Some questioned the trade that sent Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks and brought Sean Kuraly and a first round pick to the Boston Bruins on July 1, 2015. The 25-year-old came up through the USHL and the collegiate route—four years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio—before ultimately signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on March 29, 2016.
Spending much of the 2016-17 season with the Providence Bruins, Kuraly played just eight regular season games and four playoff games in the first season of his contract with the NHL club. During that time, when he did play in Boston, he made some clutch goals. His first two NHL career goals were scored during the 2017 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators, most notably his double-overtime goal that saw the Bruins beat the Senators 3-2 in the fifth game.
Kuraly scored his first regular season goal in November 2017, when the Vegas Golden Knights—the 2017 expansion team—came to visit Boston. He would go on to play 75 regular season games in the 2017-18 season amassing six goals and eight assists for 14 points. During their playoff run, in his 12 games he would score two goals and notch two assists for four points.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, he was re-signed July 3, 2018, on a one-way contract that carries him through the 2020-21 season at which point he will be an unrestricted free agent. During the preseason, he ended up sidelined with an injury that prevented management from seeing how well he would slot into the third-line center position. However, after his work during the Bruins game on Thursday, October 11, 2018, against the Edmonton Oilers, he may have shown that he is strongest in that fourth line center position.
The Bruins have always been a dangerous team when they can roll four solid lines. With the insertion of David Backes as third line center, on the line with youngsters Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, that line has begun to look like it could gel. Meanwhile, Kuraly was on the fourth line flanked by Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari.
While perhaps nothing will ever replace the fabled “Merlot Line” of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, and Daniel Paille, who helped Boston to their 2011 Stanley Cup, the Wagner-Kuraly-Acciari line is certainly looking to make their mark. Wagner made sure that anyone wearing an Oilers jersey got hit in the course of the game, while also putting three shots on net. Kuraly had the most time on ice of the three of them—12:56, and he used it wisely. He had six shots on net, two takeaways and was an impressive 67% in the faceoff.
“There were parts that I liked and some parts that I think my line did well and I think there’s definitely things we want to build on. We want to possess the puck in the o-zone. I think we’re getting there. I think we did a lot of things well and definitely some things we still want to improve on,” Kuraly shared after the game.
Most players will point to the things that they need to improve on, and that shows the continued desire to grow as a player, but also that they are not falling into a sense of complacency. The line had nine shots on the Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, but Talbot was able to keep them all out of his net. However, it was clear that the three line mates looked like they could continue to build from Thursday night’s game.
Kuraly is fast, deceptively so. And having such a player on that fourth line offers an advantage that other teams may not have in their bottom six. If all three of them can begin to understand where the others are and how best to cycle the puck and get it into the offensive zone quickly, they could certainly cause some damage on the score sheet, supplementing the Bergeron line, which presently has amassed ten goals, 12 assists for 22 points of the total 14 goals, 22 assists and 36 points the team has for the season. During Thursday’s game, each member of the Bergeron line got a goal and Bergeron also got an assist.
One other thing that makes Kuraly a great asset on the ice is his willingness to hit his opponents and not back down. He will finish his checks, as he did on Edmonton’s Matt Benning who ended up through the glass, while the fans in the front row seats held up the pane.
“I don’t think I broke the glass. I didn’t even know that it happened to be honest, but I guess it was pretty cool,” Kuraly said. “I knew I wanted to give him a good lick but at the same time you want to be a little bit respectful and he knows I’m coming, but at the same time, you don’t want to put him in too vulnerable a position. And he was safe with how he protected himself and I kind of read it and knew that it’s my job to get in on the forecheck and finish defensemen, not just for that play but for the rest of the game.”
Kuraly is definitely a player to watch. He has speed. He has strength. And he is showing some great hockey IQ when he is out on the ice.