Where will Karson Kuhlman fit in?
As it was for many, the 2019-20 season was one to forget for forward Karson Kuhlman. Things started poorly for the depth forward in October when he suffered a broken tibia after going pointless in his first eight games.
Rehabbing from his injury and with inconsistency following him on the ice, Kuhlman bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL in January. Getting more playing time in February, Kuhlman failed to do much with the opportunity given to him, finishing February with one goal and two assists in 13 games.
Kuhlman then failed to appear in any of the Bruins four March games before appearing in five playoff games in the bubble, going pointless in those five.
With a rough 2019-20 campaign behind him, Kuhlman is turning his focus onto improving his game in 2020-21 and being able to bring more consistency to the Bruins lineup.
But with David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase, newly signed Craig Smith and Chris Wagner all ahead of him on the depth chart, where does Kuhlman fit in?
“My expectations from myself are to go into camp kind of like I did last year. Go in there and play my game and be able to help the team right off the bat,” Kuhlman said last month after signing a two-year extension with the Bruins.
“Now obviously it’s a great roster, like you said, we’re deep. Yeah, my expectations of myself are to be there and to continue to get better and to help the team out as much as possible.”
With David Pastrnak expected to miss some time after offseason right hip arthroscopy surgery, the door is open for Kuhlman to make the roster out of camp as he did last season.
This time around he just hopes for a better start than the one he had last season.
“Yeah, obviously that was a tough start, getting hurt right off the bat like that. Kind of the first time in my career that I’d missed substantial time,” Kuhlman said.
While Kuhlman expects to battle for a spot in training camp, it’s interesting to find that in year one of his two-year contract, Kuhlman’s deal is a two-way one, moving to a one-way contract in year two.
Kuhlman entered camp a year ago with confidence after a brief, but solid rookie season in 2018-19. In 11 regular season games Kuhlman finished with three goals and two assists. He continued his first year of NHL experience with three points in eight playoff games.
For Kuhlman, it’s going back to what worked for him in that season and improving things such as getting to the net to create more opportunities.
“For me, it’s a lot of net front stuff. I think that is kind of part of my game is getting around the net. Whether it’s tipping a bunch of pucks in practice or, this summer we’ve been doing a lot of getting rebounds, gathering them and getting them upstairs,” he said.
“I think a few times in playoffs there even, I had a rush or had a break and was unable to elevate it and that is the difference between scoring a goal and not. I think it’s a lot of little things that add up to a few more goals a year and that’s how I can contribute.”
If Pastrnak is indeed unable to go whenever the 2020-21 season begins, Kuhlman should be the favorite to make the roster as the fourth right winger.
Where things go from there are up to him. Does he play well enough to force head coach Bruce Cassidy to keep him in the lineup once Pastrnak returns? Or will Kuhlman be back down in the AHL, logging key minutes for Providence by that time?
Only time will tell.
For now, as Kuhlman and the rest of the hockey world awaits word on the start of upcoming season, Kuhlman can only continue to work on growing his game.
“Hardest thing to do in hockey is put the puck in the net. And coming in, I’ve just been trying to watch the guys that do it consistently. What they do and how they go about their business and how pucks kind of find them in scoring areas and how they capitalize on it,” he said.
“Obviously, taking all that and kind of adding to my own game and putting a lot of time in, that’s kind of one of things I’ve been focusing on this summer is being better around the net and finishing opportunities when they’re there.”