By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For the second year in a row, the energetic Sean Kuraly found himself bumped up to the third line by the postseason’s end.
And it was yet another change of pace from the demolition crew fourth line the 25-year-old centered — with Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller on the wings — for much of the regular season, with six goals and 14 points in 75 games in the regular season.
But it’s a spot that Kuraly, fresh off signing a three-year deal worth $3.825 million, would like to cement for himself this fall.
“I’m going to give it my best shot,” Kuraly said. “I’m preparing like I do every single year to play my best hockey, and I look at it like, that’s the first thing that has to happen. So, I’m going to try to play my best hockey and bring as much as I can to the team, and where I’m put in the lineup or where they put me is going to be based off how I play, and how I play is up to me.”
Fortunately for Kuraly, there’s an opening on that line, too.
Third-line spinal cord Riley Nash departed the Bruins for a three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets late on July 1, and potential in-house candidate David Backes, whose season ended with another concussion, is somebody Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy obviously views as more of a winger at this point in his career. Now, a full-time promotion to this spot in the lineup will take a definite step-up from Kuraly in terms of his preparation and conditioning. Especially as somebody that had just six games of 15 minutes or more of time on ice in the regular season. (For comparison’s sake, the versatile and steady Nash logged at least 15 minutes of time on ice in 44 of his 76 regular-season games with the Black and Gold last season.)
This is something that Kuraly by all means noted when asked about his first full season in the NHL.
“I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it,” Kuraly, a fifth-round pick of the Sharks back in 2011, admitted. “It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there’s nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.”
But Kuraly should develop confidence in knowing that the winner of that job is likely come from within the organization.
“It’s likely internal at this point, yes, and we have some very strong candidates,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney confirmed when asked about the club’s vacant third-line center spot in their lineup. “We have some young players that certainly want that slot, and we have a couple of guys internally that I think can move up and play that slot.”
“It’s always competition,” Kuraly acknowledged. “It’s always next man up.”
And the Bruins have plenty of those, according to Sweeney.
“At times when Anaheim was really injured at the first part of the year, Chris Wagner played in third-line roles, more of a shutdown situation, which we’ve used our players as,” Sweeney offered of potential fill-ins. “Sean Kuraly is certainly a player that wants to have a bigger role, and then you have the three younger players that we feel, and we also have a couple of other guys that we’ve added to the group that we’re going to go to work with and see where they fit in.”
It’s essentially Kuraly, Wagner, and then the Bruins’ three-headed youthful pivot group of Trent Frederic, Jakob Forbacka Karlsson, and Jack Studnicka. You could maybe also throw names like Acciari and Ryan Donato (who had a cup of coffee at center late last season) into the mix if Cassidy opts to get real creative with this loaded training camp in September.
This isn’t something that’ll blindside the controlled-yet-reckless skating forward out of Ohio.
“There’s always a guy right behind you dying to be where you are, so that’s what I’m learning is the norm here, and that’s what you have to be ready for,” Kuraly said. “You have to train for it in the summer; you’ve got to put yourself in the best possible situation you can, because if you don’t, there will be somebody else that does.
“I just want to do the best I can, and whatever position they put me in, I’ll try and make the best of it and do the absolute best I can. My goal is to help the team as much I can. If that means playing third line, then that’s what that means, and if it means playing fourth line, then that’s where I’ll be. Really, that’s what my outlook is.”
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.