#1: C Sean Kuraly (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Let’s start this off by saying that if the New Jersey Devils were to acquire Kuraly, it’d be difficult to see them also picking up Adam Lowry. Each skater comes with their own upsides and downsides, and based on what we’re looking for, Sean Kuraly fits the bill more so.
During last year’s NHL regular season, Kuraly was a man on fire, hitting anything and everything in sight. When we look at the Devils, easily the biggest piece missing from their game is physicality. Kuraly, in 71 games played in the middle of the lineup, tallied 187 hits. McLeod had 127 last year. Kuraly finished with 60 more hits than him. Imagine bringing that into the fold in Newark!
In addition to racking up the hits, he had scored 11 goals, 9 assists, and just 17 giveaways while boasting 30 takeaways. He had also finished the campaign winning 49.6% of his draws in the dot. If Adam Lowry isn’t available to be acquired, the Devs can still add a quality center in the Dublin, Ohio native.
Standing 6’2″ – 215 lbs., Sean Kuraly is a strong, stocky skater who has a nose for the messy areas of the ice like the half boards, the corners, and in front of the net. Players of this level with this kind of energy are indispensable. To make him even more desirable for Fitzgerald in the front office, Kuraly comes in at $2.5 million against the salary cap.
When you have a guy who loves to throw the body around and isn’t afraid to get in the shooting lanes, blocking 46 shots on Columbus for the Blue Jackets, you’re going to start to see a lot more open ice than when you don’t.
Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt know better than anyone what it’s like to be a player with a smaller frame having to go up against teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Vegas Golden Knights without anyone on your line who can keep the pressure off of you. Adding a grinder like Kuraly shifts the focus of the physicality on him and allows Hughes and Bratt more open space to do what they need to do.
This is not to say that the New Jersey Devils need to trade for Sean Kuraly to protect Jack Hughes, but adding players of Kuraly’s stature is a measure that makes opposing teams reconsider whether or not they want to play a physical game that night.
‘Jersey can’t get by with having one line dedicated to the grind while the other three aren’t helping the team in the hitting department. They have speed, they have immense skill, but they don’t have physicality. The biggest takeaway from this is that the New Jersey Devils need muscle, and there’s no shortage of inexpensive help out there in the market.