The Columbus Blue Jackets have decided to reward one of their emerging defensemen with a new contract. Dean Kukan has signed a two-year extension with the club. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reports the deal will pay Kukan $1.3MM in 2020-21 and $2.0MM in 2021-22 (for an AAV of $1.65MM). Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen released a short statement:
Dean is a smart and quick, puck-moving defenseman that has improved steadily since joining our organization in 2015. We are very happy that he will continue to be an important part of our club’s deep and talented group of defensemen.
Kukan was scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season and currently carries a $725K cap hit. The 26-year old undrafted defenseman came to the Blue Jackets organization as a free agent in 2015 after several years in the Swedish Hockey league, and has slowly worked his way up the depth chart. This season he has suited up 33 times in the NHL and has five points, though a recent injury has kept him out of the lineup.
The Blue Jackets, intent on proving they were always more than just Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, have exceeded expectations this season with a core led by Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The first three names of that group are signed at very reasonable prices for the next several years, while Dubois is coming off his entry-level deal. With savvy extensions for depth players like Kukan and a development system that is churning out NHL-level talent, Kekalainen’s organization is looking like one of the strongest in the Eastern Conference.
The question now will be how they work their way through a few drafts without much pick capital after spending it at the deadline last season, but acquiring players like Kukan has softened the blow.