Karson Kuhlman has ended Bruins right wing manhunt

Matt Kalman
April 02, 2019 - 10:13 pm

He’s listed at just 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, but he plays with a power forward’s zeal and determination.

And maybe in the modern-day NHL that, plus an above-average pair of wheels, is all you need to thrive in a top-six role on a line led by skillful center David Krejci and left wing Jake DeBrusk.

The Bruins are crazy if they don’t try to find out by keeping rookie forward Karson Kuhlman on that line’s right wing until they cool off. And yes, they should stay together even into Boston’s first-round playoff series.

Kuhlman’s been solid every time he’s been asked to fill a role few projected for him when he signed with Boston last spring after four years at Minnesota-Duluth. And he’s gotten better after every call up and during every opportunity he’s had to play up in the lineup.

His latest impressive performance came Tuesday in a 6-2 win at Columbus, helping the Bruins end their two-game losing streak and clinch home-ice advantage in their first-round playoff series against Toronto. This was no midseason, ho-hum inter-divisional snooze-fest, it was a game the Blue Jackets were desperate to win in their on-going battle to earn a playoff spot. And Kuhlman played like a grizzled vet.

Kuhlman had one goal and one assist.

And he didn’t get a point on the Bruins’ first goal of the game although he and DeBrusk provided the heavy forecheck and then a net-front presence that resulted in crucial score.

In 11:36 of 5-on-5 ice time together, the DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman line had a 71.43 Corsi For percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick. And that's in a game where Columbus was playing from behind all night and was shooting the puck from everywhere.

Kuhlman, who had 13 goals in 44 games as a college senior and 12 goals in 58 games for Providence (AHL) this year, has three goals in nine games for Boston. He may still project as a bottom-six forward down the road, but the Bruins need Charlie Coyle to center the third line to balance out their lines and Marcus Johansson has been a difficult fit on both of Boston’s top two lines while he tries to find his form after an injury absence. That's where Kuhlman comes in.

In a way Kuhlman’s emergence at crunch time in the season is reminiscent of another Bruins rookie with a name that starts K who saved Boston when it was battling injuries. No one will forget what Torey Krug did when he stepped into the Bruins lineup during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Bruins spent a few draft picks and Ryan Donato to add Coyle and Johansson before the NHL trade deadline, but Kuhlman looks like the best fit for that spot to Krejci’s right. He’s willing to skate his heart out and muck it up in the corners, and DeBrusk and Krejci’s skill seems to be rubbing off on the 23-year-old. Johansson and Coyle might wind up being better suited as two thirds of a third line.

The Bruins should see how far this second-line Kuhlman thing can take them.

Loose pucks

Brad Marchand had one goal and one assist to reach 100 points, the first Bruins player to do that since Joe Thornton in 2002-03. Bruins don’t have any plans to trade him for three role players. … Tuukka Rask made 32 saves on 34 shots, including a perfect 8-for-8 in the first period on nearly all high-danger chances. Looks like the Bruins have to reason to be concerned if he’s ready for the playoffs. … Danton Heinen sat out with illness and Chris Wagner returned after missing one game with a lower-body injury.

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