffs with Columbus, edging out Clendening, at least for the first two postseason games. Once Markus Nutivaara was sidelined in Game 2 of the Tampa Bay Lightning series, Clendening drew in, but Kukan's stock had already risen.
He only had one point in the postseason but had one of the better Corsi-ratings amongst the other defenders on his team, and aside from Zach Werenski, seemed to be the only other player on the back-end who could carry the puck through the neutral zone with ease.
That one point was the first goal of his NHL career came just a few weeks later and was as clutch as can be:
Highlight of the Campaign
Dean Kukan has earned his right to fight for a second or third pairing defenseman come the 2019-2020 season.
Though he didn't show up on the stat sheet more than he would have liked to, his pure skating ability created an abundance of scoring chances for the Blue Jackets in the postseason, all playing alongside the likes of Harrington, Clendening and David Savard. Aside from Werenski, the club needs a defenseman who can take a puck from behind their own goal line through the opposing blue line.
Plus, when the General Manager is on your side, that's always a good thing:
“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 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."
With Jones and Werenski as a lock for the top pair, the second pair will likely be up for grabs between Ryan Murray, Savard, Nutivaara and Kukan.
Can Kukan prove himself to be an 18-minute per night player?