Karson Kuhlman ready for a big top-6 chance with the Bruins

Karson Kuhlman ready for a big top-6 chance with the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- Karson Kuhlman admits he has a chip in his shoulder, and that chip is part of the reason why he’s readying for his first full NHL season with the Boston Bruins.

The 24-year-old undrafted forward from the University of Minnesota Duluth enjoyed a massively successful first pro hockey season going from “just another guy” at training camp to a top-6 winger for the Bruins in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Now Kuhlman is trending toward once again starting the season as the right wing on Boston’s second line alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, and do whatever he can to provide a consistent two-way player in that spot.

It goes without saying that he’s looking forward to the challenge, and hopes to take another step offensively this season after combining for 15 goals and 35 points in 69 games between the NHL and AHL last season.

“[Last year] was a great experience. It was obviously not the way we wanted it to end. That one is going to sting for a long time. But I think an important part of the summer was mentally getting over that loss and turning the page,” said Kuhlman. “Besides the weight room and being bigger, stronger and faster, I just want to be able to show up every game and be at 100 percent against the elite athletes in this league.

“Beyond that, I worked a lot at being around the net more to get my scoring touch down, just shooting more pucks and getting to the net and being better around there. If you’re open [Krejci] is going to find you and he’s one of the best at it. I just don’t want to let him down and not put the puck in the net. I want to be at 100 percent just playing my game.” 

Certainly there will be questions as to whether Kuhlman is the long-term answer there after posting three goals and five points in 11 regular season games for the Bruins last season. Will Kuhlman finish enough of Krejci’s setups to stay on the second line? Will the Bruins get enough production from their second line to solve some of their even strength scoring problems from last season?

These are important questions for the Black and Gold.

The likeliest outcome for Boston’s second line is that the Bruins will eventually be looking for a more accomplished offensive player next to Krejci. After all, we’re talking about a player who had modest numbers of 12 goals and 30 points in 58 games in the AHL last season, and that doesn’t even project to be a 20-goal scorer at the NHL level.

So it’s a realistic scenario that the Bruins will once again be upgrading on the wing as they did last spring when they traded for Marcus Johansson at the deadline.

But there’s also some credit due for a guy like Kuhlman who's making the most of his abilities, and beat out more heralded competition like David Backes, Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik and others for a top-6 spot. A lot of it is based on the dependable nature of Kuhlman’s game on the ice, his overall skating speed and the trust level that Cassidy and Co. have with him on the Krejci line.

“I know [Kuhlman] can play there. I’ve seen it. I haven’t seen him with [David] Krejci this particular preseason, but I’m comfortable with how we plays [in a top-6 role]. We’ve just got to make the decision, what’s best for the team. We’ve got some new players in here, did they get a look first?” said Cassidy. “We’ll talk about all of that stuff. But to answer your question, yes. I like the way Kuhlman plays.

“He complements Krejci. I’ve said this before, [Kuhlman is] not your typical second-line right winger because his résumé isn’t as extensive. But he’s gone in there and did a good job for us, and [that’s] an important thing for us.”

The smart money is on the Bruins starting the season with Kuhlman on the second line based on how last season ended, but Krejci’s right wing is absolutely still a developing situation that will find resolution over the course of the entire season.

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Bruins trade target Tyler Toffoli dealt to Canucks

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Bruins trade target Tyler Toffoli dealt to Canucks

If the Boston Bruins are planning on making a big move before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 24, their options are dwindling.

One of their rumored trade targets, Tyler Toffoli, was dealt by the Los Angeles Kings to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.

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Ex-Bruin Tim Schaller is headed to L.A. in the deal along with prospect Tyler Madden and a second-round pick, per TSN's Bob McKenzie.

Back in January, it was reported by Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman the Bruins "could do a deal for Toffoli almost at any time" and "have that in their hip pocket." Now, Boston is forced to look in another direction. New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider is another player linked to the B's in trade rumors.

Toffoli, who had spent all of his eight-year career with the Kings, has 18 goals and 16 assists in 58 games this season.

The Bruins will see Toffoli and the Canucks on Saturday when they face off in Vancouver.

All things considered, the Bruins are in a pretty good cap situation

All things considered, the Bruins are in a pretty good cap situation

Ahead of the 2020 NHL trade deadline, the Bruins have ample cap space to make a deal without requiring much in the way of roster gymnastics.

The Bruins hold roughly $3.1 million in salary cap space according to the invaluable, and that’s with a full roster utilizing all 23 spots along with a couple B’s players currently on long-term injured reserve as well.

Some of that is thanks to the $2.5 million cap hit for the injured Kevan Miller that’s never been on the Bruins books at any point this season. And some of that is thanks to the Bruins burying David Backes’ contract in the AHL more than a month ago.

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What it means is that the Bruins can make a decent deadline deal without being forced to dump salary, and would only be pushed into making moves to free up cap space if it were for an impact player with a substantial cap hit in the $5 plus million range.

The Bruins’ cap situation gives the Bruins some room to work while also boasting a roster that’s put up the most points in the NHL midway through the month of February.

That’s a pretty darn good situation to be in for Sweeney and Co. at the deadline coming off a Stanley Cup Final-worthy season.

For example, the Bruins were interested in Blake Coleman’s services prior to the New Jersey forward getting dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning and it would have required zero in cap-clearing moves to bring the speedy, feisty Coleman into the fold. That’s part of the reason the Bruins had a keen interest in Coleman in the first place as a low-cost option for the next couple of seasons.

Miller (fractured kneecap) has been skating on his own for weeks, but isn’t close to returning with legitimate question marks as to whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to play this season. That gives the Bruins cap space to play with ahead of next week’s trade deadline and potentially allows them to go over the cap if Miller were to somehow be healthy enough to return just ahead of Boston’s playoff run.  

There is, after all, no salary cap in the Stanley Cup playoffs and a crafty salary cap manager can use that to their advantage over the final few months of the season if the timing of an injured player’s return works out perfectly.

If the Bruins were to bring in a player like Chris Kreider or Tyler Toffoli (both in the $4.6 million range), for instance, they’d need to clear about $1.5 million in cap space ahead of the deal. The Bruins could achieve that by shipping depth guys like Anton Blidh and Jeremy Lauzon to the minors provided everybody else was healthy.

If it’s a more expensive cap acquisition like Mike Hoffman or Wayne Simmonds, then the Bruins would be forced to deal away a roster player with bottom-pairing defenseman John Moore as the most likely candidate to be shipped out of town.

The 29-year-old Moore ($2.75 million cap hit) has toggled between bottom-pairing defenseman and healthy scratch when he hasn’t been injured in his first two seasons with the Bruins. And the Black and Gold have cheaper in-house alternatives in Lauzon and Connor Clifton.

It’s never prudent for a team like the Bruins with Stanley Cup aspirations to trade away defensemen depth down the stretch. But they might not have a choice if they’re forced to go with Plan C or Plan D when the hours start counting down to next Monday’s trade deadline.