If it was unclear about where Calvin Thurkauf stood in terms of his future with the Columbus Blue Jackets, it isn’t anymore. After spending the 2020-21 season on loan with his hometown club EV Zug, Thurkauf has opted to stay in his native Switzerland for the long haul. Fellow National League club HC Lugano has announced a three-year deal with the young forward, ensuring that he won’t be returning to Columbus any time soon, if at all.
Thurkauf, 23, was initially expected to return to the NHL once the season began earlier this season. The restricted free agent had signed with Zug in August, but upon agreeing to a new deal with the Blue Jackets in October, that became a loan with a recall option for Columbus. When they never exercised that option, many were skeptical about the young power forward’s place in the organization. There is no way of knowing whether the Blue Jackets were the ones who told Thurkauf to stay put or if he asked to be left in Switzerland, nor is it clear if Columbus was aware that Thurkauf had long-term interests in the National League or if this deal came as a surprise. What is clear is that the player-club relationship is on a multi-year pause, if not canceled for good. Thurkauf will be a restricted free agent again this summer and the Blue Jackets could opt to make him a qualifying offer in order to retain his rights. It could be that by the time the 2024 off-season rolls around, the then-27-year-old could have taken major steps in his development and become a player that Columbus would want to bring back. However, the team may also decide that Thurkauf is simply not focused on an NHL career and could cut ties this summer by declining to extend a QO.
There has to be some consideration that money was involved in Thurkauf’s decision as well. While financial terms were not disclosed, Lugano’s offer was enough to convince Thurkauf to leave Zug – his hometown team, his developmental program, and the recently-crowned National League champions. Perhaps it was also more enticing than a minimum NHL contract. Thurkauf also projects to join fellow former NHLers Mark Arcobello and Mikkel Boedker as the core of Lugano, whereas he would again be battling for a roster spot in Columbus. After three years in the pros, Thurkauf finally earned his NHL debut last season, but was held scoreless in a sheltered role in just three games. While the talented forward showed promise in the WHL and AHL, the club or the player – or both – may have doubted his NHL chops at this point his career, leading to the move overseas. Only time will tell whether the relationship, however fragmented, continues between the two side and if Thurkauf’s decision eventually leads to him becoming a more polished and well-rounded pro, capable of tackling a second chance in the NHL.