BOSTON - During his tenure as general manager of the Boston Bruins, Don Sweeney has been consistent in preaching one overarching message to his throng of young talent.
Despite a tested veteran core and championship expectations, Sweeney has always made sure that the organization's future knows that opportunity exists - as long as it's earned.
Sean Kuraly knows this edict well. He took hold of the fourth-line center role last season during a strong rookie campaign, anchoring a dependable, energetic trio that also included Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari.
But with Schaller (Vancouver) and Riley Nash (Columbus) leaving town via free agency on Sunday, there are some holes in the Bruins' bottom six. With Nash's exit leaving open the middle of Boston's third line, Sweeney indicated that it's likely he fills that spot internally, while mentioning Kuraly as a player that could seize a larger role.
The 25-year-old recognizes it will be up to him to earn that promotion.
"I'm going to give it my best shot," Kuraly said on Tuesday after signing a new three-year contract with the Bruins worth an average annual value of $1.275 million.
"I'm preparing like I do every single year to play my best hockey, and I look at it like that's the first thing that has to happen. I'm going to try to play my best hockey and bring as much as I can to the team, and where I'm put in the lineup or where they put me is going to be based off how I play, and how I play is up to me.
"My goal is to help the team as much I can, obviously, like any other player. If that means playing third line, then that's what that means, and if it means playing fourth line, then that's where I'll be. Really, that's what my outlook is."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Kuraly smacks puck in out of midair
Kuraly will be looking to build off a successful 2017-18 season, during which he became a staple in the Bruins lineup. The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder collected six goals and eight assists in 75 games, while proving to be a valuable checking centerman and penalty killer. He added two goals and two assists in 12 postseason games.
"I don't think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it's going to be like or how to prepare for it," Kuraly said of what he learned during his first full NHL season. "It's something you really have to go through, and it's long, and it's a marathon, and it's nights where you're not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night.
"There's nights that it's tough, and I think that's something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season, is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there's going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded."
The Ohio native credited his strong working relationship with coach Bruce Cassidy as a major reason for his ability to adapt to the rigors of being an every-day NHLer.
"I think it's been, for both sides, a good fit," said Kuraly. "What I naturally bring to the table is kind of the direction they're going, and I've been encouraged from Day 1 to play to my strengths."
Kuraly was part of a stellar pack of rookies that thrived under Cassidy last season. He hopes it's a group - which also includes Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Danton Heinen, and Charlie McAvoy - that sticks together and continues to grow.
"To have three years with this group is something that I definitely wanted to be a part of and with the core they've got around for a while and so many young players," Kuraly said of his new contract. "It's something I wanted to be a part of and was really happy to be able to strike a deal and get it all done. Definitely happy to just be ready to play now and move forward."
Video: BOS@NYR: Kuraly buries wrister on two-on-one break