WILMINGTON — On June 30, Sean Kuraly was Sharks property. He was preparing to attend his fifth development camp with the club that drafted him in the fifth round in 2011.
His plane ticket to San Jose would not be necessary.
That day, as Kuraly walked into Miami University’s workout facility, the call came from San Jose that he’d been traded to Boston for Martin Jones. Then Kuraly entered coach Enrico Blasi’s office. It just so happened that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was calling Blasi to inform the Miami coach that Kuraly was no longer a Shark.
“I didn’t know what I was supposed to think,” Kuraly recalled of the news.
Kuraly was scheduled to leave that weekend for San Jose. He spent the rest of the morning swapping his western travel itinerary for one that would take him in the other direction.
“I’m excited for what’s new,” said the 22-year-old center, who will be Miami’s captain in 2015-16. “I really have no control over where I play, so I might as well make the best of it. I’m lucky in this particular instance that it was in Boston.”
Trades do not take place in isolation. Even the movement of a fifth-round pick such as Kuraly depends on other events that, at first, look disparate. So as Kuraly trained at Miami, unaware of what was taking place, things were happening to initiate the trade.
The first piece to move was Niklas Svedberg. Had the Bruins been confident in Svedberg as Tuukka Rask’s backup, they would have re-signed the Swedish goalie. Instead, Svedberg, knowing his time in Boston was up, signed with Salavat Yulaev of the KHL in May. The Bruins needed a new No. 2.
Around the same time, the Sharks were making a decision on Antti Niemi. Their former ace, who was approaching unrestricted free agency, was not in the team’s plans. On June 27, the Sharks traded Niemi’s rights to Dallas. The Sharks needed a new No. 1.
The Bruins believed they had acquired Svedberg’s replacement. For four days, Jones was Rask’s No. 2 after arriving from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic. Based on their information regarding Jones’s pre-trade negotiations with LA, the Bruins knew the goalie’s asking price would be high, especially in comparison to other backups. They also knew other teams, including San Jose, were chasing Jones as a No. 1.
When it became clear that Jones wanted to be a starter and would be best served as a trade asset, Sweeney and San Jose counterpart Doug Wilson looked for a match.
The foundation of the Jones trade with San Jose was based on Buffalo’s June 26 acquisition of Robin Lehner from Ottawa. Like Jones, Lehner was a No. 2 with starting potential. The Sabres traded one of their 2015 first-rounders in the package, which Ottawa used to draft Hanover’s Colin White.
But the Sabres also had to take David Legwand and his $3 million annual cap hit. So based on Lehner’s market, the Bruins asked for a prospect along with San Jose’s 2016 first-rounder. Sweeney had an excellent resource on his side to help determine the prospect’s identity.
John Ferguson is the Bruins’ executive director of player personnel. From 2008-14, Ferguson was San Jose’s director of pro scouting.
Ferguson knew Kuraly from San Jose’s development camps. He tracked Kuraly’s progress at Miami. In December of 2012, before the 2013 World Junior Championship, Ferguson watched Kuraly in pre-tournament practices in Tarrytown, N.Y. It was then, because of Kuraly’s skating and size as a center, that Ferguson was confident he would become an NHL player.
The Bruins were already familiar with Kuraly. Current prospect Austin Czarnik, as well as former Bruins Reilly Smith and Carter Camper, played at Miami. The Bruins’ viewings confirmed that the 6-foot-2-inch, 209-pound, left-shot Kuraly played a powerful, smart, two-way game — qualities concurrent with the organizational identity.
But as Sweeney and Wilson discussed the framework of a Jones trade, Ferguson’s history as an ex-Shark played an important role in determining that Kuraly would become the trade’s second component.
Several times every year in San Jose, Wilson and his hockey operations colleagues met to forecast their ghost rosters as far as four years ahead. In 2013, Kuraly had completed one season of college hockey (6-6—12 in 40 games). His freshman year at Miami was just one component in the organization’s projection, but it was enough of a sample to help the San Jose staff conclude that Kuraly would be a future NHLer.
“You put players in different slots — 20 percent that he’ll be a top-two-line forward, or maybe it’s 80 percent he’ll be a top-four,” Ferguson said. “You get different names that go in different slots with different percentages. We were real strong that he was going to fit into at least a bottom-six role within 2-3 years as of two years ago. So for me, I can take some of that background and knowledge and share it.”
The Bruins and Sharks talked about several prospects. They decided on Kuraly. As a junior, Kuraly scored 19 goals and had 10 assists in 40 games. He played an NHL style that was a good fit for the Bruins.
“Physically, he’s a pro right now,” Ferguson said.
The Sharks were thrilled to land Jones. They signed the short-term Bruin to a three-year, $9 million contract. Jones will be a good No. 1 goalie.
The Bruins were equally happy to land Kuraly as well as San Jose’s first-rounder. Once he completes his senior season at Miami, Kuraly might not need much AHL prep time before he joins the varsity, either as a center or left wing.
“I’ve been really impressed,” said development coach Jay Pandolfo. “He’s big and strong. He’s better with the puck than I thought he was. He seems like a Bruins-type player. He’s strong. He’s hard on pucks. He’s mature already. Physically, he’s developed. I think he’s definitely going to push for a job next year.”
Both teams improved. That’s the idea behind trades.