Don’t forget about…Karson Kuhlman

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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.

 

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

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

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)

 

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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Jeremy Swayman: Then & Now

The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year  and one-year entry-level contracts.

Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.

So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.

Jeremy Swayman then:

July 2019- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

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B’s 2019 Development Camp in full swing

None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.

Here’s a quick recap:

Drafted division

Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.

John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.

Pavel  Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.

Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.

Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).

Undrafted division

Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:

Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.

Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.

Nick Wolff, D- 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.

Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.