The revolving door at second-line right wing continued for the Boston Bruins entering this year’s training camp. They’ll have to try and solve that issue from within given their tight salary cap space following new contracts for Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy.
Karson Kuhlman, entering his second season in black and gold, sits atop the list of candidates to skate with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on Line 2.
“I think that’s a huge goal to have but at the same time I’m trying to play my game and prove to everyone that I can stick at this level and help this team win,” Kuhlman said about his preseason goals. “Coming in and playing my game, wherever I can help this team is where I want to be.”
Contrast that to this time a year ago where Kuhlman had just captained Minnesota-Duluth to a National Championship victory over Notre Dame during his senior season. He chose to begin his career with Boston — as an undrafted free agent — inking a two-year deal shortly after.
Kuhlman, despite his successful four-year collegiate career, entered last year’s training camp relatively under the radar. Very few considered the 5-foot-11 forward as a threat to make the big club.
As it turns out, the scouts, media and fans alike need to start watching more college hockey.
Beginning the year in Providence, Kuhlman continually impressed the Bruins’ brass while notching 30 points in AHL games. Both Bruce Cassidy and Don Sweeney noticed his pitbull-like forecheck mentality and deceptive speed. They were impressed, to say the least.
“Well I didn’t see a lot of him at the beginning. I saw him at rookie camp [last year]. He’s had a good motor, on top of pucks, positionally sound but not dynamic. That’s not being mean, that’s just his game,” Cassidy said about his first impression of Kuhlman.
“Then he comes up plays a little and then comes up again and develops some chemistry with DeBrusk and Krejci. What I do know about him is he is a winner and when you are a winner you do things a certain way. He won a lot of games with us so he brought that to the table and he’s a reliable solid player. Can he fit in with Krejci and score enough? He doesn’t have to score like a second line Patrick Laine because Jake will score, Krejci will score, the top line will score. But he does need to contribute enough offensively to play up there so that’s going to be the challenege for him.”
Sweeney and Cassidy weren’t the only Bruins that noticed Kuhlman’s postseason impact. His playoff success drew praise from his fellow peers, like Sean Kuraly, inside Boston’s locker room.
“I think as a teammate you appreciate a team guy like that,” Kuraly said about Kuhlman.
“He works hard, stays in his lane and doesn’t try to do too much. You appreciate a guy like that because he works really hard. He gave us a huge boost in the playoffs last year, when you see that from a guy that is just coming in it kind of reminds you about the hunger and the want and the need that you should have to be here. He spreads that vibe, he’s a good kid and deserves what he is getting. As a teammate of his I hope he can stick around because he helps us as a team. When anyone works as hard as he does it’s only a matter of time that they make their breakthrough.”
Now entering his second season, Kuhlman sits as the front runner for the second line vacancy.
Kuhlman played a bigger role than most expected during Boston’s Stanley Cup run. Cassidy, at certain times of the postseason, opted for the young, speedy winger over veteran forward David Backes.
Following the devastating loss in Game 7, Kuhlman knew he would have a great opportunity to solidify his job come training camp. The Esko, Minnesota native focused on two things during his training back home: adding muscle and finishing around the net.
“The first part of the summer was kind of regrouping. You have a couple of bangs and bruises and you take care of those. From there I just tried to put the puck in the net, to be honest,” Kulhman said about his training. “I did a lot of work around the net, I think that’s a huge part I can add to my game is scoring those goals in tight. That’s where I see myself playing, hard to the net. A lot of work on that and obviously in the weight room getting faster. I got a taste of how big these guys are and how well they can move last year so you always got to keep working on that.”
Kuhlman, for sure, benefitted from his summer training in a hockey-rich area. His off-season workouts carried over into a strong first week of camp.
The young forward lives just a stone’s throw outside the city of Duluth and spent most of his time this summer back at his alma mater with a group of alumni comprised of NHL, AHL and European players.
“I’m from about 20 minutes outside of the city. Great spot to be in for the summer,” Kuhlman added. “We have an awesome group of NHL, AHL, East Coast, European guys. Both from the area and guys that went to the University of Minnesota Duluth so a lot of the alumni love it so much that they come back and spend the summers.”
His spot isn’t guaranteed by any means. But Kuhlman, who will make his preseason debut in Philly Thursday night, put himself in a good spot to make a bigger impact this season.
Cassidy’s group needs a top-six winger that can help shoulder the burden on the second line. Kuhlman provided a glimpse of his potential last season. Taking that next step into his second season can only help the Bruins become one of the more well-rounded teams in the National Hockey League.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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