By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
Last week, the NHL announced its Return to Play action. The plan allows teams to return to NHL activity based on individual states’ reopening laws and a proposal to begin the NHL playoffs in July. The Bruins finished the year with the highest point total in the NHL, which awards them the President’s Trophy. They have also secured a place in the top-4 seed round-robin playoff to determine the seed they’ll occupy for the upcoming playoff. They can place no lower than fourth and will have a bye for the preliminary round.
Full disclosure, it is quite unfortunate they have to play in a round-robin to determine seed when they finished the year as the best regular-season squad. Alas, the Bruins, and every other team will play by the rules, and we’ll hopefully see the Bruins occupy the top seed.
The year they won in 2011, the Bruins were the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. During that year, every player on the team had a significant moment and played their best hockey. The top two lines will always be relied on and are obvious choices to bring their A-game every night. We’ve seen teams’ third-lines become even more impactful throughout the years and are heavily relied on. Charlie Coyle has filled that void nicely since his trade from Minnesota. There are a few other players who need to be an X-factor to bring the Bruins their seventh Stanley Cup. Enter: Sean Kuraly.
Sean Kuraly is in the midst of his fourth professional hockey career. He has always dawned the black and gold, even though he was not initially drafted by the Bruins. Kuraly was part of the Martin Jones deal with San Jose. The Bruins originally received Martin Jones from the Los Angeles Kings, along with Colin Miller and a 2015 first-round draft selection (Jakub Zboril) for Milan Lucic. Tuukka Rask was still at the helm when the Bruins acquired Jones, so they flipped Jones to the Sharks for a 2016 first-round pick (Trent Frederic) and Sean Kuraly.
Since then, Kuraly has always called Boston home. He was drafted 133rd overall in the 2011 NHL draft. He played all four years at Miami University (Ohio), where he amassed 93 points in 154 games. In his final year at Miami, Kuraly added another accolade to his resume that fits the Bruin mold.
Miami University named Sean Kuraly their captain for 2015-16. His dad is all time leading scorer at Miami #yoga
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) April 1, 2015
He played three quarters’ of a year with the Providence Bruins in 2016, where he scored 26 points in 54 games and a plus 10 rating. He joined the Bruins for eight games when the Providence Bruins’ playoffs ended, and never looked back. He notched his first NHL career assist in and his first NHL career playoff goal in the subsequent playoffs. Along with his first NHL career goal, he also completed his first multi-goal game.
Kuraly has played almost every position the Bruins have needed him. He is their Swiss Army knife and has been extremely flexible and adaptable. Recently, he’s spent most of his time between the third and fourth lines. The Bruins have been trying out many of their draft prospects throughout the past couple years, and Kuraly has been a byproduct of that. He’s been able to move throughout the lineup as the Bruins give players like Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman opportunities. Kuraly has spent most of his 2019-2020 5v5 time with Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom, which means he’s been used primarily on the fourth line.
Before the season’s suspension in March, Kuraly had been playing alongside Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk on the Bruins’ third-line. The move seemed to help Kuraly immensely because he scored his fourth goal of the year on the first night he was united with Coyle and DeBrusk in Tampa. Kuraly’s game caught Head Coach Bruce Cassidy’s eye because in the final game before the suspension, Kuraly logged 17:47 minutes on ice.
His four goals in 69 games are something he will undoubtedly have to fix come playoff time. Thankfully, if history repeats itself, Kuraly has been known to show up on the NHL’s biggest stage, regardless of his season’s contribution. He scored 10 points in 20 playoff games last year. One of his most memorable playoff goals came in another game seven with the Toronto Maple Leafs leaving Bruins fans with even more examples as to why Kuraly is a vital playoff player.
Fourth-line players generally tend to hover around 10-12 minutes on ice per game. Kuraly should play at least 12 minutes a game during the playoffs, regardless of his line placement. He is not featured on either powerplay (unless there’s an injury), but he is featured on the penalty kill. His 112 minutes of penalty kill time this year leads the Bruins’ forward group, according to Natural Stat Trick, making him a crucial piece of their special teams. The Bruins rank third in the league in penalty kill percentage at 84.3. The San Jose Sharks hold the top spot at 85.7%.
Kuraly’s adaptability gives him a unique edge on most players. He can play with any Bruins forward on any given night, and he has. Kuraly is a left-shot center, which is his natural position. However, when he played on Coyle’s line, he was placed at left-wing. He has the incredible ability to play his game and his style on any side of the lineup. This gives Cassidy the flexibility to plug-and-play Kuraly depending on the lineup he wants to use on any given night. If Kuraly can replicate or even improve on his 2019 playoffs, the Bruins may end up on the right side of a game seven Cup final.
Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 181 that we recorded below on 5-31-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!
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