The Bruins' not-so-secret weapon, Karson Kuhlman

Matt Kalman
April 10, 2019 - 5:47 pm

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bruins are about to embark on their Stanley Cup playoffs run with Karson Kuhlman involved.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy all but confirmed Kuhlman will start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round series against Toronto on Thursday on right wing with David Krejci at center and Jake DeBrusk on the left side, the position Kuhlman practiced in on Wednesday.

Sure the 23-year-old is just one year removed from winning the national championship as Minnesota-Duluth’s captain, and almost the same amount of time away from signing a two-year NHL deal with the Bruins as an undrafted collegiate freshman.

But at every stop along the way so far Kuhlman’s played his best at this time of year and wound up a winner. He has the championship rings to prove it.

When Kuhlman was 17 he finished up his high school season at Cloquet High in Minnesota and joined the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL for their playoff run. Kuhlman had six points (four goals, two assists) in 11 postseason games during the Fighting Saints’ run to the Clark Cup championship.

Last year he had one goal and one assist in the national title game against Notre Dame, as Minnesota-Duluth avenged its loss to Denver in the 2017 final with a title-winning victory. Kuhlman, who had an assist in the Bulldogs’ semifinal win, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

The rings are now stored next to each other in the Kuhlman family home. And they’re proof that Kuhlman’s big-game experience should ease his adjustment to his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I think cause I’ve been in a couple of them in my life, which is pretty fortunate to say. Not everybody at 23 has played in a couple national championships and everything like that,” Kuhlman said about his ability to succeed in the biggest games. “But at the same time, I try to go into it and ease the nerves as soon as I can. That’s sort of a big thing for me, getting back to playing the way that I know how. So the quicker you do that.”

Kuhlman’s already been a winner several times over, but last April the Bruins were also winners -- part of a multi-team bidding war to land Kuhlman's service. He had ties to Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner, who starred at Cloquet High before he embarked an 1,109-game NHL career. Langenbrunner coached with Kuhlman’s brother last year and his daughter Laine is friends with Jack as well. And the Bruins' collegiate scouts watch him closely.

But those things only counted for so much. What really won Kuhlman over was that the Bruins, who had hosted Kuhlman at their 2017 development camp, were the first team to offer a NHL contract. Kuhlman and his representatives rewarded that loyalty by signing the two-year contract for $750,000 per season without shopping it around.

“I knew this was the spot I wanted, I loved the culture and the environment. And then when they offered it kind of showed that they had a lot of faith in me and it’s what we decided was best for my future,” Kuhlman said.

If the Bruins are going to add to Kuhlman’s ring collection, they’re going to need a more a balanced offensive attack. They learned the hard way against Tampa Bay in the second round last season that the first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak can’t do it all.

The Bruins auditioned right wings for Krejci all season, with Kuhlman getting a brief run in that position. In a bygone era, Krejci was at his best with hulking power forwards on his flanks. In today’s game, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound Kuhlman with speed – similar to a 6-foot, 183-pound DeBrusk – could fit the bill to make the Bruins a two-line threat at minimum.

Cassidy wants to start the series with the Maple Leafs with the fastest lineup he has, and Kuhlman might be able to convince the coach that he belongs in the lineup, regardless of what line he’s on, for the duration. General manager Don Sweeney has been impressed.

“I don’t think he changes the way he plays regardless of the situation and that’s a benefit to him as well,” Sweeney said. “I think he knows what his strengths are and he tries to play to those, which again, coaches appreciate. When you have the ability to plug a player in and he doesn’t change regardless of the situation, I think that’s a benefit of all parties.”

Every party Kuhlman has suited up for this decade has benefited from his performance and presence. Perhaps the Bruins will be next.

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