At the Columbus Blue Jackets 2015 prospect development camp, there was a good mixture of familiar faces (Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand) and fresh faces of recent draftees (Zach Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson, Paul Bittner) as well as free agents invitees (Scott Savage, Kiefeer Sherwood, Kole Sherwood). And then there were guys, like Dean Kukan, who arrived at camp after inking a deal with the team.
“It’s my first time (at development camp), second time in U.S., so it’s pretty special,” Kukan said. “It’s my first time here at the Blue Jackets.”
Kukan, a native of Volketswil, Switzerland, signed a two-year entry level contract with the Blue Jackets on June 1, 2015.
“It’s pretty nice here, nice locker room and stuff,” Kukan added. “I haven’t seen too much of the town, but I’ll check that out later.”
The 21-year-old defenseman will soon become extremely familiar with the great state of Ohio – both here in Columbus and also up north in Cleveland with the Blue Jackets American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing a solid 209 pounds, Kukan notched three goals and tallied ten assists for a total of 13 points with 14 penalty minutes and a +2 plus/minus rating in 52 games in his second full season with Lulea HF of Sweden’s SHL and added two goals for two points in seven playoff games in 2014-15.
The Blue Jackets were interested in the overall package that is Kukan. With this player, you get a big-sized, skilled two-way defenseman with a great work ethic. Although Kukan was a little rusty coming into camp, he said he improved with each on-ice session.
“I haven’t been on ice for like two months, so it’s been pretty tough,” Kukan said. “First ice practice, but it’s going better. I’ve been in Sweden with my old team practicing there and now I’m here, I’ll be here for summer practicing.”
The recently signed blueliner scored eight goals and added 21 assists for a total of 29 points with 26 penalty minutes and a +19 plus/minus rating in 125 career games with Lulea of the SHL, Sweden’s top professional league. He collected four goals and eight assists for a total of 12 points, with 12 penalty minutes and was +8 in 54 games, during the 2013-14 campaign.
Additionally, Kukan has posted two goals and added seven assists for a total of nine points with four penalty minutes in 34 appearances for Switzerland in international competition. He represented Switzerland at the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World Championships and also skated in the 2012 and 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships.
Kukan said his main focus at development camp, and throughout the remainder of the summer, is on conditioning. He hopes to get some pointers from the Blue Jackets trainers on how to improve his workouts.
“I’m conditioning,” Kukan said. “My weakness is off the ice. I need to work hard this summer to be prepared for September. (I’m) working on that and upper body, too. I think they will give me (advice) this week and tell me what to work on and how to work with.”
But it wasn't all work and no play during development camp for the young pro. Throughout the duration of camp, Kukan joined the other prospects and got to see Columbus outside of Nationwide Arena. One activity that he was hyped up for?
“We’ll go to the zoo and see how that is,” Kukan said. “We have one in my hometown, but I heard this one is pretty big, so we’ll see. I’m excited.”