The Bruins re-upped a member of their supporting cast Tuesday, signing restricted free agent right winger Karson Kuhlman to a two-year contract.
The deal carries a $725,000 cap hit and offers the team some flexibility. It is a two-way contract for 2020-21, when Kuhlman will be one of several contenders for bottom-nine winger jobs. It becomes a one-way deal in 2021-22, when Kuhlman will either have a gig here or not.
With David Pastrnak expected to return in mid-February, a January restart would likely put Kuhlman in the mix for minutes on the third line, assuming fellow right wingers Ondrej Kase and Craig Smith play in the top six. The Bruins could use Jack Studnicka, a future center training on the wing, and Chris Wagner on the third and fourth lines.
Once Pastrnak returns, Kuhlman could be squeezed out. He is comfortable in a depth role.
“We’re deep,” Kuhlman acknowledged on a Zoom call Tuesday. “My expectations of myself are to be there and to continue to get better and to help the team out as much as possible.”
Wherever he plays, Boston or Providence, Kuhlman aims to round out his offensive game. The 25-year-old, who signed out of Minnesota-Duluth in April 2018, has decent attributes for a bottom-six NHL forward. He’s a competitive, puck-hunting winger with above-average speed. He has beaten a few goalies from the circles, placing his snap shot through traffic, but knows he must improve in closer to add more goals to his ledger.
“Hardest thing to do in hockey is put the puck in the net,” he said. “And coming in, I’ve just been trying to watch the guys that do it consistently, 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.”
Opportunity was in short supply last season. A year ago Monday in Toronto, a friendly-fire shot from Jake DeBrusk fractured Kuhlman’s right tibia. He missed 32 games, and returned after an AHL stint. His final numbers — 1-5—6 in 25 games, scoreless in five playoff games — did not build on the promise he showed in the 2019 playoffs.
As a rookie, the 5-foot-11-inch, 185-pound winger ripped a wrister past St. Louis’s Jordan Binnington in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, his first (and only) playoff goal.
His summer training has focused on shooting from dirty areas, not long distance.
“For me, it’s a lot of net-front stuff,” he said. “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. 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.”