Bruins Kuhlman Fits A Few Needs As Playoffs Approach

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( Photo Credit: Brandon Magnus/NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter @CSthinks

Just to get it out of the way, Karson Kuhlman has one of the best names in professional hockey. You’ve got alliteration. You’ve got “K”s where you were expecting “C”s. The word “cool” fits in there somehow. Very impressive performance by his name, and big ups to his parents.

Somehow, Kuhlman’s contributions to the Bruins in the abbreviated time that he has been granted with the club have outshined the coolness/Kuhlness of his name. Just one season removed from an impressive collegiate career at Minnesota-Duluth, Kuhlman has shown that, as far as forward call-ups from Providence go, he might be as NHL-ready as any of them.

In his first stint with the Bruins in February, Kuhlman impressed as a relatively unheralded prospect. His solid, yet unflashy point totals in the AHL might be to blame for how deeply undersold he was as an effective contributor in the Bruins’ lineup. Kuhlman was able to grace the scoresheet in two of his first three games as a right-wing plug-in alongside David Krejci, providing points in two important games against formidable west coast opponents in Vegas and San Jose (both ended up being one-goal wins for Boston).

After tallying a silky goal in another Black and Gold win over Florida on Saturday night, Kuhlman’s potential as a contributing forward in the offensive end has been made clear. In the individual effort displayed during this goal alone illuminates Kuhlman’s skating ability, hands, and finishing drive. Not to mention how he is able to use his body to shield the puck from the defenseman he just breezed in order to create further separation on his way to the net. A quick snap of the wrist (low glove, thanks for coming), and bingo was his name-oh.

Goals are good. Points are great. Offensive tools are at a premium come playoff time. But I wouldn’t be doing my duty as someone who self-proclaims his duty to be an explanation of young Bruins talent if I didn’t shed some light on the depth of his game.

Kuhlman, in what has been so far just a little more than a handful of games with the Black and Gold, has shown that he is playing a 200-foot game that many young Bruins prospects have left to be desired. In his own zone, Kuhlman’s positioning is superb for a young player. Undoubtedly, he plays like someone who was a lead-by-example captain at the college level.

Kuhlman’s work ethic shines in corner battles and on the forecheck, where his being a novice to the NHL has been drowned out by his skating, tenacity, and grit. His ability to hunt pucks without compromising his positioning and playmaking potential make him useful on any line.

 

Why Kuhlman is Playoff Material

Last year, the Bruins’ season came to an end with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo on the shelf, crippling a defensive unit that was searching for depth and struggling to maintain its health throughout the playoffs. David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Jake DeBrusk, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash, and Zdeno Chara were also dealing with injuries during the playoffs and into the offseason.

Unfortunately, a depleted Bruins roster didn’t have the depth last year to make the “next man up” philosophy all that effective when tasked with taking on an opponent as formidable as Tampa. Certainly, there were players available to enter the lineup. But these players seemed to make more of a change on the lineup card then on the actual ice surface. And unfortunately, that’s where the games are played.

This is where Kuhlman makes a difference. As a versatile forward who can bring the skill to fill in as a top-six forward, and the discipline, grit, and skating to play among the bottom-six, he gives Bruce Cassidy significantly more leeway with his playoff roster than he had last year.

Currently, Kuhlman is holding Marcus Johansson’s place on the second line, but with MoJo’s return to the lineup closer every day, it’s quite possible that we see Kuhlman drop down to a bottom –six role while Sean Kuraly is injured. In all likelihood, this would mean Joakim Nordstrom gets removed from the lineup. Nordstrom seems like a great person, with a good work ethic, and a mediocre goatee. But if you object to his removal from the lineup, then we are no longer friends.

While Kuhlman’s short-term role might be more clear-cut, don’t be surprised if he sticks around to fill into spots that get vacated by ailing Bruins. I’d much rather see a healthy Karson Kuhlman than an injured forward not named Pastrnak, Bergeron, or Marchand. His presence alone allows Cassidy to give rest to players who might need it down the stretch without compromising the effectiveness of the lineup all that much.

And that’s pretty cool. Man.

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