BOSTON -- For their 25th anniversary in 2012, Dean and Jennifer Kuhlman decided to take the whole family to Hawaii to celebrate. They had just gotten to the resort after the lengthy flight from Minnesota and decided to tour the property, exploring all it had to offer, finally wandering into the workout area.
"There's Karson doing his two hours of work on the day that we just got there to celebrate and relax," Dean Kuhlman recalled, of his then-17-year-old son, by phone earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "He was already an hour into his workout. I went, that's dedication."
It was the moment it all solidified for Dean, the work and the effort and the talent that Karson had shown, the commitment to making it as a hockey player.
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It was the moment that made it make sense at the start of the playoffs, when Karson Kuhlman was thrust into the lineup in the Eastern Conference First Round for the Boston Bruins, even after playing only 11 regular-season games in the NHL. It made it make sense when the forward was thrust back into the lineup on June 9, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, after not playing since April 30, and scoring a goal in a must-win game that sent the Bruins to Game 7 of the Final at TD Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The undrafted free agent signed with the Bruins after completing four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, capping his career as the captain of the team that won the 2018 NCAA title, after coming into college as an undersized forward with a long way to go. After finishing school, he really only considered the Bruins, a decision that has looked more and more sage as the team advanced into the playoffs, and as the team trusted Kuhlman in some incredibly big spots.
"You get young players, you just don't know necessarily," general manager Don Sweeney said earlier in the playoffs. "You can forecast all you want, but until they get in any situations and how they're going to perform, you don't know. He's performed well. He has a history of playing his best hockey at crucial times."
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Kuhlman, who has generally played on the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci in the playoffs, has been praised for his motor, for his doggedness in pursuit of the puck, for his consistency. And he has rewarded his team, getting three points (one goal, two assists) in seven playoff games.
"He's a mature kid for his age, even though he's only been a pro for a year," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I didn't think the magnitude of the game would bother him. We figured he'd just go out and play his game. He did. He got a goal, that's great. We need secondary scoring.
"But I think just his overall play really helped that line be successful."
That's why the 23-year-old is in the lineup again in Game 7, why the Bruins felt confident in replacing a proven veteran like David Backes -- the former captain of the Blues -- with Kuhlman, who is anything but proven, at least on the NHL level.
And yet, he continues to prove himself. He continues to prove that the Bruins did the right thing in signing him, that they did the right thing in adding him to the lineup, even considering the situation and the lack of experience. Even though another coach might not have.
He continues to prove that not testing the market, that going with the team he felt was going to be the right spot for him, was exactly the smart thing to do. Though it shouldn't be a surprise, since his smarts and maturity seem constantly in evidence.
"This was one of the top spots that I wanted to be after coming to development camp," Kuhlman said. "I just saw how everything was operated and the culture here was a great fit for me. It was a pretty obvious decision to make."