Let's talk about Ryan Kujawinski.
Drafted 73rd overall in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Kujawinski is a big center, standing at 6'2" 207 lbs, who has a whole lot of promise. He's got all the pieces to be a strong NHL player and contributor: he's big, skates very well, is able to hold his own in terms of physical play, and has an outstanding shot. Back in his draft year, he was originally considered to be a potential first round pick, but his inconsistent play dropped him all the way to the third round. Interestingly enough, the Devils didn't originally have a third-round pick that year. When the devils traded down from 39th overall (after trading the 9th overall pick for Cory Schneider) to 42nd overall (to draft Steve Santini) we also picked up the 73rd overall pick as well, which we used to select Kujawinski.
Ryan Kujawinski has been developing his game in the Ontario Hockey League, playing roughly 3 seasons with the Kingston Frontenacs. Halfway through this last season, Kujawinski was traded to the North Bay Battalion with 34 games left in the season.
Up until this point, we had seen such potential with Kujawinski; his ability to just take over games and get into scoring areas to release his great wrist shot. Over the years of his development, he definitely has struggled with consistency, and would sometimes go several games without scoring a point. The fact that he came very close to a point-per-game scoring pace each season despite his inconsistency issues and playing as the 2nd line center. He's always had the capability to eclipse a point-per-game, which is why it was frustrating to watch him struggle to reach it, and there's no doubt in my mind that there was a very high level of frustration in Ryan's mind. The raw skills are there and they have always been there.
That's why I really think he turned a corner this year in the last half of his season while playing with the North Bay Battalion. In 34 regular season games, he scored 36 points (21G 15A). While it doesn't seem like too much numbers-wise, it seems like it was a different Kujawinski playing. He was poised, confident, and consistent with his efforts. This play carried over into the playoffs as well, when he scored some absolute key goals for the Battalion, including 2 overtime game-winning goals.
Kujawinski plays a very strong and physical game. He is not afraid to hit, and does so quite often without going overboard, but he is very strong along the boards and is able to stickhandle well through opposing players. As he works on improving his top-end speed, he is able to skate very well already. He describes himself as a "primarily offensive player...but can hold his own in his zone". I do very much agree with this statement. Kujawinski has such high-end potential, but is still very raw, but has been refining his game in the OHL. Defensively, he's not often caught out of position and can help out in board battles. He was used on the 2nd penalty kill unit, I think mainly as an offensive threat, but he is also able to make some good defensive plays.
One of the things I love about Kuja's offensive force is that he knows how to elevate the puck very well and, more importantly, he knows when to elevate it. He is absolutely lethal when he has the puck either between the face-off dots or closer to the opponent's net. While his main weapon is his wrist shot, he does also have a very solid one-timer. He is also able to "dangle" pretty well around defensemen and goaltenders with his very long reach. In terms of playing style comparison, I would compare Kuja to Ryan Getzlaf. I know that's a dangerous comparison to make because of how good Getzlaf is, but Kujawinski plays a very similar game style, with a little less high-end defensive skills that Getzlaf has.
Ryan Kujawinski was signed to a 3-year Entry Level Contract back in late May, and will most likely play in Albany next season, barring a huge performance at development camp. Kuja is an extremely intriguing prospect. Before this past draft, I believed Kujawinski to have the highest ceiling out of our forward prospects. His numbers are good, but I think his play is even better.
I don't expect Ryan Kujawinski to make the big team right out of development camp, but I do expect him to turn some heads, especially at the 3-vs.3 tournament...which I can't make it to because of work...but without getting too distracted, Kuja is a very big boom or bust type of player. We need to be as patient as possible with him in Albany, much like Boucher. If he does pan out, he will be a strong force to make and finish plays for us. He is able to play left winger as well, which adds to his versatility, but is better off suited as a center.
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Thank you so much for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed this!