BOSTON – Sean Kuraly has his responses down to a science.Almost six months have passed since his unforgettable performance in Game 5 of the Bruins postseason series with Ottawa, but the questions have not ceased. His two-goal output – his first two career goals – which included the winner in double overtime, remained a topic of conversation for much of the summer.
It is a memory that the 24-year-old – and most Bruins fans – won’t soon forget.
But while Kuraly has gotten used to answering the questions, he does not want to be defined by that one game. As he enters his second training camp with Boston he’s attempting to establish himself as a permanent piece of the Bruins lineup.
“I think you kind of just take it day-by-day, kind of just take whatever comes,” said Kuraly. “It’s been a whirlwind, but I’m trying to refocus on this year. It was a good end to last year…there’s some work to do now.”
Kuraly played just eight regular season games with the Bruins last season before getting the call for four playoff contests with David Krejci and Ryan Spooner out with injuries. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound forward made an immediate impact by playing a strong North-South style and creating havoc in the Ottawa end during Game 5, while playing alongside David Backes and Noel Acciari.
“I think I just had clearer role,” Kuraly said of why he thrived during the playoffs. “It was pretty cool to be able to help the team and play North-South, a simple game…[I] used my body, used my speed.”
But the Ohio native is not banking on his playoff heroics guaranteeing him a roster spot. He knows he must continue to round out his game to earn a lasting place on the Bruins varsity, particularly with a large collection of forwards competing for limited openings.
“Everyone’s here to win a job,” said Kuraly, who notched 14 goals and 12 assists in 54 games for Providence last season. “I’m no different. I was doing the same last year and I’m going to try to do the same this year and try to make the team. I think we’re all trying to push each other and get better, bring the best out of each other.”
While Kuraly would like to turn the page on last spring’s breakout performance, there is still plenty that can be gained from the experience.
“I definitely think a year helped and I feel more comfortable,” said Kuraly. “There’s some familiar faces. I know some of the guys’ styles of play a little bit better. Just building off last year and taking steps in the right direction. There are going to be more steps that need to be taken.”
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has been pleased with Kuraly thus far, but would like to see the forward continue to enhance his offensive game.
“He always looks good in camp, he’s a worker,” said Cassidy. “He covers ice in a hurry. That part of it we know we’re going to get no matter what. Let’s see how it translates on the ice. Will he have more confidence with the puck to grow his offensive game?”
So far in camp, Kuraly has been positioned at center, with the likes of Ryan Fitzgerald, Danton Heinen, and Chris Porter on his wings. One of his strengths is his ability to play as more of a hybrid center-wing mix, as he did during the postseason when he shared faceoff duties with Backes.
“I just really tried to play my best wherever they put me,” said Kuraly. “I played up the middle a lot last year in Providence and I’m kind of a natural there. But up the wing – when they define clear, simple, right up and down the wall – [I] kind of used my speed [and] it worked.”
DeBrusk Gets A Look
Over the first three days of camp, Jake DeBrusk has skated on the left side with David Krejci. And with the return of David Pastrnak on Saturday, the winger has had the opportunity to get an up-close look at how well the two work together.
“They were talking lots on the ice, we did more 3-on-2 stuff today compared to the last two days,” said DeBrusk. “I thought it got better as it went along, trying to make plays and find each other. With those two players they’re fun to play with and it’s truly exciting to play with them.”
The Bruins will travel to the Videotron Centre in Quebec City on Monday for their first preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens. Cassidy said the roster is not quite set, but that it will be a “predominantly younger team.” Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre will be the two goalies.
Cassidy also was not putting too much stock into the game, saying systems and line matching would be less important than evaluating players on their individual performances. The rivalry, he said, will also take a bit of a back seat at this stage of the season.
“I don’t think this game is much of a storyline other than it’s the first game for both teams, probably evaluating the talent,” said Cassidy. “Obviously in the regular season we’ll have full lineups and it’s Bruins-Canadiens, it’s a rivalry. This one I think I’ll be spending a lot more time on our guys, not worrying about line matchups and all that stuff.
“We’ll be looking at how we’ll be playing, our energy and pace, and how individuals we’re evaluating, are they able to do what they’re asked to do. Hopefully the score goes in our favor, but that’s what we’ll be looking at.”
Cassidy said it is unlikely any roster cuts will come until after the first two preseason games, perhaps on Wednesday or Thursday.
“Donny [Sweeney] and I will have to meet,” said Cassidy. “I would guess after these first two games, especially the younger guys. If I’m not mistaken, some of the seasons are starting – European guys, juniors. Providence I believe opens up their camp next Monday.
“How do we keep them active and still keep the practices that we want? I would say by Thursday there will be less bodies.”