Bruins

Kuraly 'keeping it simple' in camp after playoff success with Bruins

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Kuraly 'keeping it simple' in camp after playoff success with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – Just a few months ago, Sean Kuraly was the talk of the NHL world after a clutch two-goal performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The 24-year-old suited up for four of the B’s playoff games against the Senators after spending most of the season in Providence, and memorably scored a pair of goals – including the double-overtime winner – in an epic Game 5 win that took the series back to Boston. That’s not too shabby for a kid that had played just eight NHL games for the B’s during the regular season, but then really clicked with David Backes and Noel Acciari once the playoffs got rolling.

MORE: Thoughts and observations from first weekend of B's camp

Unsurprisingly, Kuraly now hopes to parlay that playoff confidence into carving out a roster spot for himself at the NHL level to start this season. It remains to be seen if that will happen in a crowded field of forwards, but Kuraly certainly has raised expectations heading into his second NHL training camp.

“For me the first thing is to put the [playoffs] behind you, realize it went well and then maybe realize that there’s another training camp and another year to go here,” said Kuraly, who said the coolest part of the Game 5 heroics was getting recognized for the first time while out to eat in Boston. “It’s just sticking to my game, knowing the things that worked and really keeping it simple. I think I just had a really clear role and it was communicated very clearly to me how I can help the team in the playoffs.

“It was pretty cool to see that I could help the team, and that a simple North/South kind of game is something that the team could use. Just use my body, use my speed and get pucks behind their ‘D’ while playing a good puck management game. Everyone is here to win a job, and I’m no different. I was trying to do the same thing last year, and I’m going to do the same thing this year [trying to] make the team. I’m hoping to do that in this camp.”

It’s easy to forget just how effective Kuraly was at the end of the season, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder finished with 10 shots on net in the four playoff games for the Black and Gold. Not only was he strong and heavy on the forecheck, but he was skating with great pace for a big man and seemed to have knocked all of the hesitation out of his game. That’s exactly what the Bruins coaching staff is looking for as they put together their roster to start the season.

It sure sounds like Kuraly has a good shot to least start the season as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and it will be hard to keep him off the ice if he’s playing with the same determination he showed during the postseason. If Kuraly can summon a large percentage of what he showed in the playoffs, then it will be pretty difficult for the Bruins coaching staff to turn away from him.

“It’s hard to put a lot [of expectation] on him because it was a short window. It’s a different situation to me than Charlie [McAvoy], but it’s more of an excitement for me like ‘Can he bring that for us again this year from Day One?,” said Bruce Cassidy of Kuraly, who finished with 14 goals and 26 points in 54 games for the P-Bruins last season. “He brought a lot of energy and gave us an identity at the bottom of the lineup that was going to be hard to play against.

“And he created in the offensive end, and we didn’t know if that was going to come right now. It’s a bit like Noel [Acciari] where all of a sudden they were scoring and it was like ‘Wow.’ Those kinds of players are invaluable in April and May. Sometimes they get lost in the shuffle during the regular season. He went to Providence after the [Bruins elimination] but he wasn’t really able to play. Sometimes then you really see growth in players when they go out there with that kind of confidence. That’s the part we weren’t really sure about this summer, but he looks really good right now [in training camp]. Like a lot of guys these preseasons will be big to see what kind of steps they’ve taken.”

Kuraly won’t be in the lineup for Monday night’s preseason opener against the Canadiens, but it shouldn’t take long to notice him in the preseason if he’s playing the same heavy, high-energy game he did while elevating his game in the playoffs. 

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Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

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Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while heading into late July where nothing at all happens in the hockey world. 
 
-- Ilya Kovalchuk thinks he’s still got some prime NHL years ahead as he readies for his return with the Los Angeles Kings. Maybe so, but would he ever admit he thinks he’s lost a step and won’t be a game-breaker in his late 30s?

 -- Larry Brooks says history shows the Rangers have picked the wrong man for their enforcer role in Cody MacLeod. 
 
-- A couple of pieces memorializing retired NHL goalie Ray Emery, who tragically lost his life at age 35 in a drowning accident last weekend. He was one of the toughest goaltenders in the history of the NHL.  
 
-- Pro Hockey Talk asks what the right contract extension is going to be for Washington Capitals rabble-rouser Tom Wilson. 
 
-- A nearly 20-minute video of NHL players mic’d up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is always high entertainment. 
 
-- For something completely different: This teaser for Stranger Things season 3 shows it was inevitable they were going to the mall
 

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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