Bruins

Constructing Bruins roster: Are more top-6 minutes in store for Karson Kuhlman in 2019-20?

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

With the dog days of the NHL offseason now upon us, we’re going to spend the next couple of weeks taking a deeper dive at a number of players on the Bruins’ roster (or on the cusp of a roster spot) who could make a major impact on the club’s hopes of putting together another Cup run.

Here are our previous breakdowns of B’s players this summer: 

Part 1: F Danton Heinen
Part 2: F Peter Cehlarik
Part 3: F Charlie Coyle
Part 4: F Anders Bjork
Part 5: F Zach Senyshyn
Part 6: D Urho Vaakanainen
Part 7: F Sean Kuraly

Next up, let’s take a look at one of the Bruins’ more intriguing options up front in Karson Kuhlman. 

Player: Karson Kuhlman
Age: 23 (turns 24 on September 26)
Position: Center/Wing
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11 / 185 pounds
2018-19 Stats: 11 games played – 3 goals, 2 assists, 12:09 ATOI

SEASON IN REVIEW

For a player who punched his ticket into pro hockey by way of an undrafted free-agent contract, Karson Kuhlman still entered the 2018-19 campaign with expectations usually set aside for prospects with a much higher pedigree when it comes to draft status or skill. 

Most of that praise came from the Bruins’ development and coaching staff, with Kuhlman lauded for his mature, two-way style of play and the reputation that preceded him during his collegiate career at Minnesota Duluth. 

Just prior to signing a two-year deal with Boston in April 2018, Kuhlman helped the Bulldogs win an NCAA title, with the captain earning 2018 NCAA Tournament MVP after tallying a goal and an assist in the team’s 2-1 victory over Notre Dame in the title game.

Even if his well-rounded, tenacious style of play didn’t exactly translate into top-six potential in the NHL, Kuhlman had plenty of backers within the organization, headlined by Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner

“He’s a kid that I’ve personally been tracking for a while,” Langenbrunner said during 2018 Dev Camp. “He’s from my area (in Minnesota), I’ve known him for a long time. One: his attention to detail. He’s a kid that plays a pro-style game in the way he positions himself, uses his body, gets pucks out on walls. He’s a winner. He’s been on a national championship, captain at Minnesota-Duluth, was in the finals the year before, had great playoffs.

“Came into Providence at the end of the year and was a good player there. He chipped in right away, put up some points and looked like a pro as a guy stepping in. He’s a good guy that helps your team. Character kid, when I asked him to come to Development Camp he said, ‘Absolutely.’ He wanted to be here. That’s what you want on your team and he’s going to push guys to be better.”

Kuhlman hit the ground running in his first full season with the Bruins’ organization, tallying 12 goals and 30 points over 58 games down in Providence before getting a call up with the Bruins in February. 

While a player like Kuhlman might be relegated as more of a bottom-six depth option, the forward quickly carved out a role on David Krejci’s line. Of the 124:36 of 5v5 TOI that Kuhlman logged during the regular season, 85:28 was spent skating next to Krejci in a top-six spot — with the Bruins holding a 55.19% edge in shot attempts during that stretch in which the duo was out on the ice together. 

Kuhlman’s ability to play with pace eventually led to his return to the lineup in the postseason, where the rookie tallied a goal and added two assists over eight games. In a season in which Krejci dealt with a revolving door to his right in the lineup, Kuhlman was the last entrant in the year-long carousel, earning top-six minutes for Games 6 and 7 against the Blues. 

It was a far cry from his start in Providence back in October. 

“I think it’s just his DNA,” Bruce Cassidy said of Kuhlman’s ability to slot in and contribute. “For a first-year player, he’s very mature, responsible, great work habits, good pro. Coming into this situation, I think you have to give him a lot of credit for how he’s prepared over the last month. And the coaches that have been working with him to keep him on top of it. It’s a grind for them, too.

“They may not get into a game this late in the year, but he has played with us, he knows our system, putting him with Krejci and DeBrusk, he played a lot of games with them, so there was that comfort level. He won last year in college, I think that helps. Any previous experience you can draw upon. You put those things together, I’m not surprised.”

While Kuhlman ended last season as Krejci’s right winger, can we expect him to serve a similar role in 2019-20? 

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