Bruins

Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins ended last season with rookie Karson Kuhlman manning the right wing on David Krejci’s line during the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

It appears that, barring a surprise performance in Bruins training camp or an injury, the Bruins will start the season the very same way a few weeks from now. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned David Backes and Brett Ritchie as other potential candidates, and didn’t rule out Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen from getting looks there either.

“We know we have Kuhlman that can play [on the second line] and I don’t think he’s going to drop off. He may flat line, I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s going to get worse,” said Cassidy. “To me he’s a bit of a person that’s going to keep working on his craft and get more comfortable. From there, we had Backes out there and we know that’s not a full time solution. [Brett] Ritchie is a wild card. We don’t know if he can play out there. He got some reps today in practice and we’ll probably look at it for a game or two.

“Those are the guys that come to mind. It could go to Heinen if he plays his off-side. They played together last year with DeBrusk and he could go there if we feel like he can help there. Bjork is a wild card. He’s played there. But we have him on the left side and we’re going to try him there. We know would start opening night with Kuhlman there and we’re going to be fine. But we’ll look at it and see if there’s a better fit right away. Ritchie is somebody we don’t know, so he could get in there and win that battle [for the spot]. It’s a bit of what’s the best fit and how it’s going to affect the rest of your lineup.”

But the 23-year-old Kuhlman clearly showed the Bruins coaching staff something last season even if the three goals and five points in 11 games last season didn’t exactly scream out top-6 winger. He had some good games certainly, and was excellent in Game 6 of the Cup Final vs. the Blues after he replaced Backes in the B’s lineup against the St. Louis Blues.

He brings speed, two-way play, maximum effort and hockey smarts to the table, and those are all things that will help the Bruins at points for as long as he’s there. But let’s be honest here. There’s a reason that Kuhlman went undrafted during his career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and he was solid, not spectacular, in the AHL with 12 goals and 30 points in 58 games during his first season of pro hockey last year.

He’s good enough to be okay at the NHL level playing with a high level, creative player like Krejci, and he showed chemistry with the playmaking Czech and Jake DeBrusk in his limited time last season. It certainly sounds like he’s got a fan in Krejci, and that matters when it comes to his linemates.

“He’s got maybe a better shot than we’d seen his first time through in training camp,” said Cassidy, alluding to some goals he scored in the regular season and playoffs. “Then you talk to Krejci and he’s been around a long time. He’s had a lot of wingers and he’ll give you some feedback as well. [He says] Kuhlman gets to the right spots and makes plays at the right times. So some of it is your own eyes and some of it is trusting the guys on the ice that are playing with him.”

All of that is well and good, but he still scored only 15 goals and 35 points in 69 combined games between the AHL and NHL last season. He’s also just 5-foot-11, 185-pounds with a modest skill level that’s not going to help Boston’s difficulties scoring during even strength play last season.

It wouldn’t surprise anybody is Kuhlman is just good enough to be a place-holder until the Bruins find a permanent play-finishing solution on Krejci’s line. Certainly he’s not going to be confused with guys like Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla that played on Krejci’s line during his best seasons with the Black and Gold.

So don’t be surprised if the Bruins are once again in search of a top-6 right wing sniper at the NHL trade deadline this season to eventually be an upgrade over Kuhlman. But for now, the Bruins will once again fix it on the fly for a few months after never finding a permanent solution this summer, and instead turning to the same, old in-house candidates that were never quite enough last season.

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Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panhters

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Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panhters

Here are my talking points from tonight's 4-2 Bruins win in South Florida . . .

GOLD STAR: David Krejci didn’t have a single point during the five-game losing streak. But on Saturday night he stepped up and, lo and behold, the Bruins took home two points. It was Krejci helped kick-start the transition game for Jake DeBrusk’s goal in the first period, and then scored one of his own in the second on a strike from the top of the faceoff circle. Krejci finished with a goal and two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time. He also had five shot attempts and won 9-of-14 faceoffs in a game where the second line providence plenty of offense and pressure. Bruce Cassidy slipped Charlie Coyle up to second-line right wing with Krejci and DeBrusk at the outset of the game, and it seemed to work well for the Black and Gold.

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BLACK EYE: Jonathan Huberdeau is having a very good season for the Panthers, but he wasn’t able to bring out his “A” game for Florida against the Bruins. Huberdeau didn’t get a single shot on net in the 21:25 of ice time that he played. He finished with three giveaways and a minus-1 against the Bruins. He was part of the line set to contain the Krejci line, but instead allowed them to march right up the ice on DeBrusk’s first period scoring play. Huberdeau was also on ice in the third, when Florida coach Joel Quenneville pulled the goalie with more than two minutes to go, only for David Pastrnak to quickly notch an empty-netter that sealed the game. Not a good night for a very good player.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins weathered the storm in the third when the Panthers came hard after them and carved out a couple of goals to cut the lead to 3-2. Considering that the Bruins blew a 4-0 third period lead against the Panthers at home just a month ago, there was certainly some nervous, anxious moments, with the Bruins looking like they’d blow a three-goal lead in the third period this time. But the B’s stiffened after Jaro Halak gave up a soft goal on a Keith Yandle point shot to make it a one-goal game. They didn’t allow Florida to take advantage of any other breakdowns. Instead the B’s hung in there, patiently waiting until the Florida net opened up the winning scoring chance for them.

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HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk was at the heart of some of the criticism from Bruce Cassidy after the loss in Tampa when the second and third lines weren’t getting much of anything done. DeBrusk was also one of the players that responded in a big way this weekend by scoring the game’s first goal, a pretty nifty dangle through Florida defenders before beating Sergei Bobrovsky in tight close to the net. DeBrusk also fed David Krejci for his second period goal, finishing with five shot attempts and a couple blocked shots in 15:38 of ice time while posting a plus-2 rating. Perhaps just as important, DeBrusk was winning 50/50 battles for the puck and playing a competitive brand of hockey rather than doing fly-bys in a lot of areas while hunting the puck. If DeBrusk played with the same kind of speed, skill and tenacity on more nights, he’d be a difference-maker for the Bruins more often.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 – The number of goals for David Pastrnak after collecting two scores against the Panthers, and putting himself in a position where he’s easily going to have 30 goals before the Christmas break.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought we did a really good job. Every line played well. We moved some guys around, but right up and down the lineup all 12 forwards, 6 [defensemen] and Jaroslav Halak were all really good.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN when asked his assessment of the win that snapped the longest B’s losing streak (five games) since he took over as head coach.  

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Highlights: B's snap losing skid vs. Panthers

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Highlights: B's snap losing skid vs. Panthers

FINAL SCORE: Bruins 4, Panthers 2

IN BRIEF: Oh not, not this again? After the Bruins’ epic third-period collapse in their last meeting with Florida, they nearly repeated themselves after going up 3-0 after two periods. Keith Yandle’s goal with 11 minutes left made it 3-2, Boston fought off the Panthers long enough for David Pastrnak to get an empty-netter that sealed it. And so, after coach Bruce Cassidy called out their attention to details earlier in the week, the Bruins snapped their losing skid with a solid all-around effort.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 21-7-6 (48 points, 1st in Atlantic Division)

HIGHLIGHTS

DEBRUSK’S 100TH CAREER POINT IS A BEAUTY

KREJCI MAKES IT 2-0

PERFECTION LINE MAKES IT LOOK EASY

UP NEXT:

vs. Los Angeles, Tuesday, 7 p.m., NESN

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