Kuraly Gudbranson

Sean Kuraly knows what it’s like to be on a winning team.

The Blue Jackets center spent five seasons in Boston and appeared in the playoffs all five years while playing for one of the most consistent franchises in the league.

He also now knows what it’s like to be on a rebuilding team, as the Blue Jackets have gone young the past three seasons while trying to create a long-lasting winner.

As such, Kuraly has seen things from all sides, and as a veteran in the CBJ locker room brought in to help foster that successful squad, he has a unique perspective of what it will take to get the Blue Jackets back into the postseason.

“It’s like a machine – it's hard to start and it’s hard to stop,” Kuraly said of the success of the Bruins. “No matter who is coming in and who’s going out, it takes a hell of a lot of work to get it going and build it, and it takes a lot less to keep it going than it does to start it. That’s what they’ve got there.

“How do you start that? It’s one piece at a time, a little progress, so that’s what we’ve gotta do. We have a ton of work in front of us. There's no secret there. And the consistent results come from consistent actions. It can look amazing and a miracle from the outside, but if you’re in those walls on a daily basis, it’s just one foot in front of the other, but each day you gotta take a step.”

As Kuraly knows, it’s a process to get where you want to go as a team, and the Blue Jackets are in the middle of it. While this was another disappointing season as Columbus missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, progress was made, with the Blue Jackets improving by seven points over the 2022-23 campaign.

Most importantly, a number of the team’s young players – Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinakhov, Adam Fantilli, Dmitri Voronkov and Daniil Tarasov, among them – had impressive seasons, showing they can be huge pieces of the puzzle as the squad matures.

On the veteran side of the equation, though, there are CBJ players who have been a part of playoff squads before. In addition to Kuraly, Erik Gudbranson has skated in the playoffs five times with four different teams in his career, while Johnny Gaudreau was on a quintet of postseason teams in Calgary as well. Damon Severson saw New Jersey morph from a young, talented squad into a playoff team last season, and even captain Boone Jenner has been a part of five of the six all-time CBJ postseason squads.

The key to future success for the Blue Jackets will be those veterans not just playing well but helping bring along the youngsters to establish a culture of winning. It often takes longer than teams around the league would care to admit, but once it does happen, you get the machine-like results of a Boston team that has made eight straight playoff appearances and 15 in the last 17 seasons.

When asked at the end of the season, the CBJ veterans thought steps were taken in an attempt to get the Blue Jackets to that point.

“I think so,” Gaudreau said. “I think there’s still room for improvement. We definitely need to get better in a lot of situations on the ice, but I think our captain and our leaders did a great job holding our team and our young guys accountable day in and day out. Obviously it didn’t show for the season in wins and losses, but those little steps in our locker room that we’re trying to make, those four guys are doing a great job.”

And while Columbus struggled over the last month of the season with a makeshift roster because of a bevy of injuries, team veterans saw progress as the year went on. In late February and early March, there was a two-week stretch in which the Blue Jackets earned wins over the New York Rangers, Edmonton and Vegas, two teams that remain in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and another that won it all a season ago.

“There were times for sure,” Gudbranson said when asked if he saw improvements made throughout the season. “I wish there was a few more of them. Obviously the injury bug caught up to us. Two or three months ago, we had some big wins against some tougher teams and played the right way, had some really good goaltending and ended up in some good situations. At the end of the day, what we’re looking for in that room is to find that consistency and be there on a nightly basis.”

That might be the biggest thing a young team has to learn in the NHL – everyone can have a good night or two, but consistency is what separates the very best in the league. The Blue Jackets are still working on that lesson – they didn’t win three games in a row all season – but it’s the next step on building a winner.

The CBJ veterans know it from experience.

“I think in the second half of the season, the habits that we started showing day in and day out in practice – we've shown some of it in games as well – I think it’s trending in the right direction,” Mathieu Olivier said. “Obviously, I think there’s a lot of work to be done. As a team, there’s some things we have to do better, but overall I think our work habits day in and day out got a lot better. As a team, that’s a big step.”

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