Karson Kuhlman’s fresh start with the Seattle Kraken had a blueprint.
The former Bruins winger was waived and less than a day later, was moving across the country to the newest NHL city. He’s not the first Boston transplant to make the move and end up a part of the Kraken organization; in the short Kraken history, there is a pipeline.
The pipeline isn’t as much Boston to Seattle as it starts somewhere not too far away: Providence.
“Seeing guys’ goals being accomplished, and then being a part of them is even better,” said Kraken assistant coach Jay Leach, who coached the AHL Providence Bruins for five years. “So it’s nice to remember the road trips back from Hershey, Pennsylvania, and all these other crazy things we would do in Providence and now we’re on charter flights and in a beautiful city and arena and Seattle here in front of 17,000 fans is terrific to recognize and to enjoy with them.”
Leach coached Kuhlman at various points of three seasons with Providence, where he watched him rise up to the Bruins where he never found an ideal fit. Boston has struggled to retain many of their young forwards — Tyler Seguin, Danton Heinen, Reilly Smith, to name a few — and Kuhlman, if he sticks in Seattle, might be another on the list.
Another example is Ryan Donato.
The 25-year-old is on pace to break his career high in goals after he struggled to fit in in San Jose, his second destination after the Bruins traded him to Minnesota in 2019.
That was after he had been sent down to Providence a couple of times, also struggling to find a role with the Bruins.
Leach has seen first hand how far he’s come.
“He came to us in Providence on a couple of occasions and really worked his tail off and was very involved and engaged, and then obviously was moved along,” Leach said. “And it’s been in a couple organizations just trying to find his fit and to his credit, he’s never lost his passion for the game and willingness to get his nose dirty. I really think he’s found a home here and we really have grown to appreciate what he brought.”
Donato and Kuhlman overlapped in 2018-19 in Boston and Providence, where defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, selected from the Bruins in the expansion draft, also played.
The trio, along with Leach, have a unique bond for a new team where almost everyone involved had never played together before.
“(Jay Leach) is definitely a guy that I leaned on quite a bit when I came in here and leaned on quite a bit in my career as a professional,” said Donato. “I think Karson is going to do the same thing, learn from Leachy, lean on Leachy. I think he’s probably one of the most impactful guys I’ve been lucky enough to have as a coach.”
Donato had a bumpy path out of Boston, being sent down to Providence after his ice time had been cut. He had a career season with Minnesota after being traded, but then struggled to keep a role there and with San Jose.
Leach has seen his entire career arc develop; he’s seen what Kuhlman can bring to a team like the Kraken, especially as someone who spent time on a Stanley Cup run with the Bruins in 2019.
“My first year pro in Providence with Leachy was great,” said Kuhlman. “Went through some struggles right away offensively and just had to keep working through it to find my game, and when I did it, things started going well. Just like everything else in hockey, work hard and work through it and good things will generally happen.”
Kuhlman played just seven minutes in his Kraken debut, but undoubtedly will develop a larger role, especially as a penalty killer. Leach cited his speed as an asset, and described a potential role for him on a line with bigger forwards who can help him win battles and keep possession to take advantage of his speed.
Leach’s insight on Kraken players he’s worked with before as a head coach can help Dave Hakstol’s staff with background on those players. Kuhlman could fit seamlessly into the style of play the Kraken want, in the same way Donato has adapted his game and bought in to the coaching.
That is the most rewarding part for Leach. Now that they’ve all gotten a fresh start with a brand-new team, perhaps they can build something else
“I think of (players he’s coached) as a little bit of like my kids,” said Leach. “I knew them when they were just trying to get into pro hockey and get into the American League and then work their way up. So it’s always nice to see them in the NHL, and then obviously having a relationship with them.”
- Joey Daccord started for the third time this season in net, and the first time since Nov. 1.
- Haydn Fleury played in his first game since Jan. 1 while Jamie Oleksiak missed his second consecutive game on the blue line with a non-COVID illness.
- Kuhlman didn’t play Friday, and Colin Blackwell took his place in the lineup.