Boston Bruins: What is Karson Kuhlman’s ceiling?

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17: Karson Kuhlman #83 of the Boston Bruins skates against Braydon Coburn #55 of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the TD Garden on October 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17: Karson Kuhlman #83 of the Boston Bruins skates against Braydon Coburn #55 of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the TD Garden on October 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Karson Kuhlman looks like a decent young player, but he’s yet to find the back of the net this year. What’s his ceiling for the Boston Bruins?

Karson Kuhlman was a pleasant surprise for the Boston Bruins last season. This season, however, has been a bit of a mixed bag.

Karson Kuhlman originally went undrafted, be he caught the attention of some NHL scouts after four years at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He won a national championship at Duluth, and then he signed with the Bruins as a free agent in April of 2018.

He played in Providence for two games that year, but then he became a regular in the Providence lineup during the 2018-2019 season. His play last season earned him a callup to Boston after David Pastrnak went out with an injury.

Kuhlman went up and down between Boston and Providence, and he ultimately finished with 11 NHL games. He managed to record two goals and three assists in those games, a nice start for an undrafted free agent who had yet to play a full professional season.

Karson Kuhlman backed up his solid play with a decent showing in the playoffs. In eight playoff games, Kuhlman had one goal and two assists. That one goal occured in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given his strong play, expectations for the 2019-2020 season were relatively high for Kuhlman.

The Boston Bruins did not add a right winger to replace Marcus Johansson during the offseason, so there was a chance for Kuhlman to earn a regular roster spot with a strong training camp. He did just that, so Kuhlman found himself in the opening night lineup.

So far, Karson Kuhlman played in all eight games for the Boston Bruins this season. He’s featured primarily on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.

Although Kuhlman did get the first crack at the second-line right wing spot, it remains to be seen if he’s fit for that role. He’s generated some chances out there, but Kuhlman has yet to record a point. He did have a goal called back in the game against Colorado, but that’s it.

It’s pretty clear that Kuhlman isn’t quite ready for a top-six role at this point. He’s really only there because the Bruins don’t have any other options. But, will he ever be ready for that kind of role?

Kuhlman is a solid player who has great speed. In fact, there are times when he appears to be the fastest player on the ice. He also has a great shot, something we saw in the playoffs last year.

What’s most noteworthy is Kuhlman’s positioning and decision-making. Although he’s a young player, Kuhlman rarely turns the puck over or finds himself in the wrong spot.

That said, Karson Kuhlman doesn’t look like he has a lot of offensive upside. He can skate and shoot, but certainly not at an elite level. And, Kuhlman lacks the size to be a true mismatch out there for defenders.

Plus, Kuhlman can’t create offense on his own. He needs talented linemates like Krejci to provide support.

Based on his play over the past two seasons, Kuhlman probably isn’t a long-term option in the top-six for the Boston Bruins. Instead, his ceiling is a third-line right winger who has the versatility to play up if necessary.

This doesn’t mean that Kuhlman isn’t a valuable piece for the Bruins. He’s definitely valuable for the Bruins, as long as he plays in the appropriate role.

Ideally, the Boston Bruins will find some more offense on that Krejci line. Maybe they break up the first line, call up Anders Bjork, or find a trade. Then, Kuhlman can slide into a third-line role with Charlie Coyle as his center.

In this role, Kuhlman can be an important piece for the Bruins. He can take advantage of mismatches against opposing third lines and potentially provide some offense. More importantly, he’ll provide depth in case there’s an injury in the top-six.

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His stats don’t show it, but Kuhlman is a solid young player who’s valuable to his coach and teammates. Once he finds a more suitable role, looks for his play and his production to increase.