By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When you’re committed to drafting and developing talent in order to sustain a high level of competitiveness with your opponents and within your organization the way the Bruins are, you can never have enough leaders at the AHL level.
That’s a big reason why forward Karson Kuhlman earned a two-year contract with the Bruins as an undrafted free agent in April. At least as far back as his freshman year at Minnesota-Duluth, Kuhlman has excelled as a leader.
“Yeah, I mean it started with his work ethic, really,” said Adam Krause, who was the Bulldogs’ captain in Kuhlman’s freshman season and is now an assistant coach at UMD. “Even as a freshman you could tell. I think he was mature beyond his years a little bit. He was a guy that I never had to worry about. And he was very detail-oriented, very focused, and I think he still is. Right when I got to know him a little bit, I said this kid will be a one-year captain if not a two-year captain.
When Kuhlman got to Bruins development camp last month, he was coming off a banner year. The year started with him participating in the Bruins’ 2017 development camp as an invitee and then continued with him leading UMD to the NCAA championship. He had 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 44 games as a senior.
Not long after the season, Kuhlman signed with the Bruins and joined Providence. He had one assist in two regular-season games and then had an assist in one playoff game.
“Kind of stepped in there and learned a thing or two. So that was a great opportunity there,” Kuhlman said.
As a signed player this summer, Kuhlman was able to better let his leadership skill flourish at his second Bruins development camp. That figures to continue if he’s playing at Providence this season (or his leadership could even help a Boston lineup that seems to get younger every season). Kuhlman, who’ll turn 23 on Sept. 26, may not have any years on some of Boston’s top prospects and lacks pro experience at this stage, but his voice should be a complement to the likes of Jordan Szwarz and Colby Cave.
“I think that’s just kind of part of who I am. I don’t really think about it too much,” Kuhlman said. “Obviously there’s some expectations in our organization, some very skilled young kids, and hopefully I can learn things from them and they can learn things from me. It’s a two-way street, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Bruins didn’t sign the 5-foot-11, 185-pound right-handed shot just to be a leader. They liked his game as well. Jamie Langenbrunner, a boyhood idol of Kuhlman’s and the Bruins’ player development coordinator, watched Kuhlman closely for a while and could see the makings of a strong pro player.
“He’s a kid that plays a pro-style game in the way he positions himself, uses his body, gets pucks out on walls,” Langenbrunner explained.
Krause has the same impression of Kuhlman’s game and believes it could translate better to the pros than it did in college.
“I think the guys who do well in the pros are very into the details of the game and I think that’s probably his best attribute. Positionally if you watch him play, he’s so smart, I guess without the puck too, he never puts himself in a bad position … he sort of stays within himself, he knows what kind of player he is and it goes back to the maturity thing. It’s almost like he’s played pro before,” Krause said.
As far as influences on his leadership style go, Kuhlman credited Krause and another former UMD captain Andy Welinski, an Anaheim prospect, for showing him different ways to approach the role of captain. Krause recalled several text exchanges this past season when Kuhlman sought advice, which obviously paid off with the Bulldogs achieving their ultimate goal.
Krause said that Kuhlman crediting him for making an impact is “one of the highest compliments” he’s ever received because of the respect he has for Kuhlman. In the years ahead there could be several Bruins prospects giving credit to Kuhlman for being their mentor during a crucial time in their development, whether he’s leading in the AHL or the NHL.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.