The Boston Bruins announced the signing of University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs forward Karson Kuhlman on Tuesday. The Esko, Minnesota native captained his team, leading them to the organization’s first national championship since 2011. He was also named the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Kuhlman joined the Bruins last summer for their annual development camp, and after his clutch performance during the Frozen Four, it’s no wonder that the team decided to capitalize on the 22-year-old’s untapped potential. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward registered 13 goals and seven assists in 44 games this season, maintaining an average of 20 points-per-season throughout his collegiate career.
Kuhlman a Low-Risk Signing
The beauty of this signing is how much potential it holds for such a low price. Kuhlman signed a two-year contract worth $750,000 annually. If he doesn’t pan out for the Bruins then he is tradeable with such an affordable deal, or he could stick out the contract with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, causing virtually no harm to the salary cap.
And Kuhlman is worth the bargain. The forward is a proven leader on and off the ice – he leads his team by example whilst remaining calm and concise with the media. But his style of play is what sets him apart.
What Kuhlman lacks in size he makes up for in speed, giving him the ability to circle wide around defensemen when he has the puck. That speed also kicks in away from the puck, often leaving him open for a teammate to dish him the biscuit for a great scoring opportunity on which the Bulldog is often able to capitalize on. In fact, he notched 39 goals in his 166 NCAA appearances in the past four years.
But Kuhlman can pass as much as he can shoot. His 41 assists during his collegiate career speak for themselves, while he always seems to know where his teammates are on the ice.
He also uses his speed to jump in on the forecheck, something he displayed quite clearly in the 2018 Frozen Four. And, if that’s not enough, he also applies that to the backcheck. Kuhlman is, in essence, a solid two-way forward.
The forward also proved himself capable during his time in the United States Hockey League (USHL). Playing with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the center picked up 25 goals and 19 assists in 54 games during the 2013-14 season. His USHL Playoff totals consist of five goals and four assists in 18 appearances.
Kuhlman Can Bolster the Bruins
When it comes to Boston, the Minnesota-Duluth senior will likely find himself in a bottom-six role. There are striking similarities between his style of play and that of Sean Kuraly.
But don’t expect Kuhlman to fly out of the gate with 20 goals. In fact, he will most likely start out his professional career in the AHL. He may, however, be someone general manager Don Sweeney wants to see get some time in the big leagues, so he could very well receive a call-up in lieu of an injury next season.
The Bulldog’s plus-minus rating of plus-40 over the course of the past four seasons indicates how impactful he has been in serving on both Minnesota-Duluth’s power play and penalty kill during his NCAA career. In fact, Kuhlman has scored nine power-play goals and four short-handed goals during his collegiate career, registering two of each this past season.
The Minnesota-Duluth captain also does something that often gets overlooked – he stays out of the box. The forward only racked up 18 penalty minutes during the 2017-18 campaign and hasn’t seen the inside of the sin bin since Feb. 16 against the Miami University Redhawks.
Here you can see Kuhlman display poise as he assists a breakaway goal during the 2018 Frozen Four National Semifinals against Ohio State University.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 5, 2018
The centerman receives a botched pass from the OSU defenseman and is able to quickly transition into attack mode, sending a beam to his teammate, Jared Thomas, who was able to capitalize on the opportunity. The pass was perfectly placed – just out of the reach of the defenseman but in a spot where Thomas could skate into it without breaking his stride.
Here Kuhlman was able to register a goal of his own against the University of Notre Dame during the 2018 Frozen Four National Championship Game.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 7, 2018
The forward started this highlight off by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone – a skill of great value in the game of ice hockey. Next, he skated into the zone, faked a slap shot and zipped a wrister by Cale Morris who was dubbed the best goaltender in the nation last season with the Mike Richter Award. Morris is fooled by the pump fake, charging out of his crease to cut off the angle. He is then forced to resort to the butterfly on the real shot which is when Kuhlman sails a dart into the top-right corner of the net.
Clearly, Boston had a reason to land the national champion with a two-year deal. With all of this as evidence, the signing of Kuhlman is most certainly a positive way for the Bruins to end the regular season.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.