The Bruins might have been sitting at the top of the NHL standings when the 2019-20 season came to a sudden halt, but there were still plenty of question marks surrounding this B's club ahead of another promising playoff push. As we attempt to ride out this stoppage, BSJ will examine a couple of lineup questions and concerns each week as they pertain to Boston and its hopes of hitting the ground (err, ice) running if/when hockey returns this season.
First up in our Bruins breakdown: A look at Sean Kuraly's potential fit beyond the fourth line:
The Bruins know full well what a locked-in Sean Kuraly can offer to their versatile and valued checking line.
Kuraly’s profile (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) certainly fits the profile of a fourth-line grinder. But the 27-year-old forward is far from just a heat-seeking missile when he hops over the boards.
His wheels set him apart from some of the heavier bodies usually scattered throughout a bottom-six grouping — allowing him to capitalize on the rush and excel as both the first man in or an F3 option on a suffocating forecheck.
Kuraly might not pile on the points with regularity, but his quick release and crafty play with the puck often lead to him serving as the primary driver of offense on his lines.
Boston’s run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final might have served as Kuraly’s finest stretch in a black and gold sweater — as his return from injury late in the first round against the Maple Leafs helped energized a fourth line that was out-attempted, 41-27, in 31:04 of 5v5 ice time before he was given the green light to play.
Some of those unsightly puck-possession metrics might have been the byproduct of poor offensive-zone starts and regular matchups against top-six foes, but Boston’s fourth line managed to tilt the ice back in its favor as the B’s carved their way through the playoff bracket.
Kuraly, the man in the middle of that unit, was a force in Games 6-7 against Toronto — with Boston posting a plus-2 goal differential and outshooting Toronto by a 12-6 margin in 22:15 of 5v5 TOI during that stretch. During the Cup Final against St. Louis, it was Kuraly that led all Bruins forwards in total scoring with five points (two goals, three assists) over the seven-game series.
Kuraly and Co. certainly set a high bar for themselves going into the 2019-20 campaign — and so far, the results have occasionally fallen short of those lofty expectations.