After missing more than two months with a broken wrist, Dean Kukan made a quiet return to the Columbus Blue Jackets lineup Tuesday.
The return came in a less-than-ideal scenario for the Columbus defenseman. The Blue Jackets were playing short-handed, with their two top blue liners out of the lineup. Their opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, scored early and often in route to a 7-2 victory in front of one of the smallest crowds of the season at Nationwide Arena.
But it wasn't all bad for Kukan, the 28-year-old playing for the first time since October 25th. Head coach Brad Larsen, without much of a choice as a result of the injuries, was thrown into the deep end right away. His 20 minutes and 12 seconds of ice time was the most he's played in a regular season game since December 14th, 2019. In 114 previous games, Kukan had only had more minutes than in Tuesday's game six times.
Kukan laid down a pair of hits, a pair of blocks, and avoided any costly giveaways — something he has done in seasons' past.
His goal less than a minute into the second period briefly gave the Blue Jackets some life, cutting a 3-0 deficit after the first to 3-1. It was his third career goal.
The Lightning would respond quickly, and two goals is the closest Columbus would get for the remainder of the game.
Overall, Kukan looked sharp in his return. He was on the ice for a pair of Tampa's seven goals, but his tally in the second period gave him a plus/minus of -1 for the night.
It's also of note that Kukan did not see any time on the penalty kill, where Tampa Bay connected for three of their seven goals. Those minutes, for the most part, went to Vladislav Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke. A part of the reason for that could be that Kukan was paired with Adam Boqvist, who rarely sees time when the Blue Jackets are down a man.
It will be interesting to see if Kukan continues to get opportunities to log bigger minutes when Zach Werenski and Jake Bean are back in the lineup. While 20 minutes a night isn't likely, his career average stands at 14:39 and given Columbus' struggle on the blue line this year, Larsen could test the waters of expanding his role.
That test would likely come only with consistent play, but if Tuesday's game was any indication, Kukan may have regained a regular spot on the Blue Jackets blue line.