By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins forward Karson Kuhlman has been in action for just 36 NHL games over the last two seasons. 49 if you include his 13 postseason games, including a pair of Cup Final games, over that stretch.
But the 25-year-old forward, speaking on Tuesday with a new two-year deal with the Bruins to his name, has already been around long enough to know the toughest part of the gig.
“Hardest thing to do in hockey is put the puck in the net,” Kuhlman, who will make $725,000 per year at the NHL level on this new contract, admitted.
To Kuhlman’s point, the Minnesota-born wing scored just one goal in 25 regular-season contests and added a donut stat-line during his five-game postseason run. In total, Kuhlman’s NHL resume includes four goals on 60 shots over 36 games. (That 6.7 shooting percentage is the 38th-worst among a group of 429 NHL forwards with at least 60 shots over the last two seasons.)
Kuhlman’s struggles clearly haven’t been for a lack of trying.
While these numbers are operating on an obviously limited sample size (415 minutes of five-on-five play), Kuhlman ranks eighth in points per 60 minutes (1.44), fifth in shots per 60 minutes (8.23), and sixth in individual expected goals per 60 (0.64) among B’s skaters since 2018. Kuhlman also ranks eighth in individual scoring chances per 60 (6.35), and is fourth in individual high-danger scoring chances per 60 (3.75), with only Jake DeBrusk, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak generating such quality looks on a more consistent basis.
The Bruins have done their part to boost Kuhlman’s numbers in this realm; Kuhlman’s been fed a steady diet of offensive-zone faceoffs at a considerably high rate (typically with David Krejci), and the looks and opportunities have been there at a top-six level. He’s just connected at a rate near the bottom of the entire league.
The truth of Kuhlman’s future production is somewhere in the middle of these quiet totals and eye-popping analytics.
But with five-time 20-goal scorer Craig Smith in the fold as Boston’s middle-six upgrade on the right, Kuhlman’s going to need to convert if he’s going to get more opportunities with the Bruins.
And it’s been the focus of Kuhlman’s offseason work.
“Coming in, I’ve just been trying to watch the guys that [score] consistently,” said Kuhlman. “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. 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.”
There’s no way Kuhlman is going to wake up a Pastrnak-esque bomb. But when you look at the way No. 83 has generated looks, and from between the circles and around the net, it’s not hard to see how an improvement could make him an NHL regular.
“For me, it’s a lot of net front stuff,” Kuhlman acknowledged. “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. 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.”
The 2020 bubble came with a bitter example of those issues, as the 5-foot-11 Kuhlman failed to elevate the puck on what would’ve been a definite goal on the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy. Instead, Kuhlman shot it into Tampa’s netminder, and the Bruins were eliminated from postseason play later that evening,
“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,” said Kuhlman.