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?

 

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.

 

Off the top of the head: Quinn Olson

Back with the B’s prospect series on this April Saturday- hope everyone is staying safe/healthy.

Quinn Olson, LW

5-11/175

Boston’s 2nd choice, 92nd overall (3rd round) in 2019 NHL Entry Draft

Current team: University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (NCHC)

Previous team: Okotoks Oilers (AJHL)

Strengths: Nifty-quick skater whose vision and top-end hockey IQ allow him to exploit time and space all over the ice. Excellent wheels and hands allow him to make plays offensively and be effective and disruptive on the forecheck. Terrific vision; sees the ice and can feather, rifle or sauce pucks to linemates for grade A scoring chances. Goes hard to the net and battles for loose pucks in the corners and along the walls- feisty. Plays with a lot of pace and energy- shows very good balance/edging with the ability to change direction instantly to shake away from defenders and maintain puck possession.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal height and strength- a work in progress who will need time to physically mature and grow his game experiences in a top NCAA program after making the jump to college from tier 2 hockey in Alberta. Has room to improve the mechanics of his shot/release going forward- more of a puck distributor/playmaker on the wing than a finisher.

Overall analysis: We thought the selection of Olson late in the 3rd round was a sneaky-good pick last June, and after watching him in one of college hockey’s best conferences, we’re even higher on him a year later. His numbers for a true freshman- 7-8-15 in 31 games- nearly .5 per game- are solid if not spectacular, but bode well for him going forward, as he will earn more ice and have an expanded role going forward. He’s a buzzsaw forward- comparable to Karson Kuhlman– in the style of hockey he plays. Because he is a product of the AJHL, Olson is far from a household name, but that league continues to become a better option for players on the NCAA path; his USHL rights were owned by Sioux City and there is absolutely no doubt that he could have spent his draft season playing in the USA’s top junior league, but Okotoks is a respected program and prepared him well for the next step.

Projection: High floor prospect…ceiling as yet TBD- he could emerge as more of an offensive threat in the NCHC. We see Olson as a solid middle-of-the-roster winger who has the ability to play up and down in the lineup and could develop into a lower-end, but serviceable 2nd-line NHL forward in time. We compared him to Kuhlman earlier, but Olson also has some Jake DeBrusk in his game, although he lacks the shot/goal-scoring skills is No. 74- he’s more of a passer who makes his linemates better. It will take some time to see Olson in a Bruins sweater- we expect him to play another two years at Duluth minimum, and then will likely need another 2 full years in the AHL (not ruling out some games in Boston on a recall basis), but the payoff for the wait should be worth it- he’s a nice fit for the Bruins and the style of hockey they play.

Quinn Olson (#11- white) opens the scoring in this AJHL highlight package from the playoffs against Brooks a year ago at about the 0:22 second mark; at 4:33 he feeds 2020 1st-round draft prospect Dylan Holloway on the PP for a goal.

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

Nick Wolff: Then & Now

The Boston Bruins got their guy, it appears.

University of Minnesota-Duluth senior captain and left-shot defenseman Nick Wolff signed a 1-year entry-level contract with the B’s this week after four seasons with the Bulldogs. The former Eagan High School standout who spent a couple of seasons in the USHL playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers before heading to the NCAA attended the previous two Bruins development camps and had turned down other opportunities a year ago to return to Brighton. Given his close friendship with college teammate Karson Kuhlman, it seemed fait accompli that Wolff would sign with Boston if they wanted him, and so this was expected.

Here’s the breakdown on what Wolff brings to the table and what fans might expect from him going forward.

Nick Wolff then:

July 2019 (TSP Development camp recap)- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

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Don Sweeney named NHL GM of Year

The 2019 NHL Awards Show happened tonight in Las Vegas and Don Sweeney captured the hardware as the league’s General Manager of the Year as voted on by his peers and a smaller/more select panel of media broadcasters.

Sweeney earned it with a steady, methodical build of the Bruins from an organization that was in disarray at the end of the 2015 season, to coming within one game of a Stanley Cup championship four years later.

To be sure, it hasn’t been perfect- you had the Zac Rinaldo misstep right out of the gate, followed by the well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless Jimmy Hayes trade that sent Reilly Smith to Florida. And of course- you still have people twitching online about the 2015 draft, when  the B’s could’ve had Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor. Or is it Thomas Chabot? Or Travis Konecny or Sebastian Aho or (insert the name of every player taken after the B’s sandwiched Jake DeBrusk between Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn who has had some NHL success to date) but we digress…

The successes, by and large, have been prolific.

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Game 7: Win or Die

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Well, here we are.

It’s Game 7 at TD Garden- last hockey game of the 2018-19 season for the honor of lifting the Stanley Cup overhead.

Boston Bruins are at home against the St. Louis Blues, who had the higher-seeded B’s on the ropes but couldn’t close the deal in Game 6. Now, it’s time to settle the matter of who will lay final claim to the title of world champions.

The B’s took a furious flurry of punches by the Blues in the early minutes of Game 6, with a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth crowd of St. Louis faithful hoping to see their team capture its first-ever Stanley Cup victory on home ice. Alas for them, Tuukka Rask and the more experienced Bruins had other plans.

Brad Marchand’s first period 5-on-3 goal drew first blood and the Bruins never really looked back after that, getting the winner from an unlikely source in defenseman Brandon Carlo, whose point shot skipped off the ice and past Jordan Binnington to make it 2-0 in an eventual 5-1 drubbing. Even rookie buzzsaw forward Karson Kuhlman got into the act, the undrafted free agent netting his first career playoff goal with a laser beam at the perfect time. It doesn’t hurt that Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff are pushing all the right buttons.

At the other end of the spectrum, it didn’t help that the St. Louis Post Dispatch accidentally pushed out some content meant for publication in the event that the Blues took care of business at home. That kind of an unforced error seems inconceivable in this day and age, and yet- it showed the decided lack of experience St. Louis has as opposed to Boston when it comes to the matter of winning championships. Whatever…those silly gaffes didn’t play a role in the big win the visiting team leveled on the Blues, but it does show how thirsty that team’s fans are for a Stanley Cup- something they haven’t enjoyed in the 52 years of the franchise’s existence.

So, now it ends. A new champion will be crowned tonight, and the momentum is with the Bruins.

Unlike Game 5, when the B’s had lost Game 4 to the Blues on the road, the home team is returning with the confidence of a big victory under the belt, and the experience factor may be just too much for the younger, upstart Blues to overcome. After all, Zdeno Chara is about to appear in his NHL-record 14th seventh game.

And the Bruins are no strangers to Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Final- they went the distance eight years ago in Vancouver.  Different team, different situation, but the core of Boston’s veteran team saw it and lived it- they’ll know precisely what they’re up against tonight.  Only…they’ll have the pure energy of their fanbase behind them as the B’s play in the first SCF Game 7 in franchise history. The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan will be watching from above, and he knows…nobody is gonna be a-knockin’ when that TD Garden gets a-rockin’.

The Bruins will be ready when the puck drops tonight and with an atmosphere reminiscent of the epic 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, the Black and Gold will have a full wind at their backs.

Last week, the Omaha Lancers of the USHL held the team’s main tryout camp at Ralston Arena in Nebraska, and a familiar face was on hand in our building to watch his son make the team. 2001-born forward Cam Recchi is a chip off the old block- looks like his dad and plays like him, too (which is great news for the Lancers). Cam was 10 years old when he watched as Mark lifted the Stanley Cup over his head one last time (as a player- he’s won 2 more since as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization) and skated off into the sunset with three rings.

As the time ticked down on Boston’s 2-1 Game 5 loss on the big screen televisions in the Ralston Arena’s Side Room lounge where Lancers players and their families gathered to watch a clash of titans, I stood next to Rex, one of the most beloved Bruins players in his three-season run to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career.

“You guys lost Game 5 in Vancouver- what was the feeling going back to Boston for Game 6?”, I asked.

“We knew we were going to win the Cup,” Recchi said without missing a beat. “Vancouver was at their breaking point. They were worn down- it took everything out of them to beat us in that game, and we could sense they had very little left and momentum was in our favor.”

Swing it did, and the 2011 Bruins decisively beat the Canucks in two straight to secure the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history, doing so on the road. The script didn’t quite play out the same way, but yet here we are- Game 7…winner take all.

“They’ve got this,” said Recchi as we walked away when the final horn sounded with the Blues up 3-2 in the series. “There are just too many experienced warriors in that room, and you can’t say enough about what that does for you.”

The Bruins are back home and in familiar territory, having beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their opening round series way back in April, which seems like a lifetime ago. The only thing is- they’ve had three more series of battles to hone their skills to a keen edge.

The Blues have done well to get this far- they are the heavy, nasty team we were all told they are. They’ve given the veteran club some serious punches, but as the old saying goes, If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better not miss.

The Blues took their best shot in Game 5 and had a chance to close it out in Game 6, but their trajectory went wide…and miss they did.

Tonight, the Blues are in the crosshairs.

Let the final game begin.