Don’t forget about…Karson Kuhlman

karson-kuhlman-2019-32

Over the past decade, Boston Bruins have found success in the undrafted free agent department, especially with signing NCAA players. Whether we’re talking about Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Frank Vatrano (whose trade to Florida in 2018 netted the pick the B’s used to select Jakub Lauko), or even Austin Czarnik (now with Calgary), the B’s have identified passed-over college players who have gone on to reach the NHL.

A more recent example is former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain Karson Kuhlman, who led the Bulldogs to their first of two consecutive NCAA championships in 2018 and then signed with the B’s shortly thereafter. The 2018 NCAA tournament MVP didn’t dazzle anyone with his numbers, but was, as it turned out, the perfect fit for Boston.

It didn’t take Kuhlman long to see his first NHL action and by the spring of 2019, he was playing a supporting role in helping the B’s get to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship. In 19 regular and playoff games combined, the rookie netted four goals and eight points, not bad for a defensive forward in college whose best season consisted of just six goals and 22 points in 42 games during the 2016-17 campaign.

The Esko, MN native has always impressed with his speed, intelligent two-way game and hyper-competitivene style, going back to his USHL days with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

After making such a surprising impact (at the very least in terms of timeline), Kuhlman made the 2019-20 Bruins roster out of camp, but fractured his tibia Oct. 19 in a game against Toronto. He missed the next two months and returned to the ice in late December, bouncing between the NHL and AHL with Providence until the NHL season was put on pause.

He still meets our criteria of a prospect, even though he’s seen 36 NHL regular season games in his first two pro seasons, so here’s a quick snapshot of Kuhlman and what B’s fans can expect going forward:

Strengths: Superb skater- explosive, agile and quick. He’s got excellent acceleration and is strong on his skates- able to roll off of checks and maintain his balance. Very good small-area burst. Hockey sense is very good- while not overly creative, he sees the ice and makes good decisions with and without the puck. Tremendous intangibles such as character and leadership packaged up in a relentless work ethic. He’s a superior forechecker who disrupts and creates turnovers with his speed and sheer tenacity- constantly hunts pucks. A winner- he won a USHL championship with Dubuque in 2013, took 2018 NCAA tournament MVP honors in leading UMD to a national title, then was part of Boston’s extended run to the SCF a year later. That kind of thing is not an accident. Can play center and wing- able to take key defensive faceoffs when needed and has a quick stick in the dot to win draws.

Weaknesses: Size is average, and he’s not a skill player by any means. A standout player for Cloquet High, he was not a point producer in the USHL or in college, so he’s not going to have the offensive ceiling to be a front line forward in the NHL.

Overall analysis/projection: The leg injury set Kuhlman back, and as his 1 goal and 6 points in 25 games this season can attest, he’s in a low-end depth role right now with Boston. At age 24, he’s old enough and mature- he can play up or down the lineup if needed, but with the B’s healthy when the NHL’s expected resumption happens in July-August, he’ll have a challenge ahead to work himself into the lineup on a regular basis.

Going forward, we can envision Kuhlman carving out more of a role for himself as a checker/grinder/Swiss Army knife player the Boston coaches trust in certain situations. He’s not going to go out and score 30 goals and 60 points, but in the B’s system, could develop into a regular role player because of his versatility, drive and jam.

The B’s haven’t just enjoyed success finding college free agents- they hit on former Swift Current/WHL captain Colby Cave, who suddenly and tragically passed away this spring while a member of the Edmonton organization, but the NCAA pipeline has been a productive one for Boston. Kuhlman should continue to contribute going forward, and the B’s continued the pattern by signing college defenders Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and Nick Wolff (Kuhlman’s UMD teammate) this past March.

His only goal this season vs Vancouver an attempted pass that went in off  Troy Stecher

KBJR local feature by Alec Bochner during Kuhlman’s senior season at UMD

In-depth UMD profile on him from October 2017- check out his answer to the question at 7:20 about the one city he would pick up and move to- Kuhl-stradamus?

 

Reed Duthie- Off the top of the head: Victor Berglund

Reed Duthie gives us a superb breakdown on Bruins prospect/Swedish defenseman Victor Berglund. Reed has extensive knowledge of the Swedish pro and junior circuit, so there aren’t many better at bringing you the insights he does here. Enjoy this latest contribution from one of the Amigos- KL

In the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used their 7th round pick (195th overall) to select defensemen Victor Berglund from the MoDo system in Sweden. A “project” type selection Berglund showed immediate promise while rising through his hometown MoDo system where he was excellent with in the SuperElit (top junior league in Sweden) ranking 2nd on his team in defensive scoring, as a 17-year old in an under-20 league, in his NHL draft season before posting 18 points across 23 games at the SuperElit level the following year earning a callup that season to the Allsvenskan where he’s since played in 151 games while scoring 15 goals & 28 assists for 43 points. The Ornskoldsvik, Sweden native will leave his hometown club for the first time in his career for the 2020-21 season moving to Lulea in the SHL where he will look to take the next steps forward.

Assets:

Skating – A tremendous skater, Berglund has an all-around approach to that part of his game with a strong ability to start from a dead stop, quick and powerful acceleration and a strong stride leading to a top speed that will put Berglund near recent Bruins signee Jack Ahcan. As Berglund’s game grows at the senior level, he is consistently able to take more chances in the rush or striding down from the point because he is able to use his skating ability to recover quickly.

Hockey IQ – The element that makes Berglund a prospect with NHL potential is his ability to mix his strength as a skater with his ability to see and read the game. A very heady player, Berglund has an innate to be in the right place at the right time in all three zones and rarely makes mistakes with or without the puck. When in the defensive zone, watch for Berglund’s body positioning and quick stick as he is able to keep attackers from his own goal.

First Pass – When exiting the zone, Berglund uses his advanced vision to make a hard, accurate pass to begin transition or just take pressure off his own team.

Shot – Perhaps the biggest area of improvement for Berglund since he arrived at the senior level has been the ability to use his shot. Now able to better navigate shooting lanes and utilizing a heavy shot saw Berglund more than double his goal total from 4 in the 2018-19 season to 10 in the 2019-20 season.

Weaknesses:

Strength – The next element that Berglund will have to improve to continue his rise up prospect ranks will be his overall strength. Listed at 6’0’’ 165lbs, Berglund has room to add size to his frame which will help the strength factor. Not an overly physical player, Berglund is able to use his body position to trap attackers, force attackers away from goal and force turnovers but in board battles Berglund can be bested and moved away from the puck.

Strength of Competition – Berglund’s move to Lulea in the SHL will make a big difference beginning in 2020-21 but all of his 151 games at the senior professional level have come with MoDo in the Allsvenskan (a level comparable to, or just below, the AHL) which has been a tremendous step for young players in Sweden to take before jumping to the SHL or North America. A jump from the Allsvenskan to the NHL or even AHL would take more time to create comfort than one from the SHL, which is something the Bruins have had patience for in the past (Carl Soderberg).

Future:

If Victor Berglund is able to translate his skills from the Allsvenskan to the SHL and be the same type of impactful talent on the backend for Lulea as he was for MoDo while improving his strength it will go a long way to proving that he can play at the NHL level. Berglund did appear with the Providence Bruins for 4 games at the end of the 2018-19 AHL season, so with the North American game a known quantity for him it stands to reason he would look for another shot to excel in the Bruins organization. Berglund projects as #4-5 offensive minded defensemen with strong abilities in his own zone who would do best with a more defensive minded partner to be able to pair up with. Berglund has already proven worthy of a roll of the dice in the 7th round although a breakthrough to the NHL could still be 2-3 years off, he has the talent to be another home run selection for P.J. Axelsson and the Bruins staff.

Berglund (#33) makes a nice seam pass through traffic- primary assist to Kim Rosdahl for the redirect to pull his club to within 1 goal at a little over 2 min into the video. Gets burned right after on the goal to make it 4-2 against, but uses his speed on the rush to gain the zone and gets a secondary helper on the goal that makes it 4-4 at the 3-min mark of the video.

Dominic Tiano: Lyle, Messner, Voyer- Why AHL Contracts vs NHL?

Dom is back with a follow-up to his post yesterday announcing the signing of two 20-year-olds to AHL contracts, and to clarify what these signings mean. Major point 1- these players are NOT on NHL deals, so none of the trio are eligible to play games for the Boston Bruins this season without a NHL contract in place. However- as he explains below, there are specific benefits to having these players in the fold under AHL agreements. It’s well worth reading all the way to the end. -KL

When Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that they had signed Alex-Olivier Voyer and Brady Lyle to two-year American Hockey League contracts and extended Joel Messner to a one-year AHL deal, Bruins fans took to social media asking why AHL deals?

The obvious answer is that the Bruins have traded away draft picks over the past couple of seasons and are trying to keep the prospect pool filled. But the truth of the matter is this is more of a balancing act then anything.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL teams are only allowed to have 50 individual player contracts signed at any one time, with the exception of junior eligible players returned to Canadian Major Junior, those contracts can “slide” and not count against the 50-contract limit.

After signing Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan and Jeremy Swayman last month, the Bruins sat at 31 contracts for next season.

The Bruins have two unrestricted free agent netminders in Jaroslav Halak and Maxime Lagace, and unless they intend on giving Daniel Vladar (RFA) the full-time backup role in Boston, one of them could be back or maybe a different goaltender that has more experience then Vladar. But Vladar needs a contract as well.

That could bring the number of contracts to 33.

Then the Bruins have six unrestricted free agent skaters: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Joakim Nordstrom, Alex Petrovic and Ryan Fitzgerald (who is a group 6 UFA). It’s reasonable to assume from that group the Bruins are likely to make offers to Chara, Krug and Miller to retain their services and even more likely that just two of them will be back. But if they truly want to bring three of them back, they need a contract spot.

That could bring the number to 36 contracts.

The list of restricted free agents is even longer. Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Matt Grzelcyk, Brett Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Karson Kuhlman, Brendan Gaunce, Peter Cehlarik, Jakub Zboril, Wiley Sherman and Vladar all become RFA. It’s likely that all of them will receive their qualifying offers if only to retain their rights. We are sure DeBrusk, Bjork and Grzelcyk will be back. The rest are likely to get two-way contracts.

That could bring us to 46 contracts.

Then the Bruins will have to make a decision on Cameron Clarke who they must sign before August 15 or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That could bring the Bruins to 47 contracts. They also have Cooper Zech on an AHL contract and may want to lock him up before another NHL team swoops in and signs him. That could push the total to 48 contracts.

What these three deals do is two-fold. 1) It locks players up and takes them out of the hands of other NHL teams while providing you three players who at least have a shot of playing in the NHL. 2) By signing them to AHL deals, it allows them the maneuverability to make other roster moves while staying under the 50-contract limit.

 

Dominic Tiano: Bruins sign Lyle to 2-year AHL Contract

Dominic Tiano has the hot-off-the-presses goods on this OHL veteran, who played at Shattuck St. Mary’s as a midget player before his five-year major junior career with North Bay and Owen Sound. 

Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced today that the Boston Bruins have signed Ontario Hockey League defenceman Brady Lyle to a two-year American Hockey League contract. Lyle, who was eligible for the 2017 National Hockey League Draft, went unselected despite being ranked 48th among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

Lyle was a first-round pick, 18th overall at the 2015 Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection by the North Bay Battalion. While his offence didn’t reach the expected level in North Bay, what he did learn from his two-plus seasons with the Battalion is how to play defence, a prerequisite of playing on a Stan Butler-coached team.

But things changed 9 games into the 2017-2018 season when the Battalion sent Lyle to the Owen Sound Attack in exchange for goaltender Christian Propp.

Lyle found his offensive game almost instantly and went on to score 9 goals and add 23 assists in 54 games with the Attack. He continued to improve year after year with the Attack (11 goals, 30 assists in 68 games during the 2018-2019 season and 22 goals 43 assists in 62 games this season).

Lyle is a defender coaches can send over the boards in any situation. He can quarterback the powerplay, kill penalties, match up against the opposition’s best players, and in the last minute of a one goal game, is the first D over the boards whether you’re protecting a one goal lead, or are trying to tie it up. He has a howitzer of a shot from the point that usually finds the target. It’s a heavy shot and when he puts it on target, is difficult for goaltenders to contain, creating second chance opportunities.

At 6’3” Lyle has good size, but he doesn’t lack mobility. He uses that size effectively, relishes the physical game and always comes to the aid of his teammates.

Fellow 3 Amigo Reed Duthie had this to say:

Played in every big situation, quarterbacked the power-play and was the shutdown PK force as well. At 6’3” 210, Lyle has the size to immediately step into the professional level and make an impact but combines his size with advanced mobility & hockey IQ. A leader who will stand up for his teammates, Lyle brings a nasty attitude to the defensive zone and has no issue throwing the body. Clearly has the potential to work his way to the NHL with time.

It must be noted that this is just an AHL deal, and it is for two years. The Bruins are bringing in defencemen that fill different roles. Some will work out, some won’t. The Bruins recently signed Jack Ahcan and Nick Wolff, so there will be plenty of competition down in Providence.

-DT

Kirk’s call: I like the signing- Lyle was a top two-way defender at Shattuck in 2015 on a 16U team with Logan Hutsko (Boston College- Florida Panthers) and Brannon McManus (University of Minnesota- undrafted) and would have been a top USHL draft pick if he had been on the NCAA track. As a five-year junior who aged out in the OHL, he has the physical tools to potentially develop into an NHL player one day, and you have to like that when the B’s only have draft choices ahead, they’re finding ways to bring in players to their organization who fit different needs and will have diverse roles. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and given Lyle’s production as an overager, he brings an element of intrigue to the discussion, even if he’s on an AHL deal and would not be eligible to play games for the Boston Bruins unless he reached an agreement on an NHL contract.

In addition to Lyle, the B’s bolstered Providence by signing rugged Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL) RW Alex-Olivier Voyer to a 2-year AHL deal and extending D Joel Messner to a one-year AHL contract. Voyer, like Lyle, was an overager who put up a career-best offensive season (44 goals, 88 points) as a 20-year-old, playing for the Q’s top team.

Messner, who split the  2018-19 season between Providence and Atlanta of the ECHL and was in Atlanta this past year, signed a professional/AHL contract in 2018 after four seasons at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a standout junior career with the Selkirk Steelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Dated North Bay Battalion video of Lyle when he played for Canada’s Hlinka team in 2016

Youtube video from achilles stavrou of Lyle scoring in shootout with Owen Sound

 

Podcast: Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network breaks down B’s prospects

The Scouting Post is pleased to present a 2-hour and change discussion with Anthony Kwetkowski– Bruins Network on his excellent work as a Boston Bruins prospect analyst.

You can follow his work and observations on Twitter at: @BruinsNetwork

In the podcast, we cover a lot of topics, starting out with a look back at the 2010 NHL draft, where Anthony caught the B’s prospects bug with the Tyler Seguin draft. We then  take a macro look at the Boston Bruins’ ability to draft (Jake DeBrusk) and sign impact players as undrafted free agents (Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Karson Kuhlman), following up with an assessment of the 2019-20 AHL Providence Bruins. We then drill down to key AHL prospects, with AK breaking down detailed notes on Providence players  Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Zach Senyshyn.

We also talk about organizational rankings around the NHL- how they are done and why the Bruins are consistently down near the bottom of rankings from the last two years.

Players also covered/analyzed in the podcast: John Beecher, Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan, Cooper Zech, Victor Berglund and Quinn Olson.

It was a fun discussion and we’ll have him back again- thanks again to him for coming on and providing such depth of knowledge of these players. Here’s the file:

BruinsNetwork

Off the top of the head: Jack Ahcan

Continuing the Bruins prospect series where we do quick break downs on players based on what we know about them through viewings and have read recently- not a comprehensive deep-dive but just enough information to get the conversation started.

Jack Ahcan, LD

Undrafted; Signed 2-year ELC; March 2020

Current team: TBD (Providence Bruins AHL- expected)

Previous team: St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC)

Strengths: Outstanding skater; dynamic speed, small-area burst/first-steps, straight-line speed and superior edgework and agility. 4.5/5 out of 5 skater. Very good puck skills; can skate pucks out of danger on his own or hit any range of passes to kickstart the transition game into high gear. Good vision and hockey sense; can anticipate/read/react to help him defend or distribute pucks when he joins the rush or runs the PP. Activates at the right times. Good stick. Leader- was team captain as a senior and plays with pace and jam- a little engine that could type.

Weaknesses: Undersized; will have to be smart in how he plays the position/employs his stick- won’t be able to match up physically with most of the players he’ll find himself in 1-on-1 battles with. Shot is an area for improvement- release is quick/snaps off his stick and is accurate/low for net-front tips and deflections, but power/velocity is a work in progress.

Overall analysis: A coup for Boston- he probably should have been drafted at some point, so the Bruins did very well to sign him away from teams like Colorado. The Avalanche had an inside track due to his attendance of their development camp/previous relationship. Boston employed team effort approach, leveraging multiple connections in Minnesota (Player development director Jamie Langenbrunner) and their NCAA scouting staff (Scott Fitzgerald, Brett Harkins), a scout with junior coaching connections (Doug Leaverton) and players (Charlie McAvoy– WJC roommate and Tuukka Rask– same player agency) to land their target. Ahcan may not have size, but he brings all the attributes NHL teams desire in smaller players, regardless of position. He’s fast, skilled, smart and competitive- don’t be surprised if Ahcan is playing games in Boston at some point this season.

Projection: Smart signing that serves as a hedge as Torey Krug’s potential unrestricted free agency draws closer and the expansion draft looms a little further in the distance. The Bruins could lose a good, young D in the expansion draft, so bringing in a player like Ahcan helps to shore up the organizational depth to help guard against that. The inevitable comparisons to Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and other smallish D around the NHL is inevitable, but Ahcan’s all-around body of work (he was USHL defenseman of the year, was a member of the USA gold medal-winning 2017 World Jr. team, received numerous NCHC honors) and his skill set, along with work ethic and leadership intangibles, make him an impressive add given his status as a UDFA.

Watch for him to start out in Providence of the AHL, where he’ll get a chance to earn a significant slice of playing time and special teams play. As an NHL D, his ceiling could be as a solid 3/4 and PP contributor. He’ll have to overcome the stigma associated with being on the smaller side and being undrafted to boot- much like Krug has had to do (and let’s face it- some fans have never gotten on board with No. 47), but when you talk about the hackneyed word (at least in scouting parlance) upside, Ahcan has it.

Here’s a dated profile from his freshman season and also interviewed is then-SCSU (and USA WJC coach) Bob Motzko

 

Report: St. Cloud D Jack Ahcan signs with B’s

Per award-winning NCAA beat writer Brad Schlossman/Grand Forks Herald (and retweeted by Elliotte Friedman), St. Cloud State Huskies senior defenseman Jack Ahcan is signing with the Boston Bruins after a superb college career. The signing is for a reportedly two years.

Although small in stature, Ahcan (uh-SHAWN) plays a big game: he’s explosive and dynamic on his skates- able to play with a lot of pace and has real skill from the back end to move pucks, along with some jam for one who is around 5’8″. He’s highly capable on special teams and has a little bit of both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk to his game. His style also reminds of Los Angeles Kings rookie Mikey Anderson. If you’re going to be an undersized D in pro hockey, then you need the kind of attributes he possesses.

Don Sweeney and company are doing this less than a week after signing fellow undrafted NCHC standout  6-5 hard-nosed D Nick Wolff– some thunder to Ahcan’s lightning. Oh yeah- and like Wolff- he wore the ‘C’

Scott Fitzgerald, who handles a lot of the NCAA work for the B’s, and amateur scout Doug Leaverton, who was Ahcan’s assistant coach with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders in 2015-16, are likely key behind the scenes players to getting this done. He previously attended Columbus, L.A. Kings and Colorado development camps, so there was undoubtedly some interest around the NHL for him. (Edit- Big assist to Charlie McAvoy as well, per Mick Hatten in TheRinkLive.com. McAvoy and Ahcan were teammates/roommates on the USA WJC gold medal-winning squad in 2017- McAvoy apparently was key in selling the St. Cloud d-man on choosing Boston over Denver.)

We’ll break some film down on him and give a more detailed analysis in a bit, but for now, this is one more sign that the B’s aren’t resting on their laurels and with NHL expansion looming/another draft a year-plus from now, it makes sense to hedge the bets and infuse the organization with some flexibility to offset what is sure to be a good player heading to Seattle. (We talk about that on the upcoming 3 Amigos podcast)