Sean Kuraly came home.
Growing up in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, Kuraly is undoubtedly a boy from Ohio. Spending the first almost 20 years of his life in Buckeye State, he attended college outside of Cincinnati and even played minor hockey with the Jr. Blue Jackets.
Kuraly is just one of a list of three Ohio natives who recently returned home to play pro at Columbus. The first to break the ice was Kole Sherwood, who has played 11 games in three seasons. He was followed by Jack Roslovic, who was dispatched from the Winnipeg Jets with Patrik Laine in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade.
Kuraly plays center and brings a blue collar touch to his game. A “work hard to be rewarded” perspective, similar to that which has been a part of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ identity throughout the history of franchise. His journey has taken him all over the Northeast, with a brief chance to end up on the West Coast, and now to return home.
During his Bantam year, he had a strong season scoring one point per game in 49 games. During which he played alongside Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy.
His solid game won the eye of scouts in the Junior League. He was drafted in the 15th round by the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and in the fifth round by the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League (USHL). He ultimately opted for the closer of the two options, and one that would leave him eligible for college hockey, in Indianapolis.
Most of the following year, he spent playing midget hockey in Ohio, where he matched his production from the previous year in 12 fewer games and playing against older players. He has made a few appearances at a higher level, playing in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic, as well as five games with Indiana and four more games with the US Under-17 NTDP.
He went full time with the Ice the following season – his NHL draft year – where he found a foothold in a team led offensively by Calgary Flames forward Blake Coleman. His first season was average offensively, scoring 29 points in 51 games, but Kuraly’s hard work in a less offensive role caught the attention of NHL scouts.
Go to the Great League
It’s been ten years since Kuraly was drafted. He ended up being selected 133rd overall, in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks. It was a bit of a surprise to him.
“I knew San Jose had some interest, I didn’t think it was as serious as some other teams. I try to play big, physical and hard, but also a little offensive. So this year I haven’t shown so much of that [offense] as I wanted. I played a bit of a different role with some top notch offensive guys. But I can’t wait to bring this piece back from my game. ”
Sean Kuraly on USHL TV in 2011 after being drafted by the San Jose Sharks
Kuraly managed to bring the offense back by dominating one more season in Indiana, scoring 32 goals and 70 points in 54 games ending his career in the USHL as he headed to college.
He accepted a scholarship to his father Rick’s alma mater at the University of Miami, just outside Cincinnati, to play Division 1 hockey. Sean had big shoes to fill because his father is the top scorer in the program. There, he teamed up with former Ice Coleman teammate to lead several strong years for the Red Hawks. Kuraly has come the distance in Miami, playing four full years in college, majoring in management and leadership.
In his first season in Miami, he played 40 of 42 games, missing only the action because he left to represent the United States at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. In Russia, Kuraly played with Murphy again, each dressing in all seven games. Kuraly’s goal and two assists helped the stacked team bring gold back to the Reds, Whites and Blues, just a year after the country was almost relegated to a lower level.
The victory led to Kuraly’s first official visit to Nationwide Arena. The two Dublin natives were honored in a Blue Jackets game and had the opportunity to drop the puck before Columbus faces the Detroit Red Wings.
Back in Miami, Kuraly has remained consistent every season, scoring 29 points in about 40 games each of his second and junior seasons. Coming out of a league championship in his penultimate year, a lot of changes were heading towards him.
First, as part of a larger deal, his rights were traded from the Sharks to the Boston Bruins, along with a first-round pick, in exchange for goaltender Martin Jones. Kuraly was also named the team’s captain for his final year in Miami, which added a bit of pressure to the performance. After a slow start to the year offensively, he finished strong, scoring 17 points in his last 20 games, after just six points in the first 16. He remained a rock defensively, being named the best defensive forward in his league.
His performance was enough to secure a contract offer from the Bruins, and he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the team.
The Great League
Kuraly was not part of the opening night roster in 2016-17 and was sent to Providence, the Bruins’ branch in the American Hockey League (AHL). He had a few call-ups, but spent most of the year with the farm crew.
He managed to stay with the big roster heading into the 2017 playoffs and scored his first two career goals against the Ottawa Senators, who knocked them out in six games in the first round of action.
Kuraly’s next four years were spent exclusively in black and yellow, where he gained a plethora of experience playing mostly in the bottom six on a successful team. While being strong defensively, he had yet to be in a role to lean on in an attacking role, posting his career high of 23 points in 2019-2020. While not an offensive force, he has earned a reputation as a clutch striker by showing up on occasion when needed.
Key notes from his time in Massachusetts included appearing in 57 playoff games over five seasons, highlighted by his four-goal, ten-point effort in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. These The playoffs saw the Bruins beat Columbus in a six-game series, in which Kuraly scored his first goal at Nationwide Arena in Game 4 and saw one goal canceled in the series effort.
After five seasons in Boston, Kuraly had the chance to test the waters of free will and he took the opportunity to make a comeback in Ohio. The now 28-year-old center has signed a four-year pact with the Blue Jackets with an average annual value (AAV) of $ 2.5 million, and a no-trade clause, to boot. He says Columbus is a place he circled as the place he wanted to be.
“I don’t know the Blue Jackets field here yet, but I know every square inch of this rink,” Kuraly told reporters during his introductory press conference. “I feel like the circle is complete, so I’m just excited to get started.”
His transition shouldn’t be too difficult, having spent his offseason training at Columbus he was already familiar enough with a lot of the players he now calls his teammates.
“I obviously looked at the list and I would say there is a good percentage that I know, but I can’t wait to know the ones I don’t know… I have only heard good things from above. low on each of them, and there are a few that I know how they play and I don’t like playing against, so it will be fun to play with them. That goes into the decision, you want to be somewhere where it wasn’t fun to play against.
Sean Kuraly told Blue Jackets TV
Columbus has had a shortage of capable NHL centers over the past few seasons. Kuraly brings at the very least an NHL-level talent to fill a gap and the versatility to play up and down the roster. But his talent on the ice is not the only factor that has prompted Blue Jackets executives to take an interest in his services.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen says they are always looking to add players who are key contributors to the locker room environment and who contribute as much to leadership off and on the ice. Kekalainen thinks Kuraly fits this mold.
“Sean Kuraly will definitely bring that. He will lead by example not only on the ice, but off the ice, in the gym and in the way he conducts his business. It’s the best way to lead, I’m sure he’ll have a voice in [the locker room] too much. He’s an experienced guy in the league right now. He immediately gets a lot of respect in our room for what he has done and how successful he is in the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a free agency availability recap
Kuraly’s 57 playoff games are the team’s second, behind Gustav Nyquist, who has played 65. Next closest is Jakub Voracek who has 49 playoff games, although he has been in the league close to ‘another decade.
After the signing, the Dublin native’s comparable players flocked and the Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner topped the list. A striker who works hard and dominates defensively, who is not devoid of talent and who can intervene offensively. Which should make him an instant fit with the organization.
“He plays the game like Boone Jenner and who doesn’t want a Boone Jenner on his team?” Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski told Kuraly Blue Jackets TV. “It’s the right way to play. It’s hard work every shift. It’s doing all the little things right to win a hockey game and have a guy who’s from Columbus know what it’s about… he kisses her [and] to come home and be a part of this thing, I think that’s great.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Also radio personality and journalist currently based on Vancouver Island.