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The Battle to Center the Third Line is Over

A victor emerges

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins entered training camp with one major question. Who will be the third line center? The Bruins had three young prospects in Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, and Jakob Forsbecka Karlsson who would all get a fair shot at the role. On Friday afternoon, only one remained out of that group. Trent Frederic got the opportunity to center Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak Saturday night.

While the focus may have been on the Bruins 2016 first round draft selection, Sean Kuraly quietly impressed with the likes of Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, and Danton Heinen on his side. Kuraly took 2 shots on goal, both within 15 feet of the goal, while also drawing 2 penalties for the Bruins. Kuraly was explosive in just 11:24 of 5v5 play.

Kuraly is entering his second full season with the Boston Bruins. Previously used in a depth role, primarily skating alongside Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari, the Bruins relied on Kuraly to use his speed on the forecheck to cause havoc for the opposing team as they try to break out of the zone. Kuraly doesn’t seem to find the change from fourth to third line to change much.

When asked about how a change in role might affect his mindset, Kuraly said, “I think for me, it’s sticking to what I’m good at. Using me speed and trying to create as much as I can using those skills.” He thinks that playing with more skilled players like Bjork, Donato, Heinen, or whoever ends up on the third line will just help the puck end up in the net a little bit more.

Kuraly’s 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage was a mere 4.88% last season. Only Noel Acciari had worse shooting luck. If Kuraly saw a league average on-ice shooting percentage last season at 5v5, he would have been on the ice for 32 5v5 goals as opposed to 20. This certainly would have helped his point totals as he only produced 12 points at 5v5 in 75 games.

The Ohio native signed a three-year extension with the Bruins this offseason. One of his goals surely was to see an increased role. It looks like he will center the third line. It it all works out, this may be the best contract in hockey as Kuraly only carries a cap hit of $1.28 million over the next three seasons.