Heading into camp, the Bruins were hoping one of Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, or Jack Studnicka would step up and earn the third line center spot. The offseason departure of Riley Nash left the Bruins with a decently sized hole to fill, but they were confident in their young talent.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and it’s fair to say the Bruins’ idea of a young player earning the position faded away throughout the preseason. Studnicka was returned to his junior team following the team’s trip to China. JFK was assigned to Providence after a quiet camp. Frederic was sent down yesterday.
This leaves the Bruins with some options. Do they push David Backes into the center spot, a position they have been reluctant to use him in since signing him two seasons ago? Or do they elevate Sean Kuraly to the third line after a steady rookie campaign? Right now, it seems the Bruins are going with the latter.
In 75 games last season, Kuraly put up six goals and 14 points, averaged 12:15 per game, and won 46% of the faceoffs he took. Are the numbers incredible? No. But are they solid? Yeah, I’d say so.
Now, is Kuraly the best long-term option for the third line center spot? Maybe not.
At 25, some may think that what we have seen from Kuraly is all we are going to see. He’s a solid penalty killer (he averaged 1:10 of shorthanded time on ice per game last season), a fast skater, and has potential to show up on the score sheet from time to time. He may not have the skill set to handle third line responsibilities, but we don’t know for sure yet.
At the very least, Kuraly deserves a shot at securing the third line center position. The young centers may not have performed, but that shouldn’t diminish Kuraly’s performance in camp. He outplayed everyone competing for the job, plain and simple.
In all likelihood, Kuraly’s numbers will improve if he gets an extended look as the third line center. He’ll play more minutes, creating more opportunities to produce offensively, and his 1:10 of shorthanded time on ice per game from last season will probably go up.
Furthermore, the wingers on the third line will give Kuraly more chances to find the back of the net. Last season, he formed the best fourth line in the NHL with Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari. But Schaller, who’s now in Vancouver, and Acciari are not the most offensively skilled guys. If Kuraly plays with, say, Anders Bjork on his left and Backes on his right, there should be more opportunities for him to play on offense. Offensively speaking, Backes might not have much left in the tank, but he and Kuraly have shown some unique chemistry in the past.
Whether the Bruins decide to call up either Frederic or Forsbacka Karlsson during the season is unknown right now. It’s likely they both find their way back up 95 at some point. But for now, Kuraly is the third line center, and he’s earned his shot.