The Bruins immediately went the speed and skill route after removing Brett Ritchie from the roster with Karson Kuhlman notching a pair of assists in a big win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kuhlman finished with the two helpers and a plus-2 rating in just 9:56 of ice time in his first NHL appearance since he broke a bone in his leg back in mid-October.
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It was obviously a promising start for Kuhlman in his second go-around with the Bruins this season and he immediately showed some chemistry with the second- and third-line forwards he was paired with throughout the 4-1 win on Thursday night. It’s now up to Kuhlman to keep it up after showing in the past that his game fades a bit once he plays a few games in a row and enters back into the grind of the NHL.
His speed and tenacity could help the Bruins in the short term, but only if he’s got the ability to play that way just about every night.
“What I like about [Karson] Kuhlman is what I’ve always said, is that he can sit for stretches. You know, you get into those power plays and he doesn’t get that many minutes, and his motor gets zero to sixty in a hurry,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The bigger-body guys, they just naturally have a tougher time with that when they sit, it just tends to be the way it is. So, that’s one thing we’ve always liked about Kuhly — he can get up, get motor, get on pucks, get on defense, win some races.
“I mean, tonight [Thursday] he obviously chipped in a little bit of offense, good for him. We expect some level of offense and to get it right away is a nice win, it’s nice to have that production. Drives the net on the [Sean] Kuraly goal — something else we’ve talked about, getting inside a little more. Big or small, we need that. Against good teams, you have to be able to do that. All in all, Kuhly, nice night for what he brings and we’re happy to have him back. He’s a nice player for us.”
The Bruins went into this season with Kuhlman earmarked as a top-six winger for David Krejci after he put together three goals and five points in 11 games last season and had a few moments in the playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final as well. It was as much a statement about the Bruins being short on top-six wingers as much as it was about their excitement in Kuhlman’s game. That remains the case with the trade deadline looming next month.
“It was great to be back, to be honest with you. A lot of adrenaline and my legs were there and my conditioning was there. So, I was happy to be where we were at. I was happy to be back,” said Kuhlman. “It was just getting to the bench and re-focusing on what I can do to help the team win. My game is getting up and down the ice, winning puck battles and getting pucks to the net. Keeping it simple is one of the best things I can do to help this team.”
Some have deduced that Kuhlman (5-11, 185) replacing Ritchie (6-4, 220) means the Bruins have consciously chosen speed and skill over size and strength for the long haul and it remains to be seen if that’s the case. What Kuhlman, 24, did do is again show he's capable of helping the Bruins in short bursts and against smaller, speedier opponents. That in itself is no small feat for a team in search of energy and wins right now.