For all intents and purposes, the 2019-20 NHL season was a lost year for Karson Kuhlman (and, unlike most of us, that was the case long before COVID-19 hit back in the winter).
The final entrant on a season-long carousel of wingers slotted to the right of David Krejci during the 2018-19 season, Kuhlman found himself logging top-six minutes in both Game 6 and 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final — with Bruce Cassidy and his staff hoping that the Minnesota native's speed and two-way play would compliment a line in desperate need of some offensive traction.
The move paid off in Game 6 against St. Louis, with Kuhlman snapping a puck past Jordan Binnington to give Boston a 3-0 lead in the third period. But that tally was not a flash in the pan when it came to Kuhlman's efforts at elevating that second line.
Even though he logged just 11 games up at the NHL level during that 2018-19 regular season, Kuhlman's tools clearly clicked on that second line next to Krejci and Jake DeBrusk — who had spent most of the previous nine months trying to extract offense out of linemates like Joakim Nordstrom, Peter Cehlarik and Ryan Donato.
In total, a second line of DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman skated together for a little over 68 minutes of 5v5 TOI during the 2018-19 season. During that stretch, the Bruins scored eight 5v5 goals and relinquished three down the other end of the ice. That equates to an impressive goals scored per 60 minute (GF/60) rate of 7.00.
Now, going into the 2019-20 season, it was clear that those gaudy offensive numbers were in line for some regression. But beyond falling out of a top-six rotation, Kuhlman's campaign struggled to get off the ground at all — with a broken tibia suffered in October 2019 putting him on the shelf for an extended stretch. In total, Kuhlman closed out his sophomore campaign with just one goal and six points over 25 games — including zero points over five games during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Obviously that was a tough start, getting hurt right off the bat like that," Kuhlman said Tuesday. "Kind of the first time in my career that I’d missed substantial time. I guess before, I’m looking at the past, got to be happy with getting this done and be thankful for my family and my agent to get this contract done. Obviously, the coaching staff and management of Boston to have confidence of me moving forward here. And lastly, with my teammates last year, they helped me so much during the injury and coming back from it. We expect a lot out of each other and we’re going to keep doing that moving forward."
Now, it remains unlikely that Kuhlman's profile (a speedy, north-south forward that's often the first man in on the forecheck) translates into the top-six role he carved out for himself in 2018-19. But that doesn't mean that the Minnesota Duluth grad can't bring value to this club moving forward — especially with the 25-year-old skater now locked in to a new, two-year contract with the B's.