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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